An Evening Under the Stars in Chatham

Jamie Michaud The Perseids Meteor Shower apparently put on a better show here in Chatham than we saw from the fire escape in Toronto but last night's event at the Bradley Centre was only partly named for the celestial phenomenon.
On what would have been Myles Casey Benson Neuts's 28th birthday, Myles' parents, Mike and Brenda, hosted a glittering fundraising gala under the auspices of the MCBN Children's Foundation, the anti-bullying focussed charity established in honour of their son who died as the result of a bullying incident back in 1998.

I'm sure few of us can even begin to imagine the ongoing pain of their loss and it's true that it has etched itself into their faces but equally in their faces is an extraordinary feeling of warmth and determination. And while I know so many people in attendance last night shared the Neuts' grief all those years ago, they too reflect back both the warmth of the community and the determination to have good come from the tragedy.

Mike joked in his remarks at the end of the night that he'd imagined delivering those remarks to an empty room but it was anything but. These folks were there in a spirit of celebration of all that the MCBN Foundation has achieved in its 10 years of existence. Several recent beneficiaries of Foundation grants were in attendance - including a young boy getting support for a new dog specially trained to detect the onset of his frequent seizures and a young student afforded the opportunity for a life changing study trip to Africa. Mike has also been working for the past few years with a talented young Glee-type group called "Respect Revolution" who were the evening's dinner entertainment. I heard stories of how the group had transformed some of it's young members from shy - even anxiety riddled - kids to confident performers. At dinner, I sat next to Justin Church, a young man who was suffering terrible bullying in his hockey league at age 17 but summoned tremendous reserves of character to challenge the whole system and galvanize community and media support. He's going to be just fine.

When I met Mike and Brenda a few years ago, we were inspired by each others' stories and we found a way to honour Myles by including part of his signature knitted cap on Voyageur's guitar strap and Mike and Brenda have generously included me in several MCBN events over the years since. Last night was my third appearance as guest speaker and while some in the audience had seen other versions of the presentation previously, I think both new faces and familiars felt equally wrapped up in the story and I felt the embrace I spoke of earlier extended to myself and the project. It was a wonderful feeling. Made more wonderful by a terrific animation of Voyageur by Jamie Michaud (pictured) - a talented local finger-style guitarist who performed one original and a sly reworking of Terry Bush's "Maybe Tomorrow", perhaps better known as the theme from "The Littlest Hobo" (both to the sheer delight of four-year old daughter Molly!).

And that was really just the midway point of the evening! Desert was served, tributes were given, the house band, Face4Radio, kept people dancing with spot-on covers of everyone from Billy Idol to Beyoncé, and more money was raised through the auction and silent auction. (note to self: be sure to save live auctions to the end of the night after people have had a few drinks. It really opens the pocket books!)

Once again, thanks to Mike and Brenda for including me in your Night Under the Stars and allowing me to share Myles's story in my own school presentations and to Myles's brother Dane and his girlfriend Jessica who are on their way to an adventure in Australia - safe travels, guys!
Thanks also to Marg, Julie, Terry and everyone from the MCBN staff and board and to emcee Greg Hetherington from CKXS in Wallaceburg (stay independent, Greg - now THAT rocks!). Thanks to Brett Sansom and Ryan Caron from Strings 'n Things who handles sound and staging and a special thanks to Kassya Kevany for advancing all the details.

Oh, and one more thing, Chatham fans of the Detroit Tigers: Jays are taking it!

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Happy Birthday Canada #CanadaDay

CanadaDayVoyageur We spent so many Canada Days waiting around at soundchecks and setting up our photo backdrop on uneven ground in tents that I suppose I shouldn’t miss it but I do. Instead, this year, we’re taking it easy at a friend’s cottage in the 1000 Islands near Gananoque. And the forecast for central and eastern Ontario calls for rain. Better to be inside a cozy cottage than battling sodden ground at the fairgrounds for sure!

Perhaps because it’s a quieter way to mark the day, it’s also perhaps a little bit easier to be a little bit more reflective about what Canada Day means in 2015 and what this past year has meant for Six String Nation.

