Aging Well with @TheOACAO

Suzie Vinnick at OACAO If you know this project, you already know that Voyageur is a very unique guitar - the only one of its kind in the world made as it is from pieces of history and heritage from across Canada. But from a strictly instrumental perspective it's also unique in that it's a guitar made from a large and diverse number of unconventional materials. That means that these materials are all aging and settling into their relationships with their neighbours at different paces and times. And while I'm not sure I could articulate the way that shifting and settling plays out acoustically, seasoned musicians certainly can - especially those who encounter Voyageur at intervals. And apparently, according to them, the guitar is aging very well. As it matures it gets gets warmer and stronger and less brittle in its sound. Basically, time and experience are making it a better guitar every day.

That process is something the attendees at the Older Adult Centres Association of Ontario's Aging Well conference are no doubt familiar with. Their work in advocating on behalf of and educating within the sector of older adult centres in Ontario includes promoting things like "Active living" programs and other initiatives to enrich lives across the province. So they were a great audience for the Six String Nation presentation. In fact, I don't think I've ever had as many applause breaks for specific items that comprise the guitar ever before and the turnout at the portrait station was as colourful as it was enthusiastic and exhaustive.

I was especially thrilled that they brought in my friend Suzie Vinnick (pictured) to play in the "performance pocket" of the presentation. She is honestly one of my favourite people that I've encountered in this business and even if she wasn't I'd still be in awe of her voice and her guitar playing. She also hung out with us after the show to sell some CDs and generously helped us out running our station.

Thanks to Wendy Caceres-Speakman and her team - including Sue Hesjedahl, Julie Pennal, Sarah Martin and Bonnie Chapman - and my good friends at the National Speakers Bureau. Thanks also to portrait station volunteers Liza Franses and Lina Zita, to Richard Dussault for the kind words and the tech support and to Don Fenn for introducing me.

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A Gift for #RemembranceDay @guitars4VETSCan @daddariocanada @GHOperaHouse

Sgt. Ted Hudson (ret.) Coming as it would less than a week before Remembrance Day, Gravenhurst Opera House curator Krista Storey wondered if there might be a way to honour local veterans at our Six String Nation presentation last weekend. One thought was to put local favourite, Guitars for Vets ambassador and Great Big Sea alumnus Séan McCann on the bill but Séan would be out on tour at that moment. Instead, we thought we could contribute directly to the program right there in the community so I called up our perennial supporter, D'Addario Canada, and asked if they might have something to donate to the cause. Without a moment's hesitation, they offered up a brand new Beaver Creek Guitars dreadnought-style guitar complete with a carrying case and an extra set of strings.

Veterans Emergency Transition Services (VETS Canada)'s program is based on a simple concept: veterans and currently serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP who suffer with PTSD or other service-related injuries or disabilities will be provided with a new or gently used guitar. They will also be connected with free online lessons and – when and where available – students will have the option of working with a guitar instructor for 10 weeks of free lessons. The goal of Guitars for Vets is to get as many guitars as possible into the hands of wounded veterans to help the healing process. You can learn more about the program in this video.

Again, our timing was not great because the Guitars for Vets folks were busy preparing for today's big event in Ottawa with Séan, Joel Plaskett, Sarah Harmer and Jeremy Fisher so there would be no one on hand to receive our contribution at the show. But Ret. Sgt. Ted Hudson C.D. (pictured) was there in full colours to receive the guitar and guide it to its ultimate purpose. Ted was born in Gravenhurst and joined the Armed Forces in Canada's centennial year, 1967. He was first posted to Soest, Germany and Petawawa, ON with the Royal Canadian Regiment and, later, the Airborne Regiment. With the Special Service Force Battle School he served as an instructor for 5 years with a tour of the Middle East, Cyprus and many other areas of deployment. He retired with the rank of Sergeant after serving for 18 years.

The presence of the shoulder tile and cap badges of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (founded 1914) and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (founded 1795!) on Voyageur's strap are a regular reminder of the contributions of Canadian service men and women who are part of the story of Canada. But on Remembrance Day especially we are reminded of the connections this project has had to members of the Canadian Armed Services - including Lt. Col Susan Beharriel, Capt. Casey Balden, Pt. Don Stewart and all the veterans and serving members we met and photographed at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto and we thank all of them again for their service and sacrifice.

