In the Footsteps of #gorddownie @masseyhall with @thistletownTDSB

Donne Roberts with Voyageur at Massey Hall If you didn't read the last blog - the one about the most recent addition of materials to Voyageur's guitar strap - you'll want to go back and read that, just so you get the full impact of how significant this day was. Not that it wasn't significant enough on its own. It's not every day one gets to perform on the stage of one of the world's great concert halls, Massey Hall - the Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street. First opened in 1894, Massey Hall was declared a National Historic Site on June 15th, 1981, my 19th birthday! It has played host to truly legendary events - from speeches by Sir Winston Churchill and the Dalai Lama, to community events and national ceremonies, to the wedding of Six Nations Olympian Tom Longboat, to concert recordings by Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie (Jazz at Massey Hall, 1953), Neil Young (Live at Massey Hall, 1971), Rush (All the World's A Stage, 1976) and Russell Peters (his Netflix comedy special Almost Famous, 2016). You may also have recognized it as the exterior of the "Rialto" theatre in this year's Academy Award Best Picture, Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" (the Elgin, just down the street, played the role of the interiors).

Many of those facts you might know from delving into the story of Six String Nation, since a seat from the upper gallery section is part of the project as Voyageur's headstock. I wanted to include Massey Hall in the project because I have always felt close to this building and inspired by it and I know it's a feeling shared with audiences and artists both here at home and from around the world. My last time on stage at Massey Hall was to emcee a concert by the Afro-Cuban All Stars - an offshoot of the Buena Vista Social Club then touring the world with stops everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Concertgebouw. As I was interviewing bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez before the show, he said: "I can't believe I get to play Massey Hall" with true wonder and reverence in his voice. It's a sentiment echoed by so many artists as they stand on that stage and when they say those words you can feel a wave of warmth coming back to them from an audience that knows exactly what they mean.

And, of course, it's a stage where Gord Downie stood for 9 performances with the Tragically Hip and at least 2 famous guest appearances with other artists during his lifetime - which made it the perfect place to reveal for the first time the additions in his honour made to the strap. The occasion that allowed us to do that this past Wednesday was part of Massey Hall's educational outreach program. Students from Thistletown Collegiate's Specialist High Skills Major track would be spending the day doing a series of variety of activities around the building and program head Vanessa Smith thought the Six String Nation presentation would be a great way to welcome them to the venue. Having not confirmed whether there were any players from among the attending students to handle the "performance pocket" part of the presentation, I made a last minute call to one of Six String Nation's oldest friends, African Guitar Summit alumni Donné Roberts, who re-arranged his day to come in and grace us with a solo version of his hit, "Malembo".

Apart from being glad to make our Gord Downie announcement in such an incredibly special place, I'm extra grateful that we were able to do this at this time. On June 29th and June 30th, the legendary Gordon Lightfoot will play yet another pair of concerts (he usually does a run of shows there every year) before the Hall closes for two years as part of the massive revitalization project currently underway - which includes the building of a condo tower behind the Hall, restoration of the ceiling and stained glass, revamping of the seating, exits and exterior, expansion of the dressing rooms and the addition of two new stages as part of the complex. It's going to be spectacular when it's all done. And I'm putting the Hall on notice: next time I come I want to use the full screen with a veritable gala of musicians involved!

Thanks to Jesse Kumagai, Mima Agozzino, Vanessa Smith and her outreach colleagues, the Massey Hall security and front of house team and Alex Naylor and the whole IATSE Local 58 tech crew who made it all look and sound so good. Thanks also to the Thistletown students - especially @Spyridoula9311 for her enthusiasm, special guests Kim Gill and Mike and Brenda Neuts and, of course, Donné for pinch hitting.

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In Gord We Trust, Head to Toe

<strong>Jowi</strong> and <em>Voyageur</em> with milliner <strong>Karyn Ruiz</strong> and cobbler <strong>Jeff Churchill</strong> Probably since the first time Voyageur appeared in public, people have been suggesting materials to add to it. Of course, there is no adding to Voyageur itself - it's a finished work of art. But there are small amounts of real estate in the case and on the strap where we can add very small, very special bits of the big wide Canadian story - the question is: given that finite amount of space, what do we decide to accept or pursue?