On the plus side, a couple of major events this past year come to mind that it’s worth remembering today:
First, after many years of trying to get something to reflect the Japanese-Canadian community AND trying to get something to reflect Canada’s baseball heritage in the project, both were delivered in one small but spectacular little bundle last summer. The stars finally aligned with the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto who permitted us to take a little bit of fabric from the back side of the right sleeve of a circa 1940 jersey from the famed Vancouver Asahi baseball team that is part of their collection. In spite of being barred from the mainstream leagues, their ingenious and giant-killing style of play made the Asahi the hot ticket in Vancouver through the 1930s until Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in the Second World War lead to the internment of Canadian citizens of Japanese heritage and brought an end to the Asahi era. That’s an important story to tell in this country and I’m grateful for the support of the JCCC and textile artist Kate Jackson, who removed the small strip from the jersey, mounted it on Voyageur’s guitar strap, and returned the jersey in tip top shape with the inclusion of a small fabric plaque acknowledging the contribution to the project. We revealed this new contribution to the world last August during Canada Baseball Day at the Rogers Centre in Toronto with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays put together a great Six String Nation display for the JumboTron and we took to the field for the pre-game show announcement where erstwhile Blue Jay Munenori Kawasaki came out and hammed it up with Voyageur. Also in attendance was Babe Ruth’s granddaughter Linda Ruth Tosetti so we got some great photos with her and the guitar too.

Then, in the fall, I headed off to Lethbridge to execute a series of events that were almost a year in the planning with the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta. They came up with a really unique way to fund the trip by giving community grants to the participating school districts. Over the course of ten days I delivered the presentation to fourteen different schools in the region including two on-reserve schools in the Kainah and Piikani First Nations. At the same time I got to travel around an incredibly beautiful part of the country and return the guitar to the sites of two of its contributing materials: the old community dance hall at Hand Hills Lake and the cabin of pioneering black rancher John Ware, now located down the road from its original location in Brooks at Dinosaur Provincial Park, which you just have to see to believe.
On my way home I stopped in Calgary to meet Cheryl Foggo who’d written a fascinating play that raises some important questions about how the legend of John Ware has grown, hung out with some friends and bumped into actor, activist and singer Tom Jackson, who was my original contact for the piece we have from his home town on the One Arrow First Nation in Saskatchewan.

But this was also the year of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee Report, which stands as a stark reminder of how far we have yet to go in Canada to redress the injustices done to Canada’s people not only as part of our formative history but on an ongoing basis. I’m proud of the involvement of so many First Nations communities in the creation of the Six String Nation project and I’m glad that I’ve been able to share the guitar with so many First Nations artists along the way but I feel like - in the same way the presentation seems to have a profound impact on many diverse audiences that I encounter - I need to double my efforts to let the project have that impact in more First Nations communities across the country.

As we mark our 9th Canada Day, I’m already thinking about the next couple of years ahead. Next year at this time will mark the 10th anniversary of Voyageur’s debut and I’m hoping to do something special all year long - some kind of project that will lay the groundwork for the following year, which will mark Canada’s Sesquicentennial celebration. I’ve been involved in a number of events since 2010 that were intended to spur discussion and preparation for how Canadians will reimagine themselves into the future - just as we did so spectacularly for our Centennial back in 1967. But it’s a slow process and, while there has been some movement, most organizations are just starting to wrap their heads around the idea of what 2017 might mean. And I really want Six String Nation to be part of both those deliberations and those celebrations.

In the meantime, I often say that the Six String Nation project was intended as a love letter to an almost unknowably large and diverse country. On this day, that love letter is also a birthday card.

Happy birthday Canada.
Bon fête Canada!