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A Super Show in Sawdust City @GHOperaHouse

Grady Kelneck with Voyageur The Gravenhurst Opera House is of one of Ontario's true hidden gems. Designed by architect John Francis Brown on a commission from Mayor Charles Mickle (Miranda Mulholland's great-grandfather!), this remarkable building hosted its first theatre production in March of 1901. Over the decades it's been both used and abused but a critical renovation following the building's forced closure in 1993 has made it a cultural anchor point in the Muskoka Lakes region. Standing on the stage or in the house feels a bit like standing under a giant overturned canoe and those wooden ribs of the building make for a great acoustic experience as well as a great visual one. Curator Krista Storey and I had been talking for a few years about doing something there and this past weekend's OMEA conference up the road in Huntsville spurred us to bring some ideas to life.

And what life!
The "performance pocket" near the end of the presentation usually runs 4-10 minutes - typically giving time for 1-3 performers to bring Voyageur to life. Especially for community shows like this one, I do encourage the organizers to consider building a longer show if they want to give more local artists the opportunity to play the guitar and from that suggestion Krista built a line-up befitting the magnificent stage we'd all share:
We'd encountered Angie Nussey back in 2008 at an event in Sudbury where she got to play Voyageur privately during her photo session but to hear her in her real element on the stage was a whole other experience. She's a terrific songwriter with such an easygoing presence and is apparently - for good reason - a fan favourite at the GOH;
Sean Cotton had also played Voyageur in 2008 - passing it between him and Catherine MacLellan on stage at the Ottawa Folk Festival. For this show Sean accompanied himself with a specially mic'd empty guitar case as percussion and performed two songs - one about the mysterious disappearance of painter Tom Thomson and one written specially for the occasion called "Six Strings Strong". We must vow to either get Sean into the studio to record that or - better yet - reconvene everyone at the GOH for a live recording!
Sue Wood, whom we first met at an event in Mount Albert ON back in 2011, demonstrated a gorgeous voice reminiscent of a younger Joni Mitchell and - fittingly - started off with a beautiful rendition of Mitchell's "Stardust" (with no radical retuning!) leading into a delightfully cheeky original;
Andrew Currie's position as a go-to musician, teacher, retailer, producer and instrument collector extends beyond Gravenhurst to bands and industry folks around the province and across the country. He used his two song set to pay homage to two songwriter friends from the region, including the late Bob Dean. He also presented me on stage with some tape that adorned his vintage Elka bass pedal unit as it crossed the country with the Tragically Hip on their final tour last year. For now, I've mounted it onto the strap but its location may make it vulnerable to falling off so I'll be looking at alternative spots for it. In the meantime, it was a tremendously thoughtful gesture from an enormously talented gentleman and I'm grateful for it;
Aaron Kowalchuk is Gravenhurst's answer to Jimmy Bowskill - a tremendous blues talent at an outrageously young age. His father told me he's been playing guitar since the age of nine. He played in tribute to a local veteran (more about that later this week) and his presence was both a reminder of the depth of talent in the region and a glimpse of the future of music in the community; and finally (though he played second in the order, insisting that he wasn't up to the calibre of his onstage compadres) there was Grady Kelneck (pictured). I knew Grady was from a musical family because when we were introduced by email he let me know that his very musical parents had had their portrait taken with Voyageur in Orillia back in 2010 and sure enough there's his dad, Ike - who died unexpectedly back on April 25th - hamming it up with the guitar, playing it like a piano. But that barely scratched the surface of their musicality. Ike's father - Grady's grandfather - Henry Kelneck had been a furniture and musical instrument store owner and popular bandleader in Timmins ON when he helped launch the career of an itinerant musician passing through town and playing for beer money: Stompin' Tom Connors. So instrumental was Henry in Tom's development that Tom wrote a song about him, "Polka Playin' Henry", which you can hear here. But those of us in the GOH heard it even better, coming as it did through the keening voice of Henry's grandson carrying generations of music with it as his hands moved up and down the fretboard made from J.R.'s Bar in Charlottetown - another place that nurtured that Canadian legend. I think my favourite of Grady's stories as he played was that when Stompin' Tom asked someone to go get a guitar amplifier, what he really meant was a two-four of Moosehead beer!