I cannot tell you the number of people who suggest: "You should get something from Gordon Lightfoot...You should get something from Joni Mitchell...You should get something from Neil Young... You should get something from Rush....etc. etc. etc. I've got a few issues with these ideas:
1. As a guitar, Voyageur ends up representing all of those artists over and over again already by the sheer number of people who choose to play music by those artists when presented with the opportunity to play Voyageur;
2. The whole point of the project is to expand the palette of colours we use to paint the picture of Canada. Those artists are already well recognized so I'd want to make sure lesser known artists were also included. And there would be no satisfying me or anybody else if everyone's favourite artists weren't included - by which time it would be a whole other project that became simply a tribute to musicians and not a vessel for storytelling;
3. The very best way - the richest, most robust, most meaningful way - that musicians become part of the fabric of the project is by playing it themselves or by having others play their music on Voyageur. That's why it's a guitar - so that it can really live and communicate in that way and that's the area where Canada's music artists excel, in that art that is a whole other kind of storytelling that combines with the stories of the guitar so that something truly unique and remarkable is borne of that collaboration.
4. I deliberately chose to represent musicians in the project more by including the places where they have played - materials still humming with the vibrations of a million and one performances: the pieces of Massey Hall in Toronto, the Theatre Capitole in Quebec City and J.R.'s bar in Charlottetown. Each of these places is of significance on its own and together they stand for the venues across the country where musicians have honed their craft and found their audiences.

Having said all that, I decided last year that there is one Canadian musician for whom I would make an exception to this no-musicians-represented-in-Voyageur's-components rule: Gord Downie. And that's not because I believe the Tragically Hip's music towers above all other Canadian music but because of what Gord Downie galvanized in so many Canadians and in the way he chose to live that last year of his life - with such courage, such love, such purpose, such generosity, such commitment, such creativity and such ferocious hope that Canadians would walk the difficult but ultimately rewarding path toward Reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people - a hope that is baked into the idea of the Six String Nation as well.

So it was fortuitous that Kim Gill a teacher whom I'd met years ago at an educator's retreat in Algonquin Park - approached me at an Elementary Teachers' Federation event in Waterloo Region back in November with an extraordinary offer. Kim had purchased a fundraising souvenir for the "Courage For Gord" initiative for brain cancer research at Sunnybrook consisting of seven guitar-shaped key fobs adorned with small swatches of fabric taken from each of seven different coloured metallic leather suits designed by Izzy Camilleri and worn by Gord Downie during the Hip's farewell "Man Machine Poem" cross-Canada tour in 2016. (Smaller fragments of those swatches are the scattered colours you see on the face of the felt-and-feather figure on the left of the photo above). Kim had run the idea past Mike and Patrick Downie to see if they thought a donation to Six String Nation would be suitable and they gave their blessing.

Of course, getting the fabric is one thing but where do we put it on the case or strap and what form does it take and who do we get to do that work? For me, there was only one answer: Karyn Ruiz (pictured, left). Karyn has been a friend for nearly 20 years. She is a tremendously talented artist in the field of millinery - hat-making. Her creations have appeared in the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair and on the heads of clients famous and not-so-famous all over the world. She also made Gord Downie's signature hats for that final tour. When I called to ask if she would consider handling the task of making something beautiful with Kim's donation, in true Canadian fashion she told me that she had wanted to offer me something from Gord's hats for Six String Nation but didn't want to appear self-important. So not only did she agree to take the job, she also offered to incorporate some felt and feathers (also seen in the assembly at the left of the photo) from the Gord materials left in the workshop. The only catch, she warned, was that her equipment did not include the kind of machine that would be capable of affixing whatever she made onto the thick Levy Leather guitar strap. However, she knew just the person to handle that part of things - another friend I'd met at a Tragically Hip-themed party at Karyn's last year named Jeff Churchill (pictured, right). Jeff is a world-renowned cobbler whose shoes you likely saw in Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" and will soon see on the feet of Dame Judi Dench in an upcoming film. He also happened to make Gord Downie's shoes for that final Hip tour and offered to incorporate some test cuts of heel and sole leather - the former stamped with the Tragically Hip logo and the latter emblazoned with the lyrics to the Hip's "Ahead by a Century". We all met just a few weeks ago to look at what might work where and talked through some options. I took some pictures of the raw materials - including the fragments taken from Kim's keychain souvenirs - and then left the strap in their capable hands.