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Truth & Reconciliation #TRC2015

A small sample of First Nations and Metis friends of Six String NationTwo events of historical significance today that powerfully inform Six String Nation:
First of all, we must acknowledge the death of former PQ leader Jacques Parizeau. It was in part his sovereignty referendum of 1995 that inspired me into action. While his racist reaction to the narrow loss of the YES side brought a lot of ugly realities to light, his belief in the strength of Quebec culture was something I thought the rest of Canada could learn from. The real problem for me was that in the lead up to the referendum, it did not inspire the kind of conversation among all Canadians of all regions and backgrounds that it really should have. The media helped to narrow that conversation and not broaden it. I think we'd all understand each other a lot better if we knew and felt each other's stories more deeply.

Which brings me to the more significant historical moment today: the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report.

The initial conception of Voyageur was to include two or three pieces from each province and territory of Canada that would be broadly representative in some way. My original plan was to include a piece of First Nations origin from each province and territory for the sole reason that I always think aboriginal people and communities are generally overlooked in this country and I wanted to make sure that this project was not guilty of that.
I had no idea what was to come.
My friend Elaine Bomberry from Six Nations was giving me some guidance in connecting to First Nations communities in my outreach and it just so happened that her friend Shingoose was in town from Winnipeg and came along to one of our meetings. It was a great opportunity to get his perspective and I asked what piece of material of aboriginal origin from Manitoba might go into this guitar. I expected he might suggest some type of wood typically used for a particular purpose in his community but instead he suggested that I get a piece of a residential school. He believed that this would make the guitar a powerful healing tool. It was the first time anyone had suggested using repurposed material. That changed everything about this project and I owe Shingoose a debt of gratitude for opening my eyes to the potential of that idea. We did reach out to several communities to see if we might get something from a residential school but were unsuccessful. However, that notion powered many other inquiries and we did obtain pieces that speak to that same painful history - most notably the piece from the monument to Almighty Voice/Kakee-manitou-waya from the One Arrow reserve in Saskatchewan. Red ochre from Newfoundland on the pick guard acknowledges the Beothuk who were wiped out by European disease and, of course, the Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii forms the whole top of the guitar. In total there are 20 items of aboriginal origin that make up Voyageur. In addition, the case contains to gifts of sweetgrass braids - one a gift from the Lennox Island First Nation in PEI, one a gift from the Kainah First Nation in Alberta - and an eagle feather presented to me by William Greenland, a Gwich'in elder and radio show host from Yellowknife. I remain grateful for these gifts and continue to acknowledge their origins wherever I present the project.

I'm tremendously proud that so many First Nations artists have held or performed with Voyageur and I feel equally fortunate to have been invited to give the presentation to so many First Nations students in NON-residential schools on and off reserve in communities from Labrador to Northern Ontario to Manitoba, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. We hope to be adding BC to that list next September.

I know so many First Nations people in Canada through my work in the relatively enlightened world of media and the arts and so it's easy to forget (or ignore) how close in time the residential schools policy was and how many people I've met were effected directly - either themselves or their parents and grandparents - by this barbaric chapter in Canadian history. And easy in that more open milieu also to forget or ignore how much racism against aboriginal people continues to this day.

The reason for including so many pieces and aspects of aboriginal life and history in the building of Voyageur was to acknowledge that the story of Canada's First Peoples is woven into every other story there is in Canada. You may not always see it or acknowledge it but it is there. There is a tendency, I think, to want to celebrate aboriginal Canadian stories as a way of offering an inclusive embrace of that community - and I believe all Canadians need to celebrate those stories - but that celebration and that embrace can't really be received without also acknowledging this hateful chapter of our history and its ongoing impacts. I hope the release of this report will mark the process by which all Canadians can make that acknowledgment, extend that embrace and then celebrate together.

Portraits by Doug Nicholson.

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Making it Local in Stratford @HPCDSB

Adam Boersen Between presentations today, I had a few tasks to accomplish: have a coffee, blog the school show, try to source my photo of John Till with Voyageur to add to the evening presentation (no luck there but I'll post separately), check out of the hotel, check off another on my list of good Ontario cheese shops to visit and get some dinner before returning to St. Mike's.
All accomplished (except as indicated).

