Stony Plain part 1

Jowi and the Command Family You might think this post would be about the famed Canadian folk record label built by broadcaster Holger Peterson. After all, Friday night Stony Plain Records celebrated their 40th anniversary with the launch of a documentary about the company. And, in fact, I'm not 40 minutes away from where they held the party in Edmonton. But I'm actually in the Town of Stony Plain AB, which is just west of the city here in Alberta's capital region. It turns out that Stony Plain - the record company - was named for the road in Edmonton where they were first established rather than here in this community but our event yesterday was evidence of a whole other music and cultural scene in this neck of the woods.

For the last couple of years, the Town has been issuing a report on the state of their cultural plan and cultural community with an event called the Cultural Summit and Cultural Development Officer Chantelle Held arranged to have me come and speak at this year's edition (more on that in part 2).

Of course, whenever I do a presentation we have to arrange to have someone play Voyageur in the "performance pocket" near the end and I was delighted that Chantelle brought in the Command Sisters, who happen to live in the neighbouring community of Spruce Grove and who happened to not be in New York or Nashville or L.A. or China or any of the other places their career has taken them over the last couple of years.

Elder sister Charlotte (standing between her dad, René and me) is the lead singer and principle writer of the duo while Sarah (next to mom, Karen) provides gorgeous harmonies, wicked guitar solos and the business savvy of the group. I first met the girls a couple of years ago at our event with the Edmonton Community Foundation at the Cinema Paradiso. I believe they'd already won that year's John Lennon Songwriting Competition by that point and were being actively courted by some big wig managers and labels. Mom and dad have been with them every step of the way and while they've had a kind of dazzling adventure through the whole music biz scene, their very open, very honest rapport as a family means that they've put the integrity and well-being of the girls first and foremost. That's meant turning down some things that were probably too good to be true to begin with but I think they're all taking the long view of this career and it means they're doing very interesting things and gathering a lot of supporters along the way - including the Six String Nation.

In any case, the performance by the Sisters harmonized beautifully, harmonized with the Six String Nation story and harmonized as well with a wonderful feeling in the room where things definitely got emotional (see part two).

Thanks so much so Chantelle Held and the Town of Stony Plain for creating and hosting this event. Thanks to dear friends Ted & Sue for coming in from their new home down the road in St. Albert. Thanks to my pals at the National Speakers Bureau for handling the booking, to Jazz Matthews for setting up the gear and doing the sound and to all of the people who came out to the event, came up to chat afterwards, take pictures and share their own stories and impressions - that's what it's all about!

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True Grit @WRBestPS

Samantha with parents Lee and Brian Scott Over the years, I've presented at several regional heritage fairs and seen Six String Nation reflected back at me from the student perspective. On a couple of occasions, students planning a presentation about the project have reached out for additional info. Lucas Hung and his dad, Victor, got in touch about his project after Lucas' sister Iris was the student elected to play Voyageur as part of the presentation at her high school, Gleneagle S.S. in Coquitlam BC. A year or two later, Abbie Hayward called from Weyburn SK to ask if I'd do an audio intro for her heritage project presentation at her school - and I was glad to do it. Both of those students were clearly confident young people. They each won multiple awards for their work and I'm pleased and honoured that they chose to talk about Six String Nation for their projects. But there was something a little bit different about the message I got from Samantha Scott in Oro-Medonte township just a few weeks ago. She started by introducing herself in an email and offering a bit of a resume of her achievements so far (they were numerous) and letting me know that she was going to be doing her grade 8 heritage fair project on Six String Nation. She went on to ask if there was a possibility for me to visit her school on short notice so that the other students might benefit from having the background of my presentation before she made hers. And then she went on further to acknowledge the need to cover fees and suggest ways she'd planned for this and garnered support from her family and her school. There was no way I could turn her down and we started in making plans to vist W.R. Best Memorial Public School in Shanty Bay Ontario late last week.

