I always had the impression that my upbringing was not particularly musical. My father Pierre played a little harmonica which he used to do only occasionally when I was very young, but drifted away from in later years. It wasn’t until I turned 13 that I picked up the guitar, which my parents had bought not for me, but for my younger sister Manon. She got bored with it so I took it up. By the time I was 17, I was in my first band.
Just recently, my cousin Marie Claire reposted a picture of her family from the 70s, and it reminded me of the trips we would take every year from Northern Ontario to the north end (my maman’s family) and the south end (my papa’s family) of Québec to visit the relatives.
Now keep in mind that my father is from a family of 12 (plus one child who died at a young age). That made for a lot of people to see.
One of my favourites was the family of my uncle Georges and my aunt Georgette, who lived in the lovely and somewhat isolated community of Saint-Benoit-de-Packington, now simply Packington, QC. My uncle and aunt were both musicians, he played the harmonica, she the fiddle, and every year, a visit there would feature a soirée canadienne, the equivalent of a kitchen party for the Atlantic-Canadians out there. I loved those evenings, all the instruments around, and the excitement it generated. The most extraordinary fact was that Georges and Georgette produced 17 children, most of whom also took to music as a hobby and also performed. This is a picture of that family from the 70s below.
My aunt’s brother, Georges Saint-Pierre and his wife Georgette (no points for originality here) would always be present too. The Saint-Pierres played banjo and guitar respectively. I still have permanently etched in my brain an image of Georgette with a cigarette dangling from a very red-lipsticked mouth whipping a slide steel up and down the neck of a very cheap, high-strung Japanese electric guitar.
One year, they decided to do this at a small local spot called Lac Jerry and I think my dad took the photo below of my sister and me below with George S.P.
Now, anyone who follows this blog knows I use the stage name Félix, which is actuality my middle name (this came about due to having 3 Roberts in one band back in the 80s). I have always known that name was given to me as a traditional reference to my paternal grandfather, pictured on the right with my mémère Atala. According to my father, he was a decent fiddler himself, although I only have a dim recollection of seeing him play.
What came as a surprise was through Marie Claire tagging the photo of her family, and including my uncle Georges’ middle name, which turned out to be Félix as well!
Perhaps that is an explanation for my life-long love of music, and to a connection to tradition that goes back much further than I had thought. I will choose to believe that!
It’s this coming Friday I meet with City Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon to discuss the Toronto Music Advisory Council, and my concerns therein. The media have not been kind to TMAC over the last while, first in NOW magazine this past June, then in Toronto Moon just this week, for many of the same reasons I am meeting the Councillor. I will for sure report back in next week’s blog.
ABC Songwriters’ Circle This Week
This Tuesday, I welcome Andre Dantas, David McLachlan and Eric Sorenson to the song circle. Show starts at 9 at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club. For more information on my guests, you can go to the the Songwriters’ Circle page here.
The weather forecast is calling for a warming trend by mid-week. What better way to celebrate than joining us at the ABC?
Until then, be well, as usual!