At the risk of sounding like one of my favorite Portlandia sketches, the thread that linked all these tasks was their locality (or "localness", if you prefer). Good coffee was had at Revel Café (moved into a nicer, larger space across the main square since my last visit) where I tried in vain to find online a decent resolution copy of the photo I took of former Revol and Janice Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band member Till across the square in Allen's Alley where he is immortalized in mural form with Revol bandmates Richard Manuel (The Band) and Ken Kalmusky (Ronnie Hawkins' Hawks); Foster's Inn, where I've now stayed a couple of times while in Stratford, is old and creaky and wonderful and – above all – independent and locally owned; the cheeses I purchased from the well-curated Milky Whey Cheese Shop were from the Great Lakes Goat Dairy in nearby Wyoming ON (just east of Sarnia) and the Mountain Oak Cheese Co. about 20 minutes away in New Hamburg ON; and dinner was sourced at a humble place called Great Canadian Grub where Charlie Trotter's and Langdon Hall-trained owner/chef Robert Rose works almost exclusively with locally produced meats, vegetables, grains, wines and beers.

And fundamentally that is what Six String Nation is all about: a national object, a project of national scope that seeks to articulate a national identity by celebrating local identity. That lesson was not lost on the small audience in attendance for the final presentation of this run, where local musician and scientific researcher Adam Boersen (pictured) played Voyageur in the "performance pocket", HPCDSB Director of Education Vince Macdonald remarked repeatedly on what an honour it was to hold the guitar and a group of students attending the awards dinner in another part of the school (including sisters Mariah and Kerry - no kidding!) came down to make sure they didn't miss the opportunity to sing together with the guitar while Six String Nation was at their school.

Thanks again to Lori Lynn Stapleton and James Heal from the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board, the two schools who hosted the presentations - St. Anne's in Clinton and St. Michael's in Stratford - and all the students, staff, musicians and parents who participated in the presentations.

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Day 2, Event 1 @HPCDSB

Myles N plays the Blues A busy day at St. Michael's Catholic Secondary School in Stratford today as they were hosting students from multiple feeder schools in the area and touting the virtues of St. Mike's programs. That meant soundcheck was a bit shorter than we might have liked but it turned out not too badly: enthusiasm and attention in equal measures from the students.

Visiting students Maddy, Julianna and Myles (pictured) provided the student performances and HPCDSB Learning Coordinator Lori Lynn Stapleton reprised last night's performance of Fleetwood Mac's "Songbird" to wrap things up.

I'll be back at St. Mike's tonight for a public presentation... but first: a trip to The Milky Whey cheese shop to sample the goods and bring home some cheesy souvenirs from Stratford.

Thanks again to James Heal for tech support!

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Clinton-Goderich-Clinton @HPCDSB

Clinton's evening performersAfter this afternoon's presentation, we decided to venture out to Goderich for an early dinner and to take a quick tour of the lakefront and the newly relocated train station set to open as a portside restaurant and bar. But not before stopping in on St. Anne's teacher Josh Geddis's music class. In truth, Josh was really looking for a private preview before tonight's performance in which he and two of his students were slated to play Voyageur. It was also a chance for him to make a quick video recording of a terrific song he'd written called "Thanks". The feeling is mutual, Josh - great song!

After dinner it was back to St. Anne's to get set up for the evening show. It was a small affair with some folks from the local community who came out to meet the guitar and see the presentation. A very talented group, I should add. The official players for the performance pocket were (as pictured L-R): HPCDSB Learning Coordinator Lori Lynn Stapleton (who did a great rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Songbird", students Elliot Paugler and Veronica Rau and Josh (who did another beautifully crafted original reminiscent of the work of John K. Samson) but as we gathered to chat at the end of the show, all kinds of people stepped up to play and really bring the spirit of Voyageur into the fabric of the community.
Thank you all for the honour of that embrace!