Thanks again to Krista and all the musicians as well as house manager Kelly Hamilton and house tech Martyn Green. Thanks also to Bryan White and Amy Taylor, portrait station volunteers Linda Trotte and Laurie Ryan and everyone who came out to the show and to have their portraits taken. A very special thanks also to our good friends at D'Addario Canada and to Sgt. Ted Hudson C.D. (retired) - more on them later in the week.

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Musical Muskoka with @OMEAOntario #OMEAInterlude2017

Jack Gaughan with Voyageur My relationship with the Ontario Music Educators Association (OMEA) goes back many years now and I'm so glad that they invited me back for this year's conference - Interlude 2017 - at the Deerhurst Resort, not only because I got to see some of the organizers of past events and so many teachers whose schools I've visited over the years - but because it's such a great reminder of how important music education is in school and in life; and to be around people who are dedicated to that idea is very inspiring. And in addition to all the familiar faces, it was also great to meet so many new educators who were discovering Six String Nation for the first time. I'm hopeful that we'll have a chance to visit some more schools around Ontario as a result - and especially ones that have people on staff who can make sure the music students at their schools get a chance to really step up and shine during the presentation.

Speaking of stepping up and shining, there was no doubt a wealth of guitar talent among the attendees who would have been great in the "performance pocket" part of the presentation - and our pal Hawksley Workman had graced the stage the previous night - but, rightly, organizer Laura Lee Matthie wanted to focus on a student player for this opportunity and really hammer home the value of the work that everyone in attendance is doing. So she managed to recruit a 16-year old grade 12 student from nearby Huntsville High School named Jack Gaughan. Remember that name. Jack plays guitar and bass in the Senior Concert Band, Senior Stage Band and the R&B ensemble Song Project at school and is currently working with Oscar Peterson Quartet alumnus Lorne Lofsky as he prepares to audition for post-secondary jazz studies. He was cool as a cucumber and yet his fingers were like lightning!

Thanks to Laura Lee and her conference co-chair Sarah Arcand as well as volunteer coordinator Debbie Tackabury, who provided an amazing team of volunteers to help us at the portrait booth - including Esther Weatherall, Alanna Vanstone, Alan Li, Chelsea Ewing, Emily Peterman, Emily Williams, Tori Ly and Anna deGroot-Maggetti. Special thanks also to Erica Bota from ThinkLink Graphics, who did an amazing realtime doodle of the Six String Nation presentation, which I'll share on Instagram in the coming days.

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Mighty Oakville @OakvilleCentre @LeaskExpected

David Least at Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts The last time I drove down Trafalgar Road in Oakville toward the waterfront was a few years ago. Once you're on that road a little ways off the QEW the character of the city really begins to reveal itself as the road snakes along by Sixteen Mile Creek. And while the downtown - site of last night's show at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts - is as charming as ever, there is so much development going on that it's easy to get yourself turned around down there! Many downtown heritage buildings have been lovingly restored; a slew of mid-rise condo towers across the river from the complex that holds the Arts Centre, the public library and the Centennial pool have brought a lot more people into the area; the bridge that spans the creek is closed for construction until next month; and even the Centre itself - in operation since 1977 - is undergoing a facelift for now with a much bigger redevelopment planned for a decade from now.

In any case, I was very pleased that Artistic Director Ronnie Brown invited me to be part of the Centre's In Conversation with... series, having seen an intimate showcase I did back in February. I was even more pleased that he asked songwriter David Leask to reprise his performance from that winter gathering at last night's show. You might recall a previous post about David, who had approached me more than a year ago about being inspired to write some songs based on a few of the stories baked into Voyageur. I suggested that he might compound the inspiration by writing them on the guitar itself so he took Voyageur home with him for a couple of weeks and completed four songs with at least one more continuing to gestate. We're planning on another sabbatical for the two of them soon so he can finish and - who knows - maybe even write more! I continue to be moved by the response of audiences to this presentation and hearing three of David's project-inspired songs in the "performance pocket" added a whole layer of depth to that part of the presentation for both the audience and for me.

