My @VicFoundation Journey Ends in Sooke

Journey musicians If you have a kind of idealized image of Vancouver Island in your mind - a rolling road twisting along the coniferous coastline with cozy coves harbouring independent businesses and free thinkers - you're probably picturing Sooke, home of the famed Sooke Harbour House restaurant that friends of my parents fled Toronto to start several decades ago. And not too far from that was the final stop on my tour of schools in the Victoria area this week - appropriately enough named Journey Middle School.

I was thrilled that Journey decided to delay the start of renovations to their gymnasium so we could do this assembly today and although it was a short day for the school I was also thrilled that the students hung on every word of the presentation even beyond our official end time. Vice-principal Glenn Bedard helped us get set up and festooned the table where I place the guitar case with a school logo covering made in the traditional button blanket style of the local T'Sou-ke Nation on whose traditional territory the school sits.

For the performance pocket, Miles Eldredge (pictured, second from left) performed solo doing one of his own songs, while Mitch Rehman (holding Voyageur) covered the Beatles' "Oh Darling" with Richard Hopkins (left) on bass and student Ella McDonald (right) providing some powerful vocals. It was a real high note on which to bring this extraordinary week to a close (though I'm kind of amazed they didn't do a Journey song!).

Thanks to everyone at Journey and to everyone at the Victoria Foundation for making this such an amazing journey for me on Vancouver Island!

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VSS (Very Special Spencer)

Very Special Spencer Crew What a week! Today's final day of presentations took me further west than I've been this trip - past Esquimalt toward the western flank of Vancouver Island to Langford and Sooke - very different terrain and a really beautiful drive. At this point, I've done presentations at perhaps a few hundred different schools across the country. Of course, they're all different and they all have similarities but I find it so interesting how each school develops a unique character that makes itself apparent in a variety of ways: the look and feel of the school, the ease with students laugh and participate, the confidence with which they ask questions, the amount of discipline staff feels compelled to apply, the relationship apparent between students and staff. And sometimes you just come upon a place that has a very special feel and everything about that school seems to reflect that unique character. That was Spencer Middle School in Langford this morning. The students really responded to the presentation, of course, but things really bloomed during the performance pocket. They had arranged quite a line-up of players - including Trisha Judar (pictured, holding Voyageur) accompanied by Essencia Leandro (front row, second from left) and Chloe Leclair (far right) on vocals and piano; teacher Jason Chan (pictured, holding the frets) did a solo instrumental blues piece; and the finale was lead by shop teacher Merv Pasay (pictured, with the giant moustache) accompanied by Duey (between Trish and Merv), Martina (far left) and...well...the WHOLE SCHOOL in a song that Merv wrote and that the school has been singing for years: "Spencer, Have a Beautiful Day". The sound that came back from the crowd during the sing-a-long sections was epic!

Once the assembly was done and I was all packed up, vice-principal Jennifer Nixon (pictured, back row right) took me on a little tour of the school on the way back to my car. It was interesting enough architecturally - a kind of wheel hallway built around a circular atrium - but even more interesting were the Rube-Goldberg-style installations in the hall, above the lockers and along the walls: a harmonium requiring two people to operate, colourful bike wheels formed into crank operated cogs, an animated model school bus - even the huge multilingual welcome sign at the entrance to the school - all created by Merv and his shop class students. Fanciful and delightful but each one a demonstration of mechanical or architectural principles. This Dr. Seuss quality combined with my experience at the assembly was further articulation of the unique character of the school and proof that, as the Spencer motto says, it's "A Great Place for Learning".

Thanks to principal Terry Honer (back row, left), all the staff and students for giving me a chance to learn in your environment too!

