Prospecting for Performances @SPARCsymposium #Cobalt2018

If you know your “Voyageur periodic table” you’ll know that a piece of silver from the famed Beaver Mine in Cobalt Ontario is inlaid into the centre of the first fret. And if you already know that, you may also know it’s partly there to reflect the importance of what has been called “Ontario’s Most Historic Town” and partly there because of my own deep connection to Cobalt. It’s the town where my grandfather was mayor and provincial MPP, the town where my dad was born, the town where my cousins still live and the area where the whole extended family shares a cottage - just down the road at Bass Lake - where we’ve been coming since we were babies.

So it’s always very special to be able to make the presentation in Cobalt and even more special to work again with Felicity Buckell - a gentle but powerful and persistent force for developing cultural capacity and cultural demand in this community - this time as the local organizer of the SPARC Symposium, a gathering of remote and rural community arts presenters from around Ontario. Back in 2014, Felicity and I collaborated on building what I consider to be the gold standard of integrated education/outreach/community programming - including school presentations at local French, First Nations and English schools, songwriting workshops, community presentations and portraits - with her Pied Piper Kidshows organization, which was also a sponsor of this symposium.

Our activities with the symposium included participation in a panel (with Jack Langenhuizen of the Motus O Dance Company) at one of our favourite local haunts, the Chat Noir Book Store Cafe in New Liskeard; a presentation at the coolest bar in Northern Ontario, the Miner’s Tavern (our third presentation there over the years - a record) and portrait sessions at both the Miner’s and at SPARC HQ at the Community Hall (a former YMCA facility above what are now the town offices).

In truth, turnout of SPARC delegates at the Miner’s presentation was a bit disappointing but the crowd was fleshed out with locals and some visiting prospectors who were in the area prospecting for the mineral cobalt - much in demand these days for use in rechargeable batteries such as the ones used in Tesla and other electric vehicles. As you know, people come forward with the most amazing connections to the project at pretty much every presentation I do and this one was spectacular. One of the members of the prospecting team, Kevin Tateishi, approached me during the portrait sessions after the presentation and let me know the player with his arms folded second from the left in the bottom row of the 1941 team photo of the Vancouver Asahi baseball club that comes up in my presentation was his great uncle Ken Kutsukake. Just amazing!

Also amazing was having lead prospector Jessica Bjorkman bring some tools and cobalt-rocks into the photos AND finally getting a bunch of portraits with one of our favourite Cobalters, Miner’s proprietor and local councillor Rochelle Schwartz!

The “performance pocket” segment of the presentation was beautifully filled with original songs by Robyn Dewar, John Shymko (who also saved the day with the loan of his portable sound system!) and Temagami songwriter Dave Laronde taking his third turn on Voyageur over the years and proving yet again that there are some powerful songs and stories being told in this part of the country. After the show, as we were setting up for the portraits, Kevin Closs (in town for SPARC) did his extraordinary acoustic arrangement of "O Canada" for what was perhaps the 10th time over the years on Voyageur; local songwriter Alec Morrison covered a Grievous Angels tune in honour of local MP Charlie Angus (also speaking at SPARC on Cobalt’s vaudeville era in the boom-town years) and a young man (10? 12?) named Tanner Montgomery (pictured) - who travelled with his family from Thunder Bay to see the show, carrying his own electric guitar as an accessory, no less. Tanner got up on stage and wowed everybody with a passionately rendered fully acoustic version of the Tragically Hip’s “Grace, Too”.

Thanks to all the musicians, to Rochelle for her always perfect hospitality and to everyone who came out to see the show. Thanks to portrait station volunteers Peter & Lara Zwarich (at the Miner’s) and Kevin Closs and Jake Koza (at the Community Hall). Thanks to Paul McLaren at Chat Noir for hosting (and for the cortado!). And thanks, of course, to Felicity and her team for putting on such an important and critical gathering and inviting us to be a part of it.

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