The Evolution of Identity: Down Canadian Roads

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Beaver eating branch on the River

Home of the Beaver

Land of the Silver Birch

1961-1963

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Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver,

Where still the mighty moose wanders at will

Blue Lake and rocky shore,

I will return once more

Boom diddy ya da,

  Boom diddy ya da

Boom.

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I should have known when summer camp fire songs started to replace the palm trees on my mind’s Island in the Sun that the brainwashing had started. My Caribbean mind had started to be transformed.  The nostalgia for temperate North American flora and fauna, silver birches, beavers and moose, should not have been top of  mind since in the early 1960s among the repertoire of my experiences, few had taken place in the land of the silver birch and home of the beaver. In fact I was barely recovering form the trauma of immigration to the land of the silver Chevvy Impala Sedan at General Motors of Canada, Oshawa, Ontario.

I had recently been initiated into a required element for being programed for canadianization, the annual rituals of cottage country. The family of a school friend, Dave W., had a cottage on Haliburton’s Kennisis Lake. Music and friendship were the sponsors to canoe trips around a circuit beginning and ending at the family’s cottage. In late spring before the summer sun had warmed the earth, 2 or 3 canoes set out for 2 or 3 days paddling and  camping. We congratulated ourselves and each other that we were experiencing the rigours of the life of Coureurs de Bois, fending off swarms of mosquitoes and black flies hungry from an unreliable spring supply of mammal blood, hauling canoes and provisions which we had bought in Minden for survival for another 24 hours over grueling portages, strewn with trees downed by windfall and shrubs crushed under the burden of snow from last winter. It was a tough life, this life of the restless voyageur!

Coureurs de Bois et de Jupes, Gord and Garry, 1960: Click on photo to enlarge

At the end of our 3 days of this pioneer stuff and back at the cottage, Dave would launch the family boat and roar around Kennisis Lake doing wheelies, cutting figure 8s across a smooth, enamel polished lake. Coureurs de Bois we were indeed, worthy successors to Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Serious explorers of the topography of the human anatomy we would soon become!

Cottage country also generously provided activities of other kinds. Mid-summer at the Lake brought a coterie of city girls looking for activities to fill the hours of wilderness tedium and to vivify the evenings of isolation from the urban scene without television and theatres. We, the late canoe toting Coureurs de Bois were now musicians, Great Pretenders to be sure, but we were purveyors, missionaries of Do-Wap and other quasi-musical expressions and as such, we profited from a certain mystique granted to people who claimed to be musicians and who carried bulky musical instruments in carrying cases around with them as proof of their claim. At night in cottage country through the intermediary of alcohol, we were magically transformed from Coureurs de Bois into coureurs de jupes. We were young and abundantly endowed with special high-octane hormones equal or superior to the fuel put into high performance internal combustion motors. Mercifully, like the summer season, our invincibility was fleeting or we might have perished from an excess of summer, and of cottages, and especially of hormones.

The Laurentians, 1962, at the Genosha Hotel, Oshawa, Ontario: Click on photo to enlarge

After a couple of late Spring canoe trips through these Haliburton lakes, my Canadian odyssey in search of my Canadian identity in the vicinity of Ontario’s Algonquin Park was put on hold for a couple of years while in the city I expressed my existential confusion: “to be or not to be”. Potential salvation from my personal crisis came about as a result of a most fortuitous sequence of events. At Ryerson Polytechnic Institute in 1961, in some psychological limbo, I was persuaded by a classmate at 9:00 a.m.to skip classes for the morning session and to travel back from Toronto to Oshawa, pick up the cumbersome vibraphone, the instrument that I played, cram it in the back of the small sporty convertible Jaguar that my classmate drove, retrace the route back to Toronto and arrive back at Ryerson in time for a noon hour benefit concert for the Red Feather Appeal. I would be part of a trio composed of piano, drums and vibraphone. We would barely have time to set up the instruments and of course, no time to run through the selections that we would play.

My performance that day turned out to be an audition which earned me a continuous and long running 50 year plus gig with a most delightful woman. My then future and current wife, Deanne was in the audience as we played Moonglow. As if  by some providential, self fulfilling prophesy, the lyrics to that song, ” it had to be Moonglow that led me straight to you” became quite literally and figuratively the moment of our meeting though I was ignorant of this fact at the time. I have often chided her on her lack of good judgement and on her non-discriminating ear to have credited me with musical talent but whatever the real reason for my good fortune, Moonglow was the ticket which won me the prize of my life.

 

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