This past Sunday we gathered together at Karyn's place to watch the Academy Awards and there Jeff handed me the finished product. I was overwhelmed with how perfectly it all turned out. Karyn's evocatively human assembly was affixed on the front of the strap above the piece from the Vancouver Asahi baseball jersey and the shoe leathers were affixed at the back - almost seeming to step out of the late singer-songwriter Taylor Mitchell's cowboy boot toward the late Myle's Neuts' wool cap (toe-to-head, as it were). We revealed the results yesterday for the very first time in a spectacular setting and that will be the subject of the next blog entry.

Thanks again to Kim Gill, Izzy Camilleri, Karyn Ruiz and Jeff Churchill. Thanks also to Sarah Gillett and Fernando Ruiz. And, of course, thanks to Gord Downie for the inspiration you sparked in all of us in so many different ways.

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Refueling Memories with @4Refuel

Paul Henderson meets Voyageur
On September 28th, 1972, I - along with the rest of my grade 5 classmates at Ranchdale P.S. - was pulled out of class and summoned to the library area where the biggest TV they had was set up for us all to watch game 8 - the tie-breaking finale of the Canada-Russia Summit Series that had the whole country on edge.

The tension continued to build with goals answering goals and tempers flaring among players and officials and supporters. With the game tied at 5-5 as the clock ticked down the third period, it looked like the Soviets would win the series on goal differential counted from the start of the series. But with 34 seconds remaining in the game, Paul Henderson got two stabs at a rebound off of Vladimir Tretiak from a shot by Phil Esposito. The second one made it into the net and thousands of miles away from the Luzhniki Palace of Sports in Moscow, most of an entire country went berserk. That moment was fused in my brain as it fused in the minds of a generation - captured in an iconic photo by Frank Lennon that was on the front page of every newspaper the following morning and has since been immortalized in a postage stamp and a million and one other manifestations and tributes.

Naturally, I wanted to include something of that moment that was both personal and national into the Six String Nation project. My efforts to get something from the Hockey Hall of Fame weren't yielding the results I needed but fate intervened at a 2005 birthday party for rock-it promotions founder Deb Goldblatt. I didn't know Deb well, myself, but she'd been working with my friend Andy Stochansky and I found myself at a table at The Drake Hotel seated next to Deb's father, Marv Goldblatt. Marv and I got to talking and I discovered that he was a retired hockey agent and accountant so I told him what I was trying to accomplish. He said: "Well, I know Paul Henderson - I'll give him a call for you". It was a lovely thing to offer but I don't suppose I imagined it would actually pan out.

So imagine my surprise when - a few days later - my phone rang one morning around 8:30 and the voice on the other end said, "Hi Jowi - it's Paul Henderson calling. I just cut off the top of my stick from '72. What do you want me to do with it?" With a mixture of shock and gratitude, I asked him to send it to me and I sent it along to George to include in the construction. Now, it's important to note that it's not the stick that scored "The Goal" but it was used in that game. Part of that stick fragment now forms part of the stem of the maple leaf motif on Voyageur's pick guard.

While I did thank Mr. Henderson at the time, I never had the chance to do so in person - until last night. Paul was a guest of his friend Larry Rodo, CEO of 4Refuel at their annual national company awards gala. Last year, Paul had been the guest speaker but this year that was my role and we were seated at the CEO's table and Paul watched my presentation with the rest of the audience. What a thrill it was for me to see him just a few feet away as I told the story. Afterwards, he let me know that he saw Marv just last week and I asked him to convey my thanks and regards.