Normally, I'd have rented a car for the trip - about an hour and a quarter north of Toronto - but Samantha and her dad, Brian, convinced me to let them pick me up so she could conduct an interview with me en route to supplement her project. Early last week, I got an email from Brian confirming details of the trip and the presentation at the school but letting me know that Sam wouldn't be joining us for the ride and might not even make it to the presentation. And she certainly wouldn't be playing Voyageur in the "performance pocket" as planned. Among the many extracurricular activities she engages in (and excels at) is Acroyoga (click the link for some beautiful - if somewhat hair-raising - images of the practice in action). Attempting a particular pose with a partner, Sam had taken a fall and earned herself a concussion. She'd been on bedrest for several days at that point and was still having trouble with bright lights, movement, etc. If there's a lesson I learned when my friend, singer Ariana Gillis, had her concussion last year, it's that you can't rush the recovery. So I wanted to make sure Sam was going to take it easy. Still, after all the work she did lining up things at the school, she wanted to make sure the show went on.

Brian came to pick me up in the morning and we had a terrific drive to Shanty Bay. Brian himself has an extraordinary story and I could see where some of Sam's A-type quest for excellence and expressions of grit and determination might have come from. The drive went by like nothing and we arrived at the school just as Sam and her mom, Lee, were getting out of their car. We all went into the gym together and had a chance to get some photos and for Brian and Sam and her sister, Sydney, to play Voyageur a little as we got set up for the presentation.

It's a small school with a very active music program (72 of their 340 students are in competition at Kiwanis this week!) and principal Eileen Carl had invited the full grade range to participate in the assembly. For the "performance pocket", Sam's part was played my music teacher, Mr. Stormes on Voyageur supported by the school ukulele club in a rendition of the American Authors's "Best Day of My Life" with the whole assembly joining in on the "oh-oh-oh-oh oh-o-o-o" chorus. Young Jack & Anastasia (pictured, centre, below) pulled off an amazing duet of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" - for real! And Jerry Moreau, grandfather of one of the students, did a note-perfect version of "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash (see if you can guess which one he is in the photo below!).

As usual, I want to thank all of the staff and students who helped make this such a great event but, honestly, so much of the credit for this must go to Samantha for her persistence in making this happen and to her parents and principal for supporting her initiative. She received the applause she got for her efforts that day but I know she was not feeling her best. So here's to her recovery in due time and in anticipation for the accolades I know she's going to get for all the other cool stuff she does at W.R. Best, at her new high school next year and in all her endeavors in the years to come!
Jerry, Jack, Anastasia, Mr. Stormes

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Alma Mater @WWCollege

Kristine Medrero & Brock MacDonald Things have changed since I was a student at Woodsworth College. I mean, quite literally the building itself has changed with an addition to the original house on St. George and the creation of a residence facility next door on Bloor St., but also in terms of the college's place within the University of Toronto community. When I was a student there for most of the 1980s, Woodsworth was considered the part-time student and mature student college - almost a place for academic hobbyists. These days it is like any other college serving a very diverse group of full-time students - many of them new Canadians or foreign students - pursuing a variety of academic paths in arts and sciences. But part of the reason I took as long as I did to get my BA was that I wanted to take advantage of being at a great university that offered a universe of interesting things to discover. While many students these days come into the university with their focus on a career track, the Woodsworth One Foundation program retains some of the college's original character as a place for conversation and discovery thanks to people like Brock MacDonald (pictured, right), Vice-Principal of Woodsworth and Director of the Academic Writing Centre.

I've been involved in Woodsworth's Alumni-Student Mentorship Program for the past couple of years and I got on Brock's radar that way. He recently got in touch to see if I'd be willing to come in and speak to a group of students he meets with on a weekly basis to kind of expand their academic and extra-curricular horizons. This semester they'd been doing that through a wider conversation about popular music and popular culture and he thought Six String Nation would be a great fit.

We gathered in the Williams Waters lounge on the ground floor of the residence building (steps from the wonderful Cafe Mercurio!) where I encountered a technology that has spoiled me utterly: the Crestron/ClickShare system built into the room meant no hardwire connections into the projection equipment. If only all my set ups were that easy! Students drifted in on schedule and I was glad we had extra time as I did quite a few declensions and backstories throughout the presentation. When the "performance pocket" moment arrived, student Kristine Medrero (pictured, left) stepped up to do a couple of tunes - including a little Glen Hansard. Perhaps my favourite part of the afternoon, though, was the Q&A that followed. These are kind of rare for me these days in either the concert or the school settings - especially given that what most people want to do in any extra time is take pictures with Voyaguer - but we had the latitude to delve into some questions that were clearly linked to the semester-long conversation they'd been having around issues of popular culture and Canadian identity and it was invigorating to participate in that discussion for even the short while we had.

