LCI Afternoon

LCI Singers and Players Our early morning start gave us a comfortable amount of time to make it to our mid-afternoon appointment at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute. And it was a pretty comfortable set up there as well: not a whole school assembly (which I usually encourage) but a select group of students from a variety of programs and subject areas. After a week of gymnasium assemblies it was actually kind of nice to be in a lecture space with a more focussed audience - it was easier to have a more intimate feel and be a bit more conversational - though it was still a couple of hundred people. But then, it's a big school – I'm actually surprised I didn't get lost when I had to retrieve a mic stand from the car.

Teacher Ken Rogers was our point person and we got set up with the help of some students and Tyler-the-tech, who seems to be the on-call AV guy for a number of area schools. In that closer environment I could hear more of the quiet reactions of students to some stories, which automatically makes me more emotional so I was closer to choking up a bit than I have been thus far on this trip.

The performances got me a little choked up as well. Teacher David Fletcher (pictured, holding Voyageur) lead a group of fellow teachers in an intricately harmonized rendition of Ian & Sylvia Tyson's "Four Strong Winds", while Justin Riehl & Odhinn Landry (two students pictured furthest right) duetted on The Sheepdogs' "I Don't Know" and Delane Lamont (pictured closest the headstock, and whose brother Devon played Voyageur at Gilbert Paterson school last week) went with a tune by Hanna Alberta boys Nickelback.

After the presentation and a few photos, teacher Fletcher lead us up to the third floor resource room where I was proud to have my picture included on their wall of "Greatest Canadians". I was in some very fine company on that wall and excellent company downstairs for the presentation.
Thank you LCI!

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Magrath in the Morning

Josh Mackenzie & Jordan Brame Having run recon on my way back from Waterton yesterday, it was an easy trip back to Magrath this morning for the first presentation of the week. In fact, we were a bit early but principal Rob Doig was ready for us and we got set up pretty quickly in the gym with a nice big screen and a projector that looked like it was on steroids.

Magrath was originally settled in 1899 by Mormons from Idaho and Utah who were recruited for their irrigation expertise and paid partly in land. The canal system they built was the first major irrigation project in Canada and still supplies many of the area farms. Today a massive wind farm project in Magrath echoes that original investment in infrastructure. A couple of blocks from the school, Alston Scout Park commemorates Louisa Alston, the first female commissioner for the international scouting movement.

The "performance pocket" in the presentation was executed to perfection by teacher Jordan Brame (pictured, right) – who sang Florida Georgia Line's "Dirt" - the lyrics of which paint a really evocative picture of life in a rural town – and student Josh Mackenzie (pictured, left) who overcame nerves to bring the house down with a rocking version of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There".

Thanks to everyone at Magrath who helped get this week of events off to a great start!

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Sunday Driver

Waterton View Our visit to Cardston Junior High on Friday was tantalizingly close to Waterton Lakes – one of Canada's magnificent National Parks. But there were other commitments so we headed back to Lethbridge (and back again to Vulcan!). There were no commitments today - and the sky looked like it might be a little clearer than yesterday so I figured this was my best opportunity to get a proper look at the park.

Waterton is actually a little different from Canada's other national parks. It's our fourth oldest, founded in 1895, but in 1932 it partnered with Montana's Glacier National Park on the adjacent U.S. side to be co-administered as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. The Parks Canada website seems to downplay this association but it's the first thing you see on the park guide they hand you on the way in after paying the fare.

I took the route recommended by Tom and Mike at Lucky Star Guitars in Lethbridge – heading first west to Fort MacLeod and then south through Glenwood and Twin Butte toward Waterton. Also as recommended, I stopped in at the Twin Butte General Store and Mexican Restaurant, a little place seemingly in the middle of nowhere with a live music scene and a damn fine spicy pulled pork sandwich on a sourdough bun that was almost as big as my head. It fortified me for my trip into the Park and the drive up to beautiful Cameron Lake. I stopped for a couple of little hikes on the way there and the way back before lingering in the Waterton Townsite for a while and bemoaning the fact that the weather wasn't better yesterday so that I might have taken in the last night of the season at the Waterton Lakes Opera House - looks like it would an ideal place to do the Six String Nation presentation. But I have a feeling we'll make it back there some day.