The other point it was nice to be able to make with a genuine Canadian hockey icon in the room is that a major focus of the Six String Nation project is that we need to make room for all kinds of stories from all kinds of communities and perspectives in the ongoing creation of our national story. And there is never a better way to illustrate that by having the extraordinary David Leask on hand to perform a few of the songs he's written inspired by the stories embedded in Voyageur. We were fortunate that Larry Rodo had seen David bring the guitar to life in the "performance pocket" segment of my presentation at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts last fall. Larry was especially taken with David's "The Legend of Joe Labobe" about the Mi'kmaq shucking champion from Lennox Island so he got to hear that again along with the beautiful "Spirit Wrestlers" about the Doukhobour community of Veregin SK and "Against the Grain" about the legendary Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii. Having done three of these shows now with David, I feel like we could really take it on the road!

And I should take a moment here to talk about the rest of the people in that room at the Waterside Inn in Port Credit. Larry struck me, when I met him following my presentation at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts last fall, as an extraordinarily open and curious person - not what I tend to think of as your basic hard-nosed CEO-type. He was full of questions and enthusiasm and immediately asked if I did corporate presentations. Both in the conversations we had at the dinner before the presentation and his remarks he made in advance of the awards presentation that followed, he exhibited that same quality of wonder and gratitude. As much as the gathering was about the success of the business, it was just as much about people, highlighting the values of dignity and respect and creating a supportive environment. I confess I don't know much about the world of business but certainly the books and movies and articles about that world tend to showcase the prioritization of profits above all else and the pitfalls of making ambition the single driving force of a business means that people like me get a very particular picture of the kinds of values that motivate business. Not only did this company present a very different kind of impression - lead by Larry - but it seemed to be an attitude widely shared among everyone I met there. I had some great conversations with some lovely people who seemed also be full of wonder and curiosity and whose support of each other was inspiring.

Thanks again to Paul Henderson for his warmth and humour and for that amazing thing he did in '72 (7 goals over the course of the series too!). Thanks to Larry and his whole team at 4Refuel with a special thanks to Aurelia Alcaine-Hrubecky and all those organizing the event. Thanks also to the sound crew and staff at the Waterside Inn in beautiful Port Credit!

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Thank you Montreal, Thank you Leonard Cohen

Montreal Cityscape with Cohen mural We arrived late in Montreal, which was fine because we had a late reservation at Liverpool House - one of our favourite restaurants in the city. Having said that, we arrived a few minutes early and while they were readying our table we stood near the bar with an aperitif. I immediately recognized the gentleman sitting at the bar facing me as Member of Parliament for Ville-Marie/Le Sud-Ouest/Île-des-Soeurs Marc Miller, who had popped down to see Voyageur during our photo session on Parliament Hill two days earlier. He recognized me too and I went over to greet him (and chide him for not sticking around to get his portrait done). Who was he sitting at the bar with but Minister of Defence Harjit Saajan. Now that's a great way to start an evening out! But a great meal at Liverpool House was only the beginning. On now and through until April, the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal is hosting an extraordinary multi-artist exhibition in tribute to the great Leonard Cohen entitled Une brèche en toute chose/A Crack in Everything. And it just so happened that that night the gallery was open until 2:00am with bars, DJs and a whole scene happening - how could we not go? Besides which, a little known story about the Six String Nation project is that shortly after the CBC Television deal collapsed in early 2006, I started talks with an independent Calgary-based production company who was interested in developing something we could sell back to the CBC. I had imagined it as a series of performances with Voyageur set in locations from which the guitar had been built. For Montreal, I had proposed that we get Leonard Cohen on a stool in the tiny retail area of the Fairmount Bagel Bakery in his old neighbourhood doing a song while other famous Montreal artists pretended to bake bagels in the background. Remember this was just before the huge resurgence of interest in Cohen. The company approached Cohen's people with the idea and apparently he was interested! Unfortunately, CBC was not at the time and the whole idea fell through. It's one of my greatest regrets of the project. In any event, seeing the work of these global contemporary artists in such a magical and intensive setting - from the epically immersive multi-screen performance installation of George Fok to an intimate recreation of the great poet's garret - was more than mere consolation - much of it was truly a revelation. Perhaps not surprisingly, my favourite room was the poetry-organ piece by the genius sound sculpturists Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller. The following morning we headed for pastries at our favourite spot, Kouign-Amann, and decided to take the eponymous sweet, dense, flaky, buttery treats up to Mount Royal and found ourselves at the gates of the famed cemetery. Nestled on the side of the hill just before the north gates are two adjacent Jewish cemeteries, including the Shaar Hashomayim where we knew Leonard was buried and decided to make a little pilgrimage. It took us a while to find - especially among many other Cohen family plots - but we eventually found it not far from the small iron gate we'd come in and close to the road, topped with many small stones and messages of thanks and various tokens left by admirers. From there we continued up the mountain to the observatory. Gazing out over the city you notice this huge mural of Leonard painted onto the side of a building on Avenue de Montagne. See if you can find it in the photo above. We drove up from the condo on our way out of town the following morning to get a closer look and it really is magnificent - such a monumental and yet serene and beneficent tribute to a favourite son of the city. We had dropped off a bunch of stuff at Kate's brother's house in Cornwall on our way to Montreal in order not to provide further temptation for the city's notoriously fast-working car break-in artists and headed there to retrieve it (following a quick stop at the Glengarry fromagerie!) - listening to a huge Apple Music playlist on shuffle in the car as we went. Off the highway, down one arterial road to a smaller one and then the secondary road toward the neighbourhood. As we turned onto the residential street, what should come on the stereo but Madeleine Peyroux's rendition of "Dance Me to the End of Love". Our Montreal adventure was over and Leonard had accompanied us virtually the entire way. Thanks to Matt and Erin and the family, Jen and Jim and Mrs. Li.