Thanks to Brock for the invitation and to Kristine and all the attending students of the Woodsworth One program.

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Whaddya Want, a Medal?

Meritorious Service Decoration recipients with the Governor General It was all summed up in a single sentence uttered by Chantal Lavigne, a civilian member of the Governor General's staff, as the shuttle bus carrying me and many of the other Meritorious Service Decoration recipients and their guests passed through the gate and pulled up right in front of Rideau Hall: "This is your day. Enjoy yourselves." Amid all the nerves and preparations and grooming and worries about protocol, it was easy to forget that we were the ones being recognized for our work with this distinguished award. Not surprisingly, everything was meticulously arranged - every moment and movement considered for maximum decorum and smooth operation; not so it would be rigid but so that all the details that might overwhelm could move to the background and become a setting for the meaning of the award and the meaning of the day to all of us and our loved ones who were there to mark the occasion with us. There are people in this picture who have transformed their communities and saved lives and restored languages and brought dignity and opportunity to others in their communities and I'm humbled to be counted in their number.

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you may already be tired of hearing me allude to the challenges of this project. And the absolute truth is that I know I am not the first (nor will I be the last) award recipient to walk in through the doors of Rideau Hall not knowing how to pay next month's rent and walk out feeling tremendously honoured but just as broke. But I feel it's important to bring it up again today because it relates very much to my feelings about this award.

I began this journey with tremendous energy and optimism but it was clear from the beginning that it would be a marathon rather than a sprint, which was fine. Given the uniqueness of the project, funding was a serious challenge but with the help of some great people we were finding solutions to end-run some of the bureaucracy. At the end of 2005 - just months from the pledged debut of the project - Stephen Harper's government was elected and the tone of everything began to change very quickly. The first Conservative Heritage Minister, Bev Oda cancelled critical funding that I had been assured was on the way, CBC Television changed its mind about wanting to complete the project for which we had gone through a development process and I felt that a huge boulder had been added to my burden. And although many amazing people came through to help make the debut happen - from David Neale and Laurie Brown to Mike Lazaridis and my angel in Victoria and Charlie Coffey and Mark Kristmanson and everyone at the National Capital Commission's Canada Day team - the weight (in the form of both debt and a kind of official hostility to the portrait of Canada I was trying to paint) was one that I had to continue to carry as the project moved out into the world. And I wouldn't say for a moment that there haven't been many triumphs between then and now - from appreciative audiences, powerful feedback from people touched by the vision of the project, a coin from the Royal Canadian Mint, a beautiful book from Douglas & McIntyre, a series of packed shows with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, a tête à tête with Chris Hadfield, an invitation to Italy and all kinds of other adventures and encounters that I wouldn't trade for the world - but I have never actually felt like the project was thriving and we're always close to bankruptcy and my biggest fear is that I and my project would just slip beneath the waves without ever having achieved all that it could, unremembered. Which is why being honoured with a medal from Her Majesty, by way of the Governor General - especially at this time - means so much. It means that, no matter what financial state the project might be in and no matter my pessimism around the CBC and the state of the arts in Canada, someone has noticed that the project is worth recognizing.

Which brings me to the real point of this essay.
I am tremendously grateful for the Meritorious Service Medal - for the honour and recognition it brings as well as for the hope it brings that there's still work to be done that is of value and that the the situation of the project might improve. But I am equally grateful for all of the people I am proud to call friends and associates who contributed their efforts and talents and support not only to me and my project but to all kinds of other people as well. They all deserve medals too and the very least I can do is name just a handful of them here.

First of all, I must recognize George Rizsanyi. The truth is that I don't talk to George any more. Our relationship soured and I have never been able to determine the real causes of that since they seem to change every now and then and it is not healthy to dwell there. But I will never stop staying that George was a huge part of the inspiration for the project and that he did an amazing job building Voyageur. I know there are more prestigious luthiers and I'm sure there are people it would have been easier to work with but I honestly think George Rizsanyi is the only person who could have built this guitar. He was quite fearless about it and agreed to work with a bunch of materials I'll bet almost any luthier in the world would have told me they couldn't work with. But he did. And he made from all this historical and cultural detritus a guitar that is holdable and playable and durable and beautiful and for that he has my unending respect and gratitude.