Thanks again to Ronnie and his staff - including Robin, Shelly, Diana and Kent on this side of the booth and Sean and Andrew at the stage who made us look and sound as good as we ever have. Thanks also so Sarah Douglas-Murray and to Ian Elliot from A Different Drummer Books in Burlington, who handled both book sales in the lobby and emcee duties on the stage. And a very special thanks to Steve Paquette, the Halton District School Board's "Indigenous Knowledge Guide" who came up to say some wonderfully kind words after the show and introduce me to daughter Amber. Thanks to Gyeho Thomas from the Woodland Cultural Centre for coming out to the show. And finally, thanks to Henry Lees, who managed to get a better photo of David Leask in action that I was able to from my side-of-stage angle and permit me to use it above.

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At Home with Maud and the Family

Kate Macdonald Butler with Jowi and Voyageur It didn't take long after the publication of "Anne of Green Gables" in 1908 for P.E.I. native L.M. Montgomery to become arguably Canada's first international literary superstar (Robert W. Service published "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and other famous poems a year earlier but had only recently moved from Scotland in his early 20's and later moved to California). With that achievement she set the tone for generations of Canadian writers. In fiction, in poetry, in criticism and - significantly - in songwriting, Canada has long been a literary powerhouse punching way above its weight on the international stage. The passing of Gord Downie last week was an all too vivid reminder of this - how such an inventive and often obtuse lyricist really captured something essentially and uniquely Canadian that was embraced by a huge swath of the population. And that connection - that line connecting Maud and Gord was not lost on attendees of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario's Spirit of Canada Celebration and Conference which brought together fans and scholars to talk about Maud's ongoing place in the Canadian story - after all, the Tragically Hip's "Ahead by a Century" was a theme in CBC's most recent TV iteration of the adventures of Anne Shirley.

So I didn't feel out of place speaking to a small assembly at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in Leaskdale just kitty corner to the historic Montgomery Manse as part of the event - especially since part of the home where Maud was raised in Cavendish P.E.I. is the top-most reinforcing strip on the inside back of Voyageur. And I was especially pleased that the "performance pocket" part of the presentation was handled by Nova Scotian singer, songwriter and Canadian women's music historian Rosalee Peppard, who had been commissioned to write a song for the event and ended up writing three! Brian and Lesleyann Forester warmed up the crowd with a rendition of Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy".

From the outset, the Six String Nation project was intended to put multiple stories and perspectives from all parts of Canada on an equal footing, with a strong emphasis on including indigenous contributions. The report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has only sharpened my attention to sharing those aspects of the project and I was so pleased that those in attendance on Friday night were as moved by those stories as they were by the inclusion of their heroine. Among those who approached me after the presentation to express her feelings about the emotional journey the show had taken her on was Kate Macdonald Butler (pictured with me here). As the cameras clacked away at us she let me know that she was actually Lucy Maud's granddaughter. Having shown the video with John and Jennie MacNeill contributing the piece of the Cavendish home to the project, it was especially poignant to meet Kate and feel the completion of another circle in our efforts to get Voyageur into the hands of those whose contributions helped build it.

Special thanks to Gwen Layton, Kathy Wasylenky and the rest of the members and guests of the LMMSO for welcoming me to the event. Thanks also to our hosts at St. Paul's, including A/V man Jonathan, who was a pleasure to work with.

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Building a Nation – one home at a time.

Bill Stafford plays "Voyageur" on Voyageur at OHBA Fallsview Back in 1995 I had a dream about an instrument that would somehow house a million stories of Canada. After 11 years of research and consultation and collaboration with many others, luthier George Rizsanyi executed that vision using the materials I collected and he made it sturdy and sonorous and beautiful and welcoming to players of all sizes, shapes and abilities. Over the years, the experiences of this guitar, Voyageur, in the stories that I tell about it and the stories others add to it and tell about it and the travels that it makes and the musicians who bring it to life through performances and recordings and compositions, have made it a home for a living, breathing and vital idea of Canada - one that resonates on so many levels with so many different people. And this story seemed to really resonate also with the attendees of the 2017 Ontario Homebuilders Association Conference - people who design and build and equip and protect and renovate and decorate and innovate the houses and homes where people make their lives and memories in the province of Ontario - earlier this week at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls.