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St. Anne’s, Clinton ON – Phase 1: Students

St. Anne's Student Players I've been looking forward to this series of engagements for months. And after a lovely Victoria Day weekend, I hit the road in cooler weather and headed out to Clinton ON - between Stratford and Goderich. I've got two presentations today here at St. Anne's Catholic Secondary School - the first for students and then later this evening for parents and the rest of the community. This pair and tomorrow's duo in Stratford are being presented by the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board. Coordinator Lori Lynn Stapleton did what I encourage so many school districts to do, which is look at ways to involve more than a single school and to get the surrounding community involved at the same time.

And so, today's first show involved students from St. Anne's as well as students from several other area schools. That meant lots of players stepped up to fill the performance pocket. From left to right we had Frank, Mary-Paige, Dallas, Hunter and Jared. Special props to Mary Paige for such a beautifully sung and confident performance.

Thanks to all the players, students and teachers with special thanks to James Heal and Aidan Kale for the set up.

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Past, Present, Future

Christan Vegh Multiple generations of Canadians are rightly proud of the "golden age" of Canada's music legacy and its contribution to the international scene. I cannot tell you how many people – young and old, when presented with the opportunity to play Canada's most iconic guitar – have chosen to play Helpless or Hallelujah or The Canadian Railroad Trilogy or Closer to the Heart (or really anything by Neil or Gordon or Joni or Leonard or Stompin' Tom – I know there is even no need here to use last names for these iconic Canadian artists). And if only I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me: "Has (Neil, Gordon, Joni, Tom, Randy, Bruce) played this guitar?". In three out of those six, the answer is yes. And I'm damned proud to have put it the hands of such accomplished and beloved artists.

Bruce Cockburn played Voyageur in a very intimate performance backstage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2006;
Stompin' Tom Connors played Bud the Spud on it at a listening party for his final record at his house – his wife having pointed out to him that the fretboard was made from JR's Bar in Charlottetown, a venue they both knew well;
and Gordon Lightfoot strummed a few chords on the occasion of his 70th birthday party at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
I've come tantalizingly close to getting it into Joni's, Leonard's and Randy's hands too.
Shortly after Voyageur made its debut in 2006, I received word from Joni Mitchell's management that she had heard about the project and was intrigued to meet the guitar if I could possibly meet in Los Angeles in a brief window she had in her schedule. Having no money for such a trip myself, I figured I would try to organize something through the Canadian Consulate in L.A. and put together a proposal for a reception at the consulate where we might put Joni and Voyageur together, followed by a more public celebration of all the amazing Canadian talent in L.A. at a suitable venue where Voyageur might get passed from musician to musician. I was advised by the Canadian Consulate that I would be welcome to use their space for the reception, provided that I footed the bill for catering, decor, invitations, valet parking and so on. That was just way out of my league so the opportunity slipped away.
Through an intermediary, Leonard Cohen expressed a willingness to participate in a video I had proposed to be shot at the legendary Fairmont Bagel Bakery in his neighborhood in Montreal but we could not get a broadcaster to back the production.
I encountered Randy Bachman in the green room backstage at Winterlude in Ottawa in 2009, where we were both part of the evening program. I took the Voyageur over to where he was sitting and pointed out some of the significant materials (making special note of the abundance of spalted oak from Winnipeg that occupies the lion's share of the guitar's real estate) and mentioned that his personal guitar tech and luthier Nicole Alosinac had done some important work on Voyageur when it was having its first growing pains in the summer of 2006. For some reason, Randy seemed unimpressed and expressed no interest in holding or playing the guitar (though several of his bandmates did come by the Chateau Laurier to have their official portraits taken with great enthusiasm.
Neil Young has proved most elusive of all. I have never been able to get through to Neil's notoriously well-armoured management and – while I was honored that a group from Dawson City asked if they could include the opportunity to play Voyageur as just one part of a package of enticements meant to lure Neil to the Yukon – nothing ever came of that effort.