Naturally, his work would not have been possible without the extraordinary material contributions of individuals and communities in every province and territory of Canada - from Haida Gwaii to Cambridge Bay to Cape Race Newfoundland - not to mention all the people who researched and documented all of those pieces of historical stuff.

Then, there are people who provided services to the project - both paid and unpaid - that attempted to harness my crazy dream and make it a doable, manageable series of tasks that could not only deliver a finished guitar but move it around the country and let people know what it was all about - people like Holly Dennison and Heather Kelly and Amanda Van Den Brock and Gabriel Dube and Dave Neale and Laurie Brown and Lisa Whynot and Eric Birnberg and Tom Walden and everyone at D'addario Canada.

There are people whose own artistic talents and visions infuse the project in various of its iterations - people like Darren Wilson and Sandor Fizli and Sarah Gillett and Doug Nicholson and Andrea Dixon and Curtis Wehrfritz and Guillaume Semblat and Bob Stamp and Blaine Philippi and Annemarie Roe and Amanda McAvour and Kate Jackson.

There are the people who have worked so hard to bring the project to their communities across the country - the festival organizers and the teachers and principals and community workers and conference planners.

There are the people who work on my behalf at the National Speakers Bureau and Mariposa in the Schools and Westwood Creative Artists.

There are those wonderful friends who have kept looking for opportunities to share the project and provided such amazing personal support like Paul McCabe and Katrina Anderson and Peter MacLeod and Richard Davis and Bill McKetrick and Jessica Dargo Caplan and Bill Heffernan and Peter MacDonald and all the great people at the Community Foundations of Canada.

And, of course, there are the countless musicians - from every region and style and cultural background, famous and amateur, veteran and rookie who have embraced Voyageur not only as an instrument worthy of playing but for all that it embodies as a symbol of who we are as a people. So many of them face that same dichotomy - there may be awards and recognition of various kinds but it doesn't necessarily mean that they're making a stable living.

And here's the crazy thing: this list of names you see above is such a cursory list. There are so many friends and family and hundreds of other people who have helped make this project what it is with their work and their support and their simple encouragement and example.

It's a strange experience. There you are in the room where we recently watched our new Prime Minister (who also contributed to the project in several significant ways) and his Ministers sworn in. And, in fact, the ceremony itself was not that different - I imagine each of the MPs went through a similar rehearsal as we did. When your name is called you move to the aisle and walk toward the Governor General. Pause, give a slight bow of the head, and move to a position between the GG and the emcee at the podium. A brief description of your work is read and your name is repeated. You move back in front of the Governor General and he affixes the medal to the little holder they've set you up with for the occasion. You shake hands, turn to face the cameras, exchange a few words, head over to the table where you sign the register and return to your assigned seat. You walk a square of maybe 80' and the whole process takes about 90 seconds. And with you you carry all of these names, all of these people who helped you take this short walk and sign your name to a history book and you want them to have a medal too.

Photo Credit: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall

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Grande Hospitality @cfnwab

the Blais Family Campfire My week in Grande Prairie at the invitation of the Community Foundation of Northwestern Alberta was a busy one. Apart from the presentations at five different schools, two seniors' residences and the "Nourish the North" fundraiser, there's all the time people don't see when I'm writing the blogs and social media postings, editing photos, researching links and doing my other work and correspondence. For most engagements like this one in GP there's a fairly stark divide between the time engaging with people at the events and time back at the hotel on my own. Typically I have a rental car to get from event to event and I can use that to explore the locale and get myself to dinner and things like that. This time I didn't have a car of my own but Foundation CEO Tracey Vavrek and staff coordinator Lindsey McNeil made sure that I had a ride everywhere I needed to get to - whether that was the events themselves or a grocery run so I could cook breakfast in my hotel room. They also made sure that I was looked after in other ways and I was treated to lunch and dinners out by very gracious hosts.

At the gala on Thursday night I met Foundation board chair Ryan Blais. Ryan (pictured, left) is a former Canadian Olympic and National Team freestyle aerial skier from GP who now runs a media strategy and branding firm called nine10 and he advised me that he and his family would be hosting me for my final dinner in town. Getting taken out for dinner is wonderful but getting invited into homes is even better as it makes you feel you've got a bit of a home away from home.