I came back to Lethbridge via the Cardston route, which took me past Magrath so I dipped in to familiarize myself with the location of the school where I'll be first thing tomorrow morning. See you then Magrath!

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Lucky in Lethbridge

Tom & Mike at Lucky Star Lethbridge seems to be fairly well served for musical instrument shops. In what is quite a compact downtown area I saw several – including a few independents and a Long & McQuade. But I'm always on the lookout for a particular kind of instrument shop in various places across Canada. As I'm not an actual guitar player myself, I'm always grateful to have people who are familiar with Voyageur and know a lot more about guitars than I do who can keep an eye on it maintenance-wise - who might notice things I've overlooked.

I feel very fortunate to have the folks at the 12th Fret and Capsule Music in Toronto, Nicole Alosinac in Vancouver, John Sharples in Winnipeg as well as folks in Guelph, Edmonton, Sudbury and other places who I can turn to in a pinch. I am very glad that I feel I've found kindred spirits at Lucky Star Guitars on 6th Ave. in Lethbridge.

I had heard about Lucky Star from a few people and George Hall and I decided to drop in unannounced. Guitar tech and luthier Tom Anderson (pictured, left) was at the door almost as if he'd been expecting us and knew right away what was in my marigold Calton case. "I was hoping you might drop by," he said, as if to confirm my impression. I handed him Voyageur and gave him a quick tour. He played and we talked about this and that until owner Mike Christou (pictured, right) showed up. We all fell into such easy conversation and I felt like I'd known them both for years. Apart from assuring me that they'd be proud to be my go-to guys in Lethbridge, they gave me some great advice for my trip to Waterton that I'm about to undertake today. This is not an official visit but just a chance to explore some of the beautiful countryside here in southwestern Alberta.

BTW, a quick note about the photo: somehow, I touched something on my iPhone screen that locked my auto-focus and auto-exposure, making the photo pretty blurry. The best way I could think of to rescue it was to give it the sepia treatment so that it might at the very least look like an old-timey Brownie shot I'd found in an archive somewhere. Sorry guys, I'll do a better photo next time!

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Head-Smashed-In, Guitar Fine

The moment I saw the beautiful oxidized metal sign at the entrance to this UNESCO World Heritage Site I regretted not bringing Voyageur with me on this little personal day trip. It (or even just the case) would have looked great against that surface!

As fun as it is to say the name, and as excellent is the logo, taken together they are a bit misleading. Given that the lead buffalo clearly appears to be pitching headlong over some unseen precipice, the suggestion is that it is the buffalo whose heads are about to get...well...smashed in. In fact, the name refers to a legend about one of the Blackfoot hunting party who thought it might be cool – a-la the tunnels under Niagara Falls – to watch the buffalo cascading past on their 30' drop from a vantage point under the cliff overhang. Unfortunately for him, it was an especially bountiful hunt that day and as the thrashing broken-legged mass of buffalo began to pile up, they piled in his direction and - once the rest of the party managed to dispatch the buffalo and pull the carcasses away – it was the hunter who was found with the crushed cranium.

That was just one of the things I learned at the marvellous interpretation centre at the site – along with a whole lot about the patient research and communal ingenuity that went into developing this hunting method, the lifestyle and culture it made possible and the disaster that followed when the buffalo were so recklessly extinguished by the incoming Europeans. It's a short drive west of Fort MacLeod so if you're in southwestern Alberta, don't miss this incredible spot. I'm just sorry Voyageur stayed back at the hotel.

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Late Night Reunion

Stephen Fearing and Andy White at the Owl Acoustic in Lethbridge I had Tweeted something about the show in Vulcan last night and quickly saw a Retweet from @leeharveyosmond. While a retweet is always nice, I wondered if there was some reason for this one in particular and quick follow up revealed that our very good friend (I actually like to think of him as one of Six String Nation's founding fathers) Stephen Fearing was playing in Lethbridge at the Owl Acoustic Lounge. It had been a long day with lots of driving but I couldn't pass up this opportunity.

Stephen lives in Halifax and his friend and collaborator Andy White lives in Melbourne Australia (originally from Belfast). They've gotten together just about every year since 1998 and have just released the second fruit of their annual collaborations, Tea and Confidences, and they've been touring the album here in Canada. In fact, I was on my way out from home in a rented car just over a week ago in Toronto and saw them standing in front of Hugh's Room having a post-soundcheck smoke break but couldn't react in time to wave hello. So last night was my chance to make good on the greeting.