In spite of heavy morning rush hour traffic (and an especially nasty accident in the opposite direction on the Burlington Skyway - so sorry for those involved) I was able to get to the venue in time to do a tech check and visit some of the exhibitors ringing the perimeter of the Grand Hall ballroom. Even if the American government isn't willing to acknowledge climate change, the OHBA and its suppliers made it a big topic at this conference and I got to meet some of the people designing and implementing technology solutions for super efficient homes, which was super interesting! I also got to sample some Niagara Gold Cheddar soup as the lunch buffet got underway. OMG - Best. Soup. Ever. AND, I got a chance to hang out for a while with Bill Stafford (pictured), an amateur player from nearby Beamsville whom one of the conference organizers had enticed to fill the "performance pocket" part of the presentation. Bill has had a fascinating journey in life with all kinds of travels and adventures as a mechanic and technologist and teacher and business owner but at this point he's playing guitar, writing songs, letting his grown kids take over the business, honing his life philosophy and cultivating some amazing mutton chops! Honestly, in both looks and temperament he was a spitting image of Sam Elliott's "The Stranger" character in The Big Lebowski. If I could have bought him a sarsaparilla, I would have! During our conversation, he told me that he was going to play a song that he'd never performed in public before; a song that he'd written for his wife about their experience of building a home together - the patience and commitment and joy of it - a song so new that he didn't yet have a title for it. When he got up to do the song near the end of the proceedings, he'd clearly been moved by the presentation and he remarked that it had added a whole new dimension to his choice and his performance. We had a chance to say goodbye when he bought a book out in the lobby afterwards and then, about a half an hour later, one of the OHBA organizers came up to tell me that Bill had called from the drive home to Beamsville and wanted them to let me know that he'd come up with a title for the song: "Voyageur". That's an honour, Bill - thank you!

Thanks also to the stage and sound crew at Fallsview, to Emma Maynard of the OHBA who was a pleasure to deal with from start to finish, to Lynda Busch who handled book sales and kept things orderly at the guitar meet-and-greet, and all the attendees who came up afterwards to tell me their stories, have me sign their books and take pictures with Voyageur. And thanks, as always, for my friends at the National Speakers Bureau for handling this booking as well as for their ongoing support and enthusiasm for what I do. Finally, special thanks to my old high school friend Scott Bullock - now an OHBA veteran - who was in attendance and captured Bill's performance in a Facebook video and reminded me that those old connections are also foundations we build on in life. Great to see you, man!

P.S. Yes, you read right - I was at the Fallsview Casino. After I packed up the rental car I went to the slots for 20 minutes and came out $23 ahead!

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Back among Educators @ETFO #FallLeadership

The Sultans of String at ETFO My dear friend and official Six String Nation photographer, Doug Nicholson, and I have had the thrill of taking our presentation and portrait booth to festivals and music industry events in every province and territory of Canada and as far away as Italy. With help from the National Speakers Bureau, we've felt as at home presenting to conferences of surveyors and health information management professionals as we have to financial cooperatives and tourism organizations. But the bread and butter that sustains the Six String Nation project is presentations in schools, so any chance to present to educators is one we treasure - at PD days and conferences and curriculum forums and subject seminars and history fairs and principals' meetings, you name it. And if we get a chance to do portraits with teachers and let them know that they really are part of the project in a big way... well, even better; which is why it was so great to follow up on an earlier gathering of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario in Ottawa with last week's ETFO Fall Leadership gathering in Mississauga. The event brought together members from all across the province - including some just embarking on their teaching careers. And while some in attendance had seen me at other events over the years, it was great to introduce a whole new generation of teachers to the Six String Nation project and (hopefully) inspire them to want to bring me to their schools to share the project with their students and their communities. And, in my nerdy way, it was great to meet some of the people I've only heard about or seen on the news, like ETFO president Sam Hammond!