The dinner was at Ryan's parents' home in GP and I was welcomed by mom Janine (pictured, centre, holding Voyageur) whom I'd also met at the gala, who had game one of the Blue Jays-Royals on in the family room so we could keep track. Brother Marcel, a restaurateur, prepared baked salmon three ways and a perfect piece of steak. Brother Trevor and his wife Kate (two rightmost) prepared a couple of salads. After dinner we went into the backyard to play with the dogs and keep them away from the 6-point buck who had wandered into the neighbor's back yard. Then the brothers built a fire in the fire pit where we sat around and told stories and passed the guitar around.

It was a perfect end to my week in GP and just part of the great hospitality I experienced there in so many ways.
So thanks again to Tracey, Vince, Heather, Dolly, Brent, Cindy, Leonard, Linda, Jason, Amanda, Bob, Nick and everyone who made such a good home away from home for me and Voyageur - hope to see you all again!

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A Visit with the GrandeParents

Margaret, Anne, Bertha Our last full day in Grande Prairie had been set aside for more school visits and, in particular, we'd figured on a visit to the big new high school, Charles Spencer. For some reason that was not an option. But I was anxious to get out there and share the story and my hosts were keen to deliver so they arranged for visits to two local seniors' residences: the Pioneer Lodge and Wild Rose Manor - both members of the Grande Spirit Foundation for affordable housing.

At Pioneer we set up a makeshift screen in the common room and got a good turnout from residents who came down to see what the fuss was about (we heard one resident ask if it was going to be a political speech!). After spending a week speaking in schools, it certainly is a pleasure to speak to a room full of people to whom I don't have to explain the significance of Paul Henderson's hockey stick! Of course, the other great part is talking with the residents afterwards and hearing their stories and we had a particularly lovely time with the three in this photo, Margaret, Anne and Bertha (pictured left to right). Fourteen-year-old Garion Bell came out and volunteered to play a few tunes and had the residents clapping along and calling for an encore!

From there it was on to the Wild Rose on the south side of town. As we entered past the giant tropical fish tank, garden and indoor fire pit there was a BINGO game going on in the main common area. There was kind of a lounge area off to one side set up with a small projection screen but I saw they had a nice big TV already rigged into the sound system so we re-arranged some furniture and got set up in that corner.

I'm constantly observing that everyone has some connection to Voyageur - whether that's a place that it's come from, a place that it's been, a story in the guitar, a person who's played it, a song sung on it or someone who's had their portrait taken with it. And I don't think I've ever been proven wrong. As we're getting set up, Pearl comes over with her walker to find out what's going on. She is wearing a bright pink T-shirt that declares itself a souvenir of Kuujuaq, Nunavik - home of the very first piece of material I talk about in the presentation (the caribou-antler ulu carved for us by Charlene Watt)!

We had no one to play Voyageur at Wild Rose but I was prepared with the wonderful video I have of Paul O'Brien and the St. Michaels University School Senior Orchestra and Choir performing "Voyageur", the song he wrote for me and the guitar, in Victoria BC. I hadn't seen it for a while and watching all the young folks performing on the screen while sitting with the old folks at the Wild Rose was just too much and had me in floods of tears. And hanging around with some of the residents afterwards and having such lovely chats had me thinking of my own grandparents and of my partner, Sarah, who is currently in Norfolk UK visiting with her own very elderly grandmother. Love to you all.

Thanks to Lindsey McNeil, Adyne Bell, Shari Hrehoruk and the welcoming staff and residents at Pioneer and Wild Rose!

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The Grande Night Out @cfnwab @CommFdnsCanada

Chris McIntyre The model that we've built now over a few series with different Community Foundations in Canada is that the CF does much of the heavy lifting in terms of lining up school and community partners who'd like to have the Six String Nation presentation and then funds or assists the funding of the whole tour. This takes the load of the school district or individual schools from having to coordinate a schedule and travel and accommodations and those kinds of things - though there must always be very active partners in the school or community who help to get teachers, principals and other community groups on board and informed and involved. And we had several of those on this trip that I've mentioned in previous blogs.