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Above the Roar of the Crowd

Eliot and Tess Roby We make so many trips to Ottawa and yet so few to Montreal - in spite of the fact that it's so close to Ottawa and there are so many resonances in Voyageur from Montreal and we just love the city so much. So after our successful trip to Ottawa we thought maybe we'd extend the trip by a couple of days and make it a bit of a getaway with our friends Richard and Kate. I found a great deal on AirBnB for a condo for a couple of nights on the 31st floor above the Bell Centre downtown. Of course, the Bell Centre is the new(ish) home of the Montreal Canadiens and with gold from Rocket Richard's 1956 Stanley Cup ring on the 9th fret of the guitar, it just felt right to stay there. There was a game downstairs on Saturday night and who do you think the Habs were playing? None other than the Detroit Red Wings - the team to whom they lost the Cup in 1955, the season of the famed Richard suspension and ensuing riots and the team from whom they reclaimed the Cup the following year on a deciding goal from the Rocket himself, the very win that prompted the creation of the ring that now adorns Voyageur.

A couple of months earlier, I'd received a lovely email from my young friend Eliot Roby. Eliot is the son of my late and much-missed friend Charlie Roby - a wonderful musician and a lovely guy with a lovely family. I've known his kids since they were born and it's been so wonderful to see Charlie's gift for music blossom in his children. Eliot wrote quite out of the blue to tell me how much he admired the Six String Nation project and to let me know that he'd sure love to play that guitar one day. Eliot had followed his older sister, Tess, out to Montreal about a year ago. Tess has been building her music career there in Montreal for a few years now after finishing her studies and weaving herself into the creative life of the city as a DJ and an excellent photographic artist. They play regularly together as a duet with Tess on keys and vocals and Eliot on guitar - including a breakout performance at last year's Pop Montreal. I let Eliot know we were headed his way and we arranged to get together.

One of our favourite places to go in Montreal is the fabulous Jean Talon Market and we were provisioning ourselves for a night in with some wine and cheese and charcuterie etc. and since Tess and Eliot live not too far from the Market we arranged to meet them there and bring them back to our dee-lux apartment in the sky. I remember so many nights at the Roby household over the years with wine and cheese and music and conversation so it felt extra special to be recreating that feeling with those kids now as adults with their own careers beginning to take flight. Eliot played a couple of songs on Voyageur, we ate some more spectacular Strolghino from Les Cochons Tout Ronds, had one more glass of wine then delivered them back to their busy social lives back in their neighbourhood. Tess and Eliot's album for the Italians Do It Better label (home of the wonderful Chromatics!) comes out in April but you can listen to a preview here.