The reception was phenomenal - not only in the room for the presentation but at the portrait station afterwards, at the book signing table and over a beer at the end of the night, where I was privileged to get to know a few of these educators from around the province of Ontario dedicated to creating great learning environments and experiences for young students.

The great reception extended to the musical guests who brought Voyageur to life at the end of the presentation too. I'd worked with both Chris McKhool (pictured, left) and Kevin Laliberte (pictured, centre) on previous occasions but not in this particular configuration of the Sultans of String, where Chris played Voyageur for one song and switched to violin as he handed off the guitar to Kevin - joined by Drew Birston (pictured, right) on bass - for their virtuosic and evocative performance of Luna - a kind of instrumental storytelling of the Mowachaht and Muchalaht tale of one particularly legendary orca. We didn't record the performance but you can watch the official video (with orchestral accompaniment!) here.

Thanks so much to ETFO's Jim Giles for bringing us to the event and to ETFO members Valerie Dugale and Suzanne Gill for great assistance at the portrait booth. Special thanks also to Jeff Burnham of - a specialty indigenous bookstore from Six Nations - who handled book sales with enthusiasm and aplomb AND provided me with some welcome background and detail on the recent addition to Voyageur's case, the vintage Enos Williams lacrosse stick webbing now cradling the headstock pillow.

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Talent already booked for future North Vancouver date!

Erica Harris and Jowi with Voyageur Erica Harris would have stood out in the Grand Hall at the Canadian Museum of History anyway. With her shock of punky jet-black hair and her bright red strapless dress she provided a bit of accent to the prevailing evening wear - though I admit I'm a bit surprised that more people attending the Canadian Blood Service's Honouring Our Lifeblood awards gala didn't wear red! She and her mother were seated at the same table as myself, emcee Henry Burris, honouree Breezy Russ and her partner and a couple of folks from the staff and board of CBS. But Erica also stood out because she was in attendance not as a staffer or volunteer or donor but rather as a recipient and she would tell her story as the final speech of the evening.

During dinner we discovered a Northern Ontario connection: she hails from Sault Ste. Marie though she now calls North Vancouver home with her husband and two young boys. I warmed to her no-B.S. attitude and energy and she really reminded me of my friend Karyn Ruiz, the extraordinary milliner who also hails from The Soo. We didn't really discuss our respective topics - figuring all would be revealed on stage. When I exited the stage from my turn she was super effusive about my presentation and I was eager to hear what she had to say to wrap things up. Honestly, her story just kind of blew me away. She had been a fit and healthy young mom, a professional chiropractor and kinesiologist living the classic Vancouver lifestyle when she got the surprising diagnosis of a very aggressive form of leukaemia and, soon, a two month prognosis after a series of unsuccessful treatments and explorations. An eventual bone marrow match and transplant from a donor in Germany gave her new hope just in time to be diagnosed with a double lung failure. But she was lucky to receive a double lung transplant AND successfully fight the leukaemia. Her experience has not only made her a champion of blood and organ donation but also given her insight into the layers of medical, technological, nutritional and spiritual elements that go into surviving overwhelming illness. She now shares her unique perspective through her organization With Hope, offering inspiration, support and the tools to navigate the gale of information and opinions confronting those facing severe health challenges - and their loved ones - just when they feel least equipped to handle them. The symbol for her organization is a stylized oak tree based on the one in front of her childhood house in The Soo that she thought of to give herself strength when it was otherwise in short supply.

We didn't get a chance to say goodbye properly as the busses came to take folks back to the hotel and I stayed behind to take a few photos with people and pack up. So we connected Tuesday morning for breakfast at Dunn's where I got the full story from Erica and her mom and discovered that they were of Finnish heritage and were well acquainted with the Hoito Restaurant in Thunder Bay, which represents the Finnish community there in the form of a couple of interior side struts in Voyageur. Erica vowed that she was going to learn to play guitar well enough to properly play this one next time I find myself in North Vancouver. So come on Vancouver: I haven't presented there in a long while. It's time to bring me out again!