So what does the local Community Foundation get out of it? Well, for one thing, not everybody is aware of the vital work Community Foundations do in terms of monitoring the overall health of the community by compiling and aggregating various kinds of research and metrics on things like health, poverty, economic diversity, social issues and more into their annual Vital Signs reports and then encouraging, directing, managing and coordinating various kinds of individual and corporate giving with different charities and services in the region, so a Six String Nation school and community tour becomes a way for them to reach out to local school districts and community service providers to give them the opportunity to bring in something that most individual schools or senior's residences or volunteer organizations couldn't bring in on their own. And it helps build those relationships so they become aware of the other ways that CFs might be able to help in the community. For another, they typically organize these tours to coincide with their own fundraising efforts or other special events so that they're kind of getting me to their event as part of a bundle. And last night was the Community Foundation of Northwestern Alberta's annual "Nourish the North" fundraising gala. It's a chance for them to wine and dine their ongoing sponsors and donors, attract potential new donors, raise some more awareness and raise additional funds through the auction and silent auction and that kind of thing. It's always struck me that the work of the Community Foundations embraces the kind of view of the interconnectedness of a community that is fundamental to the whole Six String Nation project so it feels like a very natural fit.

One of the main things the Six String Nation project was designed to do is to challenge some of the divisions that some political forces are determined to maintain between regions of Canada - stoking various resentments and animosities - and open a more inclusive conversation about who we are as Canadians from a thousand and one different perspectives. Perhaps not surprisingly, people are always offering me warnings about the kind of reception I might receive in Alberta. Now, first of all I should say that no province has invited me back more often than Alberta, no province has incorporated Six String Nation into school curriculae more than Alberta and no province has been more welcoming and hospitable than Alberta. Between the looming election and the Blue Jays advance in the playoffs and the news of the day, I've had many many political conversations with all kinds of people the week that I've been here and I can tell you that the range of opinion and the depth of feeling for our sense of community and nation is as diverse and nuanced here in the same way it is in any part of Canada. Last night I had one (good natured) heckle for my mention of the inclusion of Pierre Trudeau's canoe paddle in Voyageur and three people who came up afterwards during the photo opportunity asking to feel for it inside the sound hole. All of this is proof to me that, as Canadians, there is so much that we share in common and that efforts to find and aggravate divisions between us are cynical and misplaced.

I started my presentation after a delightful round of drinks and appetizers and for the "performance pocket" we welcomed three players to the stage. The youngest, James Morrison is studying voice and performance at a local college and he opened up the musical portion of the presentation. He's predominantly a piano player but proved perfectly capable on guitar as well and I think he's going to excel at school. Next up, Clyde Blackburn braved a shortened rendition of Gordon Lightfoot's "Railroad Trilogy". Clyde's date for the evening was his mother, Pam, visiting from Newmarket Ontario. They were both equally charming and delightful to meet. And finally, local musician, producer, studio owner, composer and guitar teacher Chris McIntyre - who had also provided background music on his own guitar for the earlier part of the evening - came out from his spot off to the side and up on the stage with Voyageur to perform an original, "Cottage By the Lake" - an ode to a family place with special meaning for him in Clear Lake, Manitoba. Chris is an extremely accomplished guitar player but I was especially struck by his voice. I have no idea if power ballads are in his repertoire as a musician or producer but it seemed to me he could hit those high notes with the best of them!

. Thanks once again to Tracey and Vince Vavrek and all the staff and volunteer support who made this event such a glittering success. A very special thanks to Lindsey McNeil from CFNWAB who handled book sales and to the volunteers from ATB Financial who did all the serving and bussing!

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A Grande Day Out #3.1 @cfnwab

Olivia, Blake, Emily and Xander Nick Radujko is assistant superintendent for the Grande Prairie Public School District - host of all but one of my school visits this trip - but when he picked me up this morning he instantly declared himself my driver and roadie for our trip to GP Composite High School - insisting on carrying everything! We arrived and it was another unconventional set up for a school presentation (ie. not in the gym) and I was a bit concerned that with the cafeteria line so close it might be a little unfocussed but it was a tremendously focussed group of students who filled that room. Fantastic.

Our guitar-constant for this trip, Jason Peters was there again today but more to encourage some of his guitar students to take the opportunity to help fill the performance pocket near the end of the presentation. Pictured left to right, Olivia Burns, Blake Reynolds, Emily Radujko (yes, Nick's daughter) and Xander Forgie all did a great job - and as most people know by now, I love to hear people doing original compositions and Blake came through on that front with a beauty.