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Cross that Bridge for @SD61schools @NNaughton61 @RHRavens

Joel, Tracey and Josh Across from where Pandora St. meets Wharf St. on Victoria's Inner Harbour is a controversial blue bridge. This big blue Meccano-set-dinosaur is a drawbridge that connects downtown with West Victoria and the traditional territory of the Esquimalt First Nation including the famed Esquimalt Naval Base. It's controversial not only because some people hate it and some people love it but because the project to finally replace the crumbling was embroiled in international disputes, cost overruns and a long-delayed timetable for completion. Which means you can still cross it for the time being and I hadn't had occasion to yet on this trip. So I was glad for today's presentations at Shoreline Community Middle School and nearby Rockheights Middle School so I could have one last chance to use it before the sleek new bridge opens (with any luck) sometime later this year.

The Shoreline assembly proved to be yet another awesomely attentive group with performances on Voyageur by staff members Joel Smith (pictured, left), Tracey Nolan and Josh Gronotte. As I always note, all kinds of people have all kinds of connections to all kinds of pieces in the guitar, case and strap but the one story that consistently makes the biggest impact and draws people out to tell their connection to an extraordinary community and its extraordinary tree is the Golden Spruce. After we'd finished the presentation, Tracey came up to tell me one of the most deeply personal, deeply emotional stories anyone has ever told me in connection to the Golden Spruce. Of course, I won't share that here but I want to truly thank her for sharing her experience with me and adding to the depth of feeling the informs every single telling of my own connection to that tree and that community and for which I am forever grateful to the people of Haida Gwaii.

From there it was a short drive to Rockheights Middle School, where the student body was an amazing mix of First Nations kids, the kids of military personnel and many who were both. It was highly multicultural - made more so by a contingent of visiting students from Thailand. As someone who spent the better part of a year living in that beautiful country, it was great to put Voyageur in their hands and have a chance to say "Khop khun khap!".

Thanks to vice principal Michelle Troughton at Shoreline and principal Maryanne Trofimuk at Rockheights along with all the staff and students at both schools.

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Retirement Living with @VicFoundation

Darwin Scott rehearses Yesterday at Government House I was introduced to Gordon Denford, the Victoria Foundation's Honorary Governor and the founder of Berwick Retirement Communities, with multiple locations - most on Vancouver Island. As part of Berwick's sponsorship of the Donor Tea, he'd arranged to have me do my presentation at Berwick's Royal Oak location. I have done the presentation for a few other retirement homes over the years and those occasions have proven to be treasure troves of stories as residents come up to chat following the presentation so I was very much looking forward to this event. But I'm not sure I was quite prepared for what I found on arriving at Berwick Royal Oak:
I was greeted at the main entrance by manager Debbie Macmurchie and lead down a grand corridor past a sumptuously appointed reading room, a small seminar room, a pub and billiards room and other amenities, down the staircase overlooking the dining room and buffet and into a small but well-appointed theatre. To be honest, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd walked into a ski resort rather than a retirement home!

As I was getting set up, Debbie informed me that the guitar player on staff she'd lined up to play in the performance pocket had called in sick. Apart from it being a shame if the audience doesn't hear the guitar they've just spent an hour learning about come to life, it also creates a kind of awkward interruption in the flow of the presentation so I always insist we explore every possibility before going to Plan B. So Debbie set out and within 20 minutes or so had called her husband Rick Macmurchie to head over and deliver some Neil Young and located one of the servers from the dining room, Darwin Scott (pictured), who was seconded from his station to come and rehearse backstage before doing a great job playing at the end of the presentation.

Once again, the audience was tremendously attentive and appreciative and I had all kinds of folks coming up to chat and share stories after the presentation - a wonderful way to end a very full day in Victoria.

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Glad to Be at Glanford with @GMSMavericks

Glanford staff and student players Glanford Middle School was just a short drive from Colquitz, which gave me plenty of time to stop at a terrific local market for a glass of house made kombucha and a perfectly contructed made-to-order roast beef sandwich on rye!