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Honouring #OurLifeblood with @itsinyoutogive

Irene Mills with Voyageur at CMH My keynote presentation for Canadian Blood Service's Honouring Our Lifeblood event at the Canadian Museum of History Monday evening was a very different one for a couple of reasons:
for one thing, my regular presentation takes just over an hour and includes a lot of storytelling that takes the audience on a journey that is as emotional as it is geographical as it is historical and cultural. For this one I was asked to keep it all to 15-20 minutes, which required a complete re-think and re-design of the presentation in both style and substance;
secondly, my role at these kinds of events is usually to provide a kind of entertaining, inspiring and broadly embracing connective tissue to the proceedings amongst an audience that has typically been focussed and inward looking in their seminars and AGM business and that kind of thing. These people were all about being connected to one another literally by blood - each of them taking "inspirational" to a whole other level. Honestly, I kind of thought I might only barely make any kind of impact at all amid such company. I was grateful to have been proven wrong.

This was not my first time presenting in the extraordinary Grand Hall at the architect Douglas Cardinal's magnificent Canadian Museum of History - though at least one of my presentations there was in the time when it was known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The towering six-storey curve of windows that form the exterior wall opposite the stage faces northeast over the Ottawa River towards the cliff of Parliament Hill and the Chateau Laurier. The room itself is shaped like a massive Haida dugout canoe, with the interior curve of the room appearing as the entrance to a majestic Haida village with totem poles, sculptures and murals along its length surrounding the stage and with natural rock formations making the transition between the audience floor and the elevation of the stage on either side - a kind of miniature coastline. Elsewhere in the room are other Haida artifacts - both traditional and contemporary, including the original plaster pattern for Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Haida sculptor Bill Reid. It is always extra special and, frankly, humbling to present Voyageur in this room, given the extraordinary presence and prominence of the legendary Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii as the face of the guitar. But it seemed there was an extra layer of poetry in this particular presentation to this particular group in this particular room as I suppose you could say that the Golden Spruce was a tree with a kind of blood disorder - the lack of chlorophyll that made it so unique.

By the time it was my turn to speak, I'd already felt humbled not just by the room but by the honourees who came up to the stage to receive their awards: corporate and institutional partners, volunteers, community recruiters, staff and, of course, donors. One donor in particular I had seen enter the room with everyone else as the bus from the hotel dropped attendees off. She stood out instantly as someone who had come seemingly dressed for the Grand Hall itself as much as for the occasion. From her traditional woven cedar hat to her jewelry to the pattern on her dress, Irene Mills (pictured) wore her Haida heritage proudly. Irene was there to receive this year's award as a living organ donor for her Paired Kidney donation in March of this year - a donation that took six years to complete. It was an honour just to meet her so I was thrilled when she came up at the end of the evening and asked for a photo with Voyageur. Even more emotional for me was that while she held Voyageur and beat out a rhythm on its top, she sang the Haida national anthem.

Irene was just one of many inspiring people I met on Monday evening and with whom I was proud to share the stage. I'm so glad that the presentation seemed to resonate with so many of the attendees - perhaps because, as someone who has received diverse material donations from across Canada in order to showcase and share the lifeblood of Canada's culture and identity, they saw in the project a kindred spirit.

Special thanks to event organizers Gillian Magnusson and Jennifer McKay and their team as well as the staff and board of Canadian Blood Services who invited me to be a part of this very special annual event. Honestly, it felt like being invited to a family Seder for the first time. Thanks also to Patrick Walton from CBS, who brought Voyageur to life on stage during the presentation (along with all the other work he was doing at the event!); three-time Grey Cup winner, CFL MVP and CTV Morning Ottawa host Henry Burris for keeping things on track as emcee; and soundman Ray Montford (yes THAT Ray Montford!) for making Voyageur sound great in what can be an acoustically challenging room, no matter how beautiful. And, of course, thanks to all the honourees and other attendees who were the reason for this event - not only for letting me be part of it but for your inspiring work, dedication and sacrifice.

To find out more about Canadian Blood Services or to become a donor yourself, visit

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