Thanks Tess, Eliot, Sarah, Richard, Kate and Gord for a great night far above the roar of the crowd.
BTW, final score: Montreal Canadiens 10 -Detroit Red Wings 1 - a total rout!

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ETFO Echo at @SLPSKanata @ETFOnews

Marc Cote and Leacock student players The week started with an Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario family event in Kitchener organized by Michael Beetham who had seen me at an earlier ETFO event in Mississauga organized by Jim Giles who had seen me at an earlier ETFO event in Ottawa. One of the "performance pocket" players at that event was Marc G. Cote who had me out to his school in Kanata today (he's the tall one in the picture).

The approach to Stephen Leacock Public School is deceiving. Kanata is (though not for much longer) the site of the Ottawa Senators home ice - a little less than half an hour outside of Ottawa. Broad avenues sprout glossy new low-rise condos on the edge of the leafy, rolling Kanata Golf and Country Club. Past a couple of well-to-do cul-de-sacs and there sits the low-rise landed spaceship of the school - all modern and modular looking with various triangles poking out of the low slung building set well back from the street. It all forms the impression of a sparkling new suburban development. And yet Leacock just celebrated its 50th anniversary!

Marc had been wanting to bring me to Leacock since his first encounter with the project and had been organizing around the idea for some time when I announced I'd be in Ottawa this week so everything worked out perfectly. Marc teaches guitar and gym at the school and has a great philosophy about getting kids involved in music: no clubs or auditions, he just wants as many kids as possible to have access to the guitars and feel encouraged to play - which meant there were plenty of candidates for the performance pocket in today's presentation and they were all fantastic. They're pictured in order around Marc in the photo: Khalil (whose parents were in the audience) played a medley built around "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", James played the intro to "Stairway to Heaven", Lauren played "Blackbird" and Trevor played the anonymous classical guitar piece "A Toye".

Thanks to Marc and the players and all the staff and students at Leacock for a great morning in Kanata - next time perhaps a round of golf to finish the day?

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Inner Sanctum @LoPresearch #libraryofparliament

Herb Davis in the Library of Parliament As students of the Six String Nation will know, Voyageur contains copper from the roof of the Library of Parliament - the iconic building that was the only one spared from the great fire the destroyed the rest of the buildings on Parliament Hill in 1916. There are two rings of copper around the rosette surrounding Voyageur's sound hole and two short strips accompanying the labradorite and moose shin on the third fret. One of my goals with the project is to eventually get the guitar back to all the places from which its materials originate. And yet - in spite of many trips to Parliament Hill since the guitar's completion in 2006 - I had never visited the Library of Parliament. And frankly, had Herb Davis (pictured) not suggested it on a whim following our trip to see the Dominion Carillonneur in the Peace Tower I likely would have missed it on this trip too!

There was an eerie quality to our approach as that is the hallway in which the shootout happened on October 22, 2014 between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons, Kevin Vickers, and RCMP Constable Curtis Barrett after Zehaf-Bibeau had murdered Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the nearby Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There are still bullet marks in the stone and on the doorway to the Library.

Once inside the Library, the feeling changed dramatically. It is the most glorious and serene environment and the acoustics are extraordinary. Designed by Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones and inspired by the British Museum Reading Room, the flying buttresses, double-wythe masonry and focussed lighting make you feel like you're in another world entirely. I couldn't help but quietly strum just one chord so the sound of Voyageur would enter that space and return the gift the building gave us back in 2005.

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Ring Them Bells

Dr. Andrea McCrady with VoyageurDr. Andrea McCrady practiced family medicine for many years in her home town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2006 she left medical practice and pursued a degree in music with one of the rarest and most difficult instruments in the world, the carillon. The carillon is the set of bells you'll hear playing music from bell towers as distinct from the chime bells you might hear marking the time or sounding an event. There are less than a dozen carillons in Canada, some of those inactive. While there are electronically controlled versions, the traditional carillon is a massive keyboard and foot-pedal device connected to at least 23 tuned bells by cables. In 2008, following an international competition, Dr. McCrady was selected to become the official Dominion Carillonneur of the 53-bell Gillett & Johnston carillon in Parliament's iconic Peace Tower. And on July 1st of this year - after playing "O Canada" - she descended from the Tower and became a Canadian citizen at a ceremony on Parliament Hill.