The way these presentations work is that I do my storytelling for almost an hour and then I take Voyageur out of its case to be played by one or more players from the school or community in what we call the "performance pocket". That pocket at standard length is about 8 minutes, which typically gives us time for 2-3 songs. There's almost always a person or two at every event who is willing to step up in front of an audience and give it their best shot but, occasionally, recruiting players from the staff or student body means helping potential players overcome some performance anxiety or outright stagefright. That was certainly not the case at Glanford! Students Owen, Jason and Liam and staff members Mark Atkins, Mark Leischner and Jenni Scott all stepped enthusiastically into the spotlight and we stretched the performance pocket out to 11 or 12 minutes to accommodate. If only it was this easy to get players at every event (see next blog post!)

Thanks to principal Louie Scigliano and all the staff and students at Glanford.

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Media Morning on the @ColquitzScene #SD61 @CHEK_News

Colquitz players The Victoria Foundation certainly programmed a very busy Wednesday for me! It's probably a good thing I had an early night last night following a great dinner with my sister and niece at the wonderful Brasserie L'École on Government St. Not only were we due for an early start at Colquitz Middle School but the Foundation had also arranged for this to be an opportunity for local media to come and check things out. The Times-Colonist newspaper had sent someone out to yesterday's Government House event and they'd interviewed me over the phone the day before. First thing this morning it was CHEK TV. I'd actually heard about CHEK some months ago on the CANADALAND podcast. Launching as BC's first privately owned TV station at the end of 1956, CHEK became a near casualty of Canada's troubling media business concentration until it was rescued and revived as North America's first and only independent, employee-owned television station in 2009. We did a stand-up and they stuck around for the whole presentation and put together a nice little feature on Six String Nation's time in Victoria, which you can see here.

As for the presentation itself - it happened to be "Jersey Day" at Colquitz so many students and staff were wearing their favourite team jerseys (I was glad to see one teacher in a Leafs jersey) and that made it easy to figure out whose faces to watch when I got to the "Rocket" Richard part of the story! It was another super attentive audience with fine performances from student players Owen Bardy (pictured, left), who really nailed Radiohead's "Paranoid Android", Theo Zaalberg (centre) and Ty Reeve (right). You know, as a kid, the Chicago Blackhawks were my favourite team so I'm with Ty on the jersey choice. But - especially since Truth & Reconciliation is such an important part of the presentation - I hope that "Jersey Day" events at schools across Canada become an opportunity to talk about the #notyourmascot movement. And speaking of jerseys... the Colquitz Middle School baseball shirt they presented me as a gift after the presentation is already my favourite school swag ever!

Special thanks to principal Gord Mitchell, vice principal Sarah Khosla, the staff and students at Colquitz and Vee Cooper and her crew from CHEK.

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Tea for Two (Hundred+) with @VicFoundation @nmintenko1 and @KiaranMcMillan at @GovHouseBC – Pt. 2

Nick Mintenko and Kiaran McMillan My main contact at the Victoria Foundation is Louise MacDonald. We've been communicating in the weeks and months leading up to this week and she's been organizing all the details on the ground here in and around Victoria - putting the schedule together for all the events and corralling all the details needed to make things go smoothly at each location. One thing I like to know in advance is the names of the players who will be playing Voyageur in the "performance pocket" so I can make sure I get their names correctly built into the slide deck and communicate with them directly if necessary with technical info. For quite a while, I'd ask Louise if we had names of performers for the event at Government House yet and there was no definitive answer. Just before I arrived in town, Louise let me know we finally had a player confirmed. The day before the Government House event she let me know we, in fact, had two! And they turned out to be an absolutely terrific pair.

Nick Mintenko (pictured, left) was up first. He's a wonderful singer-songwriter with a jazz-tinged pop sensibility. Have a listen on his Bandcamp page. Kiaran McMillan (pictured, right) was up next. Kiaran is known locally for his work in a few bands - including Timebenders and Electric Sex Panther (for you Ron Burgundy fans out there!) - but for this outing he was solo (apart from some accompaniment from his own loop pedal). I can tell you that I've heard a lot of versions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" played on Voyageur but never one quite like this. It was a masterfully looped, jazz-structured contemplation on the song that was no less poetic for being purely instrumental.