In fact, the event was a private party but carrying my distinctive Calton guitar case (and perhaps having been on the front page of the Lethbridge Herald yesterday helped as well) I had no problem crashing. The look on Stephen's face as I came up to the stage between songs was priceless.

While the album does feature some of the finely crafted songwriting you'd expect from two veterans like Stephen and Andy, when you see them live you are struck by the fact that each in his own way embodies the perfect image of a rock star – Stephen the country rock road warrior type and Andy the cool compact Brit-pop guy who wouldn't look out of place in Oasis. Between them they cook up some songs reminiscent of Neil Finn and at a private party with the guitars overdriven through tiny amps cranked to 11 they completely rocked the house. Great to see you guys. Safe travels!

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Vulcan Greenhouse…

Steve steps out! ...I know, I know - the headline sounds like it might be something about growing SpaceFoodSticks or something but it's anything but!

Scott Mitchell is the owner of the Market Street Grocery Store in Vulcan AB (pop. 6000). And while huge murals of Worf and Captain Janeway don't seem out of place in Vulcan, at first glance Market Street does. With its espresso bar, gourmet food sections, pharmacy, indoor plants and soft lighting, Mitchell's store has the sophisticated and appealing look of a much more urban upscale grocery. But Scott Mitchell is also chair of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers and his store is a reflection of his philosophy that the local independent grocer can connect to and serve the community in ways that are impossible for the national chains and the multinational big box behemoths. I won't speak for Scott here but I certainly believe that even if you save $2 on a box of Pampers buying it at WalMart, you will lose far more in the health and vitality of your community in the long run, which seems to me to be too high a price to pay. And while Tim Horton's seems to have convinced many Canadians that buying their donuts and coffee is somehow a cultural act, it is buying the handmade pastry and the locally roasted coffee (or whatever your beverage of choice) that strengthens the bond between culture and community no matter where you live.

Aside from his store and his work with CFIG, another way Scott puts his philosophy into action is in his support for the Greenhouse concert series. He sets up a bar and food service in the ample greenhouse that sits in his parking lot and local artist extraordinaire Steve Coffey programmes the season. Our new pal Cody Shearer who played Voyageur at Vulcan's County Central high school on Thursday handles the sound for these shows and I checked in with him upon arriving back in Vulcan last night to be kind of a "surprise guest" at the concert featuring Toronto-based Alistair Christl and his rockabilly roots trio.

Of course, I didn't want to mess with Alistair's vibe so we arranged that I'd go up at the start of the show and say a few words. Since Cody had already had his performance opportunity yesterday, he suggested giving some other local players a chance. First to be coaxed into the role was Chris Daw, who played a song he wrote in honour of his grandfather who had chosen to stay on his farm until the end. And although he claimed nerves and shyness, Steve Coffey himself (pictured) agreed to step out of his organizing role and onto the stage for what turned out to be a really fantastic performance. He's a fine picker and he sang a gorgeous original called "Rolling Beds" about life on the Canadian prairie. Be sure to follow the link to Steve's site where you can find music from his several studio albums, video links and a gallery of his really beautiful paintings. I warn you now, most of the works in the gallery I coveted were listed as SOLD.

Thanks to Scott, Cody, Steve, Chris, Alistair and all the nice people who came up to say hello before I had to head back to Lethbridge – hope to see you all again!

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On the Path at Nikka Yuko

Voyageur on the Garden Path Heading back into Lethbridge from Cardston, we stopped in at the world renowned Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, founded as a centennial project in 1967. Flags at the entrance to the park are currently flying at half mast following the death Monday of one of the garden's driving forces, Robert Hironaka. Born and raised on a farm in nearby Raymond, AB, Hironaka became a much respected and decorated scientist and educator who maintained a hands-on connection to Nikka Yuko until his death.