Long time friend of the project Herb Davis had arranged for my visit and we piled into the tiny elevator with Voyageur, Dr. McCrady and two other guests, Wendy Stokes-Earl and Clinton Unka, to ascend the tower - passing by the chimes visible through the elevator window as we climbed. In the tiny control room, I gave Dr. McCrady and her other guests a tour of my guitar and then she gave us a tour of her instrument - including all the various controls required to monitor the sound in that small, sealed room. She unlocked several mysteries for me - including why sometimes you'll just hear the bells going for no apparent reason not on any hour or half or quarter. I know because I sounded one of those myself under her guidance! She has played all kinds of music - including folk and rock and even the Star Wars theme, some of it of her own arrangement, others composed specifically for carillon - but always starting with "O Canada". As it was the beginning of Advent, she played "Four Dutch Advent Songs", arranged by Leen ‘t Hart and "Advent Fantasy", by John Courter and then Wendy - who it turns out is a student of Dr. McCrady's - played a piece as well.

Clinton had a pretty amazing story too - originally from Yellowknife, Clinton has lived all over Canada and was Canada's first aboriginal Parliamentary page. He now lives in Madagascar but was home for Christmas and the combination of Voyageur connecting to so many aspects of his life and a request played on the Peace Tower carillon (the "Canon in D") made him a little homesick. I confess the whole experience was a pretty emotional experience for me too. Thanks, Herb, for suggesting it and for making it happen.

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Voyageur returns to Parliament Hill @viraniarif @JustinTrudeau

Jowi, Justin and Arif I first met Justin Trudeau by complete accident back in 2003, back when he was a school teacher. I was trying to obtain something of his father's from the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough to go into the guitar but wasn't having any luck as the institution was in crisis at the time and there really wasn't anyone to talk to. So one day I'm waiting to get on an elevator on the second floor of the CBC building in Toronto and as the door opens, Justin steps out. So I buttonholed him and we had a chat about it and he gave me some numbers to call at the Trudeau Foundation and promised to follow up. Some months later he found one of Pierre's paddles at the family cottage and recorded some audio for us to help publicize the project on a CBC weekend radio show. By the spring of 2006 we were ready to start building but the TV deal with CBC had fallen through and we needed to do some of our own documentation so we arranged to meet Justin in Mount Royal Park in Montréal to make a little video with him about the paddle he'd contributed. That footage has never been seen - mostly because it turns out to have been out of focus! Fortunately, Deborah Smith - a producer at Newsworld - wanted to make her own documentary about the project and virtually replicated our Mount Royal interview with Justin and it can be seen in the film "A Canadian Guitar" (though I can't seem to find any evidence of that doc online - I've got a copy if you'd like to see it). Shortly before my book was published, I found myself in Ottawa for an event at the National Arts Centre and staying across the street at the Chateau Laurier. That same weekend there was a PEN Canada benefit in town with a reception at the Chateau and my publisher, Scott McIntyre, was there so I had an excuse to crash the party, guitar in hand. The place was full of Canada's literary icons. Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson were there, Charlotte Gray was there, and Justin was also there. He was happy to finally see the completed guitar in person and we took a photo on the very first iPhone in very poor light so I've been wanting to get proper portraits with him for a long time - whether he was a politician or not. Back in 2007, my then-MP Peggy Nash arranged for a portrait session to be held in Centre Block on Parliament Hill. We got a few of our most iconic portraits on that day - including ones with Jack Layton, Peggy, Paul Dewar and Charlie Angus, Speaker of the House Peter Milliken, then Defence Minister Peter McKay and many others. Of course, there's been a lot of changes on Parliament Hill since 2007 - including the fact that that school teacher I met is now Prime Minister - so my current MP, Arif Virani (pictured, right), agreed to set up another portrait session for us. Our room got shifted a few times and ended up being a real challenge - nowhere near as accommodating for our set up or as convenient for MPs and staff as the one we had in '07 - but we made it work. The big question, of course, was whether the PM would be able to attend. We got word just a few days from the shoot that he was in and looking forward to seeing the guitar again but we'd have to do our photos with him away from our backdrop and up by his office instead. At the appointed hour - right after doing portraits with the Usher of the Black Rod, Greg Peters, MVO - we suspended activities and headed up to the PM's office. There was a small cluster of us waiting for him to arrive. As I looked across the atrium I saw him coming up the stairs, lead by an RCMP guard ensuring a clear path. He walked briskly. When he saw the assembly near his door he held up a finger and said "I'll be with you in a moment". Then he glanced my way and a huge smile came over his face. "Jowi!", he exclaimed and he came over and gave me a big hug. I honestly had not expected that he'd remember me. He promised he'd be right back and as he headed into his office he said, "It's been a long time since we've seen each other!". "I know, what have you been up to?", I called out. "Not much", he laughed over his shoulder as the door closed behind him. He re-emerged moments later and we finally made good on the promise to get better photos than the poor one I've used in the presentation for years now. I'm glad we were finally able to get these shots. You can see ALL the photos from our moment outside the PM's office and from the portrait sessions downstairs on our Flickr gallery from the day. Thanks to Arif Virani, Michel Carpentier, Cecely Roy and Lucas Veiga for getting it all arranged and helping administer the sessions and to Herb Davis for drumming up extra attendees on the day. And thanks to all the MPs and staff who came for their portraits, including John Aldag, Will Amos, Rene Arsenault, Vance Badawey, Mike Bossio, Terry Duguid, Neil Ellis, Andy Fillmore, Peter Fonseca, Mona Fortier, Sean Fraser, Kamal Khera, David Lametti, Stephane Lauzon, Paul Lefebvre, John McKay, Michael McLeod, Greg Peters, Kyle Peterson, Yasmin Ratansi, Geoff Regan, Deb Shulte, Sonia Sidhu, Sven Spengemann and Nick Whalen. Don't see your representative's name on that list? Ask them why they weren't there!