I confess there's a special delight I take in hearing up and coming artists play Voyageur. They've got stuff going on, they're trying to find their way in an increasingly complicated business. And then someone proposes that they play this particular guitar for some particular occasion and they take the gig maybe not knowing too much about Six String Nation. So they do a little research and it seems like it might be a cool thing to do. They arrive for soundcheck and get a bit of a trial run and then they sit through the presentation and the whole story just opens up for them and seems to inspire a kind of focus that guarantees I always get to hear them at their best. It's a real treat for the whole audience and a real honour for me.

So thank you to both of these great musicians and thanks also to the crew from SW Audio+Visual in Victoria who made everything look and sound just great in that spectacular Government House ballroom!

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Tea for Two (Hundred+) with @VicFoundation and @LGJudithGuichon at @GovHouseBC – Pt. 1

The Honourable Judith Guichon, OBC Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and procession guests at Government House, Victoria, BC My work with a variety of Canada's Community Foundations over the years has taken me to some pretty extraordinary places but today's event really was something very special. If you don't know how Community Foundations work (well, I'm not sure I'm really the one to tell you but I'll give you my sense of it), they operate on two fronts: the way you might have heard of them is that they're behind the production of the annual Vital Signs reports in the communities where they operate. This is the report that takes the pulse of the community in terms of things like education, health, poverty, livability and a variety of other indicators; on the other front, they work with a variety of private and corporate donors who want to channel some of their wealth toward addressing some of those issues without handling all the infrastructure of managing their own foundations. It's kind of like one-stop shopping for philanthropy! So the Victoria Foundation's annual Donor Tea is a chance to get some of their partners and contributors in a room together for a little progress report, a little socializing, a little pomp and ceremony and (this is where I come in) a little storytelling.

Our host was The Honourable Judith Guichon, OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia (seated, right) and the venue was the official residence, Government House, located on the traditional territory of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. Before things got started I was chatting with the LG's Honorary Aides-de-Camp, Lieutenant(N) Jamie Webb, CD, AdeC of the Royal Canadian Navy, who let me know a couple of important facts about Government House:
1. that this was the third Government House to stand on the site - the first two being destroyed by fires in 1899 and 1957; and,
2. that all the other Lieutenant Governors of Canada are envious of the fact that BC has the most beautiful official residence for LGs in Canada!
While he may have been biased, it wasn't hard to believe him. The grounds were swarming with volunteer gardeners when I arrived in the morning for soundcheck doing an impeccable job in spite of spring taking it's time taking hold and various spots around the site were animated with citizens walking about or doing their morning exercises with a spectacular view of the Strait below and U.S. Territory in the distance.

Her Honour was a friendly and delightful host as we assembled in the drawing room for the procession into the main ballroom. Sadly (I know some people would dispute that it's really "sadly" but I happen to love them...), the piper who was meant to accompany our procession was nowhere to be found but it still felt pretty great to be in such good company as we entered for the main event.

In the photo, standing - Left to right:
Gordon Denford, Victoria Foundation Honorary Governor and Founder of Berwick Retirement Communities (sponsor of the Donor Tea); Catelyn Creswick, Victoria Foundation Loran Provincial Scholarship Award recipient; Jean McRae, Executive Director, Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (Longevity in Leadership Award recipient); yours truly, Jill Robinson, Executive Director, Habitat Acquisition Trust (Community Leadership Award recipient); Arjun Niranjanan, Victoria Foundation Loran Provincial Scholarship Award recipient; Patrick Kelly, Board Chair, Victoria Foundation.
Seated:
Sandra Richardson, CEO, Victoria Foundation and The Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.

Thank you to our hosts and to all the wonderful staff at Government House for their remarkable hospitality.
There was much more to the day but you'll have to read on in Pt. 2!