I felt it was appropriate to recognize this event in the Lethbridge community here in this blog as this is the first tour event I've done since the addition of the fabric from the Vancouver Asahi to Voyageur's strap last month. That too is meant to honour the contribution of Japanese-Canadians to our cultural mosaic. It is clear that Hironaka's contributions are a treasured part of life in this city and I awoke this morning to find a story in the Globe and Mail by Marsha Lederman about Japanese director Ishii Yuya's new film about the storied Japanese-Canadian baseball team. So as Albertans reflect on the legacy of one of their own citizens, here's hoping that more Canadians will discover the Asahi as part of our national treasure as well.

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Cardston Morning

Alexis, Cody and Wilson Founded in 1887 by a Mormon settler from Utah named Charles Ora Card, Cardston is the south westernmost stop on this tour of the Lethbridge region. It's a beautiful drive from Lethbridge toward the low foothills of the Rockies just 25km from the U.S. border. Cardston is home to the first Mormon Temple outside the U.S. but, more importantly (to me, anyway), it's the home town of King Kong star Fay Wray!

But our mission today had to do with neither of those famous things: Cardston Junior High School was one of the schools on the tour organized by the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta and Executive Director George Hall joined me on the trip. We arrived a bit early and things were immediately friendly if somewhat chaotic. The voice came on the P.A. advising students to head to their period 5 classes. No, wait, correction, period 3 classes. No, I was right the first time, period 5. For REAL this time! I asked Vice Principal Cody Toone (pictured, centre) what was going on and he said that classes had all been shortened for the day and they were trying to stay on top of the schedule. Why? Because WE were there! Cool!

The presentation was very well received and the "performance pocket" segment was filled by two students: Alexis Tripp (left) and Wilson Cahoon (right), who both performed brilliantly. After packing up and saying our goodbyes, we stopped on the main street where a charity hotdog lunch was happening in front of the old cinema to raise money to bring the projection system into the digital realm so we bought hotdogs from Wilson's dad, who'd been at the presentation as well. And as we looked up the street we saw the vintage painted sign painted on the wall of the old Hotel Cahoon. History clearly runs deep in Cardston!

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Day Three, Page One (continued on page two)

Cody Shearer plays at his alma mater, County Central in Vulcan AB. I suppose all the media at the Gilbert Paterson event yesterday was not for nothing as I woke to find a picture of Voyageur on the front page of the Lethbridge Herald this morning (thanks for that, Melissa Villeneuve!). However, I didn't have much time to read the article (nor the obituary for Robert Hironaka - more on him in an upcoming blog) because we had a very early start back up the road (about half the way back to Nanton) in Claresholm at Willow Creek Composite School where we were met by the incredibly energetic principal, Dave Adams. Dave is new to the school and - although the school itself is not all that new – it has undergone some pretty remarkable renovations that give it a wonderfully airy and modern feeling as you pass by the glassed in office and lobby atrium to the new gym facility. They had a nice little pile of new AV equipment too but unfortunately it really was a pile. So it took some serious untangling to find the right cables and gear to get ourselves up and running on time but we did manage it.

Dave had invited some neighbouring schools as well and they were a great audience. The "performance pocket" was filled by student Bella DeDominicis (accompanied by friends Camille and Carly) and teacher Peter Weeks.

We had plenty of time before our next school presentation so Erin Vogt from the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta and I made our way to Roy's Place Family Restaurant in Claresholm, where I had the Angus Patty Melt on Rye with the Dill Pickle Soup.... amazing!

And we still had time to do a little sightseeing upon arriving in Vulcan Alberta for our afternoon school presentation at County Central. You've probably seen the Vulcan road sign in a couple of commercials but probably not some of their more prominent landmarks – only because it would have tied up lawyers for months negotiating the rights to show all of the space ships and StarTrek characters who appear in murals, parkettes and dedicated gift shops. Fortunately, I don't have such legal constraints. We even had time to do a photo op with a sight more common than the space ship around these parts - the John Deere Tractor.

But then it was on to the school where we were met by principal Brian Rogers who helped us get set up in their multi-purpose culture-and-gym space. The real treat of this presentation was getting to meet former County Central student Cody Shearer (pictured), who came back just to play Voyageur for the "performance pocket" at the end of the presentation. He is a talented and thoughtful young musician and he did two songs: one of his own composition and – since today also just happened to be the birthday of one of the region's most famous denizens, a great rendition of Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds". We'll see Cody again tomorrow night at the Market Greenhouse Concert in Vulcan.

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