We stuck around for a fair bit after the presentation as many students and staff came up to take pictures with Voyageur while others headed back to class and others into the french fry line up in the cafeteria. As we were about to pack up, the social studies teacher came up and told me that his class was already inspired and energized in conversations about the presentation and notions of Canadian identity. Mission accomplished!

Thanks to principal Dennis Vobeyda for his very supportive welcome to the school and to the rest of the staff and students at GP Composite.
And thanks again to my swing gang of Jayme and Dwayne (minus Brian today) for handling all the tech with ease.

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A Detour on the Road to Rycroft @cfnwab @RonSexsmith (not)

Sexsmith Station Once we were finished saying goodbye at the Bridge Network Outreach School in the morning, Jason Peters handed me off into the care of Bob Stewart while the Swing Gang swung into action loading Bob's truck with all the A/V gear for our trip up the road to Rycroft - about 40 minutes north of GP.

Bob is a supervisor for GP's neighbouring Peace-Wapiti School District and Rycroft School is one of the schools in his bailiwick. I was really enjoying the conversation and the drive with Bob when I saw the community of Sexsmith off the highway a little bit to the west. There is a photo print of one of the giant grain elevators of Sexsmith on the wall of my hotel room and I was curious to see it close up. Bob seemed to be a bit of a fan of the town and said we had lots of time to make a quick side trip so off we went.

Like some of those quaint New England towns or even Dawson City, Yukon - where strict attention is paid to development, commercial and streetscape rules in order to preserve the original character of a place - Sexsmith looks almost like a movie set of a Canadian prairie town from the turn of the last century. In the early 20th century, Sexsmith was the grain capital of the British Empire and the remaining elevator is a testament to that heritage. For additional colour and character, an old CN caboose sits on a siding in front of the disused but lovingly restored train station next to the elevator (pictured).

From there we resumed our drive and our conversation continuing up the road to Rycroft where we were greeted by principal Julie Hynes. Set up was a little more complicated without the GP tech guys (or maybe they just made me lazy) but we were up and running on time to present to a small group of younger students and some visitors from the surrounding community - including one young woman who told me she discovered Six String Nation online while researching how to build her own guitar!

Students Jessie and Manuel got the music started before handing off to teacher Ms. Zutter.

Bob had me back at the hotel in time to do a little work, have a late lunch and watch the Blue Jays seal the series against the Texas Rangers in what was possibly the most riveting game of baseball played in this century. Seriously!

Thanks to everyone for today's school presentations and a very special thanks to Community Foundation of Northwestern Alberta alumni Brent and Cindy Oilund and Leonard and Linda Scharbach for treating me to a lovely and unexpected post-game dinner out!

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Another Grande Day Out… on the Bridge @cfnwab

Jamie Soles First of all, let me say how grateful I am that my hotel room at the Holloway Inn & Suites here in Grande Prairie has a proper kitchen so I could start the day with my own coffee and a proper omelette. A little taste of home and both necessary to fortify for a long day ahead!

Once breakfast was done, Jason Peters swung by to pick me up to take me to our first engagement of the day at the Bridge Network Outreach School. Bridge is a kind of alternative high school that actually reminded me of my old public school, Ranchdale - an open plan with a few satellite rooms built off of a main common work area. So it was nice not to present in a gym for a change but rather in a kind of calm and quiet atmosphere with a small group of very focussed students. In the bigger spaces you kind of rely on the mic technology to help deliver a more intimate tone but here it was built right into the environment.

We had two guitar players slated to play in the performance pocket - one of them being Jason, for whom Bridge is another school on his guitar-program circuit in GP, and the other being Jamie Soles (pictured), the dad of a couple of Bridge students. Jason opted to let Jamie go first and once Jamie got started we were both content to just let him go. He did several numbers including a beautifully rendered version of one of my Bruce Cockburn favourities: "All the Diamonds". He was brilliant! But elusive. I was hoping to get a shot of him and his kids - both of whom seemed pretty exceptional in their own ways - but he slipped away before we had the chance. Nonetheless, Jamie - if you're reading this - thanks for a very memorable performance!

Thanks also to rest of the staff and students at Bridge Network and my swing gang of Jayme, Dwayne and Brian for having everything set up and ready to go for when we arrived!

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