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An Eggsciting Trip to Brentwood Bay @SD63Bayside

Student Elyse and staff Ed are Bayside's players You know how when you're visualizing Italy you can talk about it as a boot and locate the different locations in relation to where they might be on a boot? Yeah, Victoria is nothing like that. The southern tip of Vancouver Island is a tangle of lakes and bays and inlets and straits and smaller islands that I could never quite get my head around. The advantage of driving from school to school in the area with the map up on the GPS is that you start to get a better sense of the terrain. And it's not just me: I talked to several locals on this trip who honestly couldn't tell me what place was what direction from any other place!

So after leaving North Saanich on the Haro Strait side of the peninsula that points up toward Salt Spring Island, I crossed over the hump westward toward Brentwood Bay on the other side headed for École Bayside Middle School. It was a beautiful drive that took me near the famed Butchart Gardens. But frankly, I have a hard time keeping the names of flowers straight. Instead, what caught my eye was the sign for farm fresh eggs at a little teaching farm along the highway. I was planning to provision myself for making my hotel kitchenette breakfasts later anyway so I stopped in and put my $5 in the jar for what turned out to be the most perfectly golden-yolked organic free-range eggs you'd ever want to see.

Bayside offered a stunning visual introduction - it looks a bit like an airy hacienda on a little plateau among the trees. I was greeted by vice-principal Steve Newlove and lead to the gym for set up. Once again the student and staff response to the presentation was just fantastic and the performances in the pocket were just great. Student Elyse Rutledge (pictured, left) gave us the day's second rendition of Vance Joy's "Riptide" with a natural performer's confidence. In fact, she seemed so taken with the portraits floating by on the screen during her song that she seemed to be enjoying them just as much as she enjoyed performing! She was followed by staff member Ed Timmermans (pictured, right), who - apart from making all the technical preparations for the day - had composed a new song for the occasion that touched on many of the themes that the Six String Nation project itself addresses - including reconciliation and the need for a new relationship with Canada's indigenous people.

Thanks once more to all the staff and students at Bayside - especially those who came up after the presentation to ask questions, tell stories and get closer to Voyageur.

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Kicking Off @VicFoundation events with @SD63NSaanich

North Saanich players Victoria BC is a lovely city and my sister and her little family live here so it's always nice to visit. Though usually, those visits are pretty brief and we tend to stay pretty close to the house or to downtown. But this trip to Victoria for the Victoria Foundation is giving me the opportunity to stay in the region for a week and take the presentation over a much wider terrain - including Saanich and Brentwood Bay, Esquaimalt, Langford, Sooke and the spectacular Government House with its view overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Stay tuned as I update the blog!

I got in late last night and settled into my lovely room at the Parkside Hotel across from St. Ann's Academy with beautiful Beacon Hill Park just behind it. This morning it was up early and back towards the airport for my first presentation at North Saanich Middle School. It's kind of a strange feeling: I have given the presentation (or versions of it) hundreds of times and yet each time - especially after not having done it for a while - the telling of the story launches me right back into the full emotional impact of it. So I apologize if I was a little tearier than usual!

My original list of players for NSMS included a couple of bass players who were a little concerned about how they might perform on guitar for the "performance pocket" but a handy alternative presented itself and we shuffled the line-up - much to the bassmen's relief. Student Alexis Van Den Bulk (pictured, centre) started things off with a rendering of Vance Joy's "Riptide" and she was followed by former teacher and professional musician Ms Maxine, who boasted a powerful, full-throated blues drawl. Handily, Ms. Maxine's son, Jasper Kjernisted, was an NSMS student and an accomplished finger-style player so he stepped into the third spot. Jasper's grandmother was in the audience and was telling me after about the Kjernisted name and its origins in the Icelandic community - which gave me a great chance to point out to the family the presence of the Icelandic Lucky Stone from Gimli Manitoba embedded in the 7th fret. Like I always say, everyone has some connection to something in this guitar!

Special thanks to principal Kal Russell for his warm hospitality and to all the staff and students at NSMS for helping me to get this tour off to such a great start!

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