But here's the thing:
As proud and happy as I would be for any of those artists to take a turn with Voyageur – as have so many hundreds of Canadian musicians and so many thousands of other Canadians – I don't consider the fact that they haven't played the guitar to be any kind of serious omission to the project. And that's partly because I profoundly believe that we are presently in a Golden Age of Canadian songwriting. I almost cannot believe that I've had the extraordinary good fortune to have had Ron Sexsmith, Serena Ryder, Stephen Fearing, Ariana Gillis, John K. Samson, Selena Martin, Kevin Breit, Amelia Curran, Jim Bryson, Arianne Moffatt, Jimmy Bowskill, Carolyn Mark, Justin Lacroix, Kyrie Kristmanson, K'naan, Amy Millan, Justin Rutledge, Tanya Tagaq, Don Ross, Lorrie Matheson, Mae Moore, Wayne Lavallee, Laura Bird, Ron Hynes, August Suggitt, Marc Merilainen, Sandy Scofield, Tom Wilson, Aselin Debison, Paul O'Brien, Ndidi Onukwulu, Tony McManus, Cindy Doire, Lindy Vopnfjord, Kurt Swinghammer, Little Miss Higgins, Andy Stochansky, Leela Gilday, Charlie A'Court, Blair Packham, Lynn Miles, Donné Roberts, the Hidden Cameras, the Great Lake Swimmers, Digging Roots, Elliot Brood, La Volée de Castors, Genticorum, the African Guitar Summit, Eagle and Hawk and countless other musicians and composers from every part of the country bring their voice to this guitar. I confess that it frustrates me that during school presentations, student players no more than 16 years old still default to playing Helpless or The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It's nothing against those songs but I sometimes want to scream:
"Why are you not aching to play something by The Weakerthans or Christine Fellows?"

I'm writing this today, of course, because over the past few days I've received several messages spurred by concern for the health and well-being of Joni Mitchell. Honestly, I share that concern and hope that Joni has many more years of composing and playing ahead of her – and with any luck we'll finally have a chance to share with her this guitar that we'd be so honored to hear her play even in the most private of settings. But I'm also writing this today because in the midst of those messages, I got an email from Ken Vegh, who had his portrait taken with Voyageur and his wife and son during our photo sessions following our concert presentations with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra a couple of years ago. His son, Christian Vegh (pictured, above), was already an accomplished guitarist when he stuck around for a few solo portraits and took the opportunity to play Voyageur a little. Ken wrote to tell me that Christian is now fronting his own band and will be touring the festival circuit starting in B.C. later this month and that he's also received a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. I wanted to share this because – as much as I love the musicians who defined Canada to the world 40 and 50 years ago – I'm perhaps even more in love with the current generation of musicians and songwriters working so hard (and under such challenging conditions in terms of support for the arts in Canada, governmentally, educationally and commercially) to tell our story as it exists today and those working so hard to be at the forefront of the next generation of music artists who will show the world the depth of talent in this country in the next 50 years. The Six String Nation project is for all of you because the pieces from which it is made not only reflect the past but offer an opportunity to define the future and that is the work of all artists. I salute you all. And get well Joni.

Portrait, as always, by Doug Nicholson.

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Federated Cooperatives: All Together Now

Christopher Robin BirdIt was a real thrill to be able to share the Six String Nation story at the 86th AGM of the Federated Co-operatives Ltd. tonight in Saskatoon. Apart from the fact that that famous CO-OP logo is a persistent feature of the Canadian prairie landscape, I feel the FCL and the 6SN share a commitment to the idea that – especially in the Canadian context – we accomplish so much more when we work together. In most parts of Canada, that's not simply an ideological choice; rather, it is borne out of necessity in a place characterized by big challenges and small markets. And I was proud to remind the audience that a couple of antecedents to the western co-ops are reflected in Voyageur's construction: the Doucet House on the grounds of the Farmer's Bank of Rustico PEI and the famed Hoito Finnish Restaurant in Thunder Bay ON - run as a co-op since its founding in 1918.

As a complete aside, this was the smoothest large dinner service at one of these kinds of events I've ever seen. Every conference that tries to sit down and have staff deliver massive trays of salads and entrees to every table needs to try this way more efficient system of sending people a few tables at a time to a special room with multiple rows of every course laid out for self service. Dinner was served in no time.