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Making Connections @ETFOWaterloo

Darrell Kuwabara Probably the most rewarding part of my work sharing the story of Voyageur around the country is the connections I make with people. After all, the guitar is a kind of story engine - built from all these different histories and communities and characters and events that make us who we are. Invariably, these stories resonate for people when they hear them and that inspires them to tell me their stories and that's been the beginning of many conversations and correspondences and friendships. Michael Beetham - an educator in the Waterloo Region - heard my story at an educational event for the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario back in the fall and immediately connected on many levels. Within a few days he contacted me about coming out to his part of the province to speak to an ETFO family gathering at the Edelweiss Bar & Grill and helped generate the two school presentations earlier in the day.

I'd arrived the night before in order to be ready to go first thing in the morning and Michael and his wife Lori graciously invited me to their home - along with their friend and fellow educator Suzanne - for a spectacular home-cooked meal and some great conversation. We discovered a common African connection with Michael having spent several tours working on school programs in a few West African countries. The following evening at the Edelweiss, I was thrilled to see not only some teachers I'd met earlier but also Kim Gill, whom I'd met at an educator's retreat in Algonquin Park called Unplugged back in 2012 (Kim had a very interesting idea for an addition to the case or strap, which I'll reveal at a later date). But perhaps the most profound connection of the evening was with one of the players for the evening, Darrell Kuwabara (pictured). He is Japanese-Canadian with roots in Vancouver. His parents were among the thousands declared "enemy aliens" during the second world war and sent to internment camps across the country. That's what brought his family to Ontario, first to Hamilton. He said that growing up his father had told him about watching games in Vancouver played by the Asahi - the Japanese-Canadian baseball team, part of whose ca. 1930's jersey is now on Voyageur's strap. It made his beautiful performance all the more poignant seeing that piece standing out near his left shoulder.

Thanks also to Laura Dicknoether, who also played in the "performance pocket", to our portrait station volunteers Nora Davis, Deanna and Tamara Hurley and to the terrifically helpful staff at the Edelweiss. Special thanks also to Dave Worsley from Words Worth Books for handling book sales at the event and to Michael Beetham for making all those connections possible.

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