Anyway, amidst all this wonderful hospitality and fellow feeling, the presentation goes tremendously well. But the sweetest part of it is that one of the co-operative members from Uclulet BC, Christopher Robin Bird, is the person who will play Voyageur in the performance pocket at the end of the presentation. He has arrived in Saskatoon coming off a flu with a sore throat and all the rest of it. He had volunteered to be the player without knowing what guitar he'd be playing. When he found it would be Voyageur he applied all his energy to doing a great performance on that stage. He had known about the project and couldn't believe this was his chance to actually play it. To the assembly he gave the gift of a couple of songs: one of his own composition and one by Stan Rogers. Additionally, to me he gave some other gifts from Uclulet – including a local cook book and a lovely found object: a glass ball Japanese fishing net float that had washed onto his local shores. Thanks for the music and the presents, Chris!

It was a long line up for portraits following the presentation. As always, Doug Nicholson did an amazing job making everyone feel comfortable and getting some fantastic shots that I'll be posting just as soon as they're all processed. We especially need to thank our amazing portrait station volunteers Daniel Jungwirth and Alexandra Stang (from Macklin!) who really kept things ticking along and let me concentrate on signing books and talking to people.

Thanks so much to conference coordinator Donna Tetrault, the rest of my Federated Co-operatives Ltd. hosts and all the members in attendance. Thanks also to TCU Place technical director Richard Heineke and his team for making everything run so smoothly.

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Proactive Provost @CanaltaHotels

Cade, Karen, AlissaKelsie Valliere and I had firmed up details of my presentations at the Macklin School about a month ago and it was clear I'd need to come in the day before in order to be ready for the first class of the morning. So I asked for a recommendation of a place to stay and she recommended the Canalta Hotel just across the provincial border in Provost AB (also crossing a timezone, as I later discovered!). Fine. I looked it up online and made an e-booking. About half an our after getting my confirmation I got another email from Canalta – this one a personal message from GM Leila Grobel saying they'd seen my reservation come in and wondered if I might be free to do a presentation in Provost! How cool is that? Time was going to be tight as I had to get back to Saskatoon to get Doug from the airport and get checked in for tomorrow's presentation for the Federated Cooperatives AGM while accounting for that time change but we figured there'd be time to do a small gathering in a conference room on Saturday morning. If they provided robes at this hotel I could conceivably have wandered down and done it that way! Lucky for everyone involved there are no robes so I simply got dressed, went down and had a couple of complimentary hardboiled eggs and some coffee and got set up in the meeting room.

To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I'd seen some colour photocopied posters around and they'd put 40 chairs in the small meeting room on the ground floor and were laying out some coffee and donuts in the lobby but there was no indication as to how many people might come out on a very cold and grey Saturday morning.

As I was setting up the projector and sound, a guy in coveralls wandered past and asked if I played golf. His name was James McCrimmon and he was on his way to a pipeline job in the area somewhere but quickly produced a little aluminum divot fixer and tee repair that he'd invented called the ReTee. We talked about his business strategy for a while (which includes a possible appearance on the Dragon's Den - he's already done the audition) and then (since he'd shown me his) I offered to show him my invention. He wanted a picture with Voyageur and he shed the coveralls in about 2 seconds for a more casual fleece look. As we were talking, my three musicians for the "performance pocket" came in: (pictured left to right) Cade Scheck, Karen Wagner and Alissa McLaren. We all ambled out to the lobby to greet people and by the time we all drifted back to the meeting room it was full. I can't say enough how much I love this experience of talking about this project to a room full of friendly and curious strangers and hearing (and having them hear) local folks bringing Voyageur to life. It was a perfect way to spend the morning.

Thanks again to Leila and her staff (hey Jimmy!) and to the Canalta Hotels group for welcoming this opportunity. A very special thanks also to the Bodo Archaeological Society who supported this event. Bodo is a community between Macklin and Provost and they host camps in the summer where young people both kids and adults can come and do a proper archaeological dig and get their hands dirty doing real science – check out the link!

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