Monthly Archives: March 2015

Juno and The Once

97-festival-97353PW95-festival-471PWThe Once missed out twice on gaining a Juno award, but that’s probably not surprising, given the minimal attention paid to genuine folk-roots music by that supposedly august institution.  Just think: only two out of some 40 competitions covered in Juno presentations this year were devoted to “roots and traditional” music.  Fortunately, the Canadian Folk Music Awards and East Coast Music Awards do take up the slack in recognizing a vital and richly talented segment of Canadian music.

We had the greatest pleasure of seeing The Once a week ago at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The near capacity audience at the NAC Theatre were treated to a sumptuous hour and a half performance by this magnificently talented trio. Geraldine Hollett’s incandescent voice, as one reviewer called it, thrilled listeners the entire evening , superbly backed by seamless harmonies and spirited acoustic instrumentals from Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale. Drawing upon an eclectic repertoire far different from other Newfoundland bands, the group did feature a haunting rendition of a sentimental favourite, By the Glow of the Kerosene Light, written by Newfoundlander Wince Coles.

1410185779491“The once,” a Newfoundland expression from which they took their name, means “right away” or “in a short while.”  Being city-bred, I first heard it from a Green Bay man hired as an axeman on a road survey party I worked on as a student. It caught my fancy then, and the music makers, The Once, have beguiled flocks of admirers everywhere they’ve played in Canada and around much of the globe. They’re now bound for a world tour backing up a British star with another enigmatic name, Passenger.

True folk music belongs in centre stage for its fundamental appeal to the human heart, yet is having a hard time thriving amid the clangour and screeching disharmonies emitted by so much of the so-called musical main stream. Tastes differ, of course, and every musical genre attracts its fans, but too little recognition is hampering quality folk music performers’ chances of winning their fair share of reward.

The folk music genre has solid roots in the Ottawa area, and seemed to be thriving after revival of the Ottawa Folk Festival in the mid-1990s. Richly talented performers from across Canada formed the backbone of a movement that generated frequent off-season concerts to supplement summer festivals. Concert series held at such venues as the Great Canadian Theatre Company were a popular outlet for the best of the singer-songwriters.

Where things went wrong was the gradual erosion of confidence in keeping the folk festival small, low cost and independent at a time when bigger makes better seemed all the rage. Ultimate absorption by the Bluesfest spelled ruination for the folkfest spirit so that today’s so-called Ottawa Folk Festival is a sorry parody of what it used to be. And more’s the pity.


Beer Down the Drain

Hear that?

A whole bottle of beer pouring down the basement sink.

And not just one of them – a whole dozen!

I can’t believe I just did that.

Perfectly good beer it was, once. Tenny Cream Ale, a smooth beverage in its prime, though maybe time caught up with it after 14 years sitting on a forgotten basement cupboard shelf.

August 27, 2001! Yep, that’s what my faithfully recorded beer-making chronicle shows as the last time I carted a beer order home from the old Brewing Station on Bank St. South.


stale beer

the last empty

the last empty

Shrivelled into almost triangular shape within their carton tomb, the plastic bottled beverages had lain there unnoticed since the joys of beer tasting fell victim to a minor medical setback. Occasional encounters with gout were traced, rightly or otherwise, to potions alcoholic, so needs must forego pleasure, alas. Beer’s days were done.

But they were good while they lasted. Recollections of student days in Newfoundland abound with images of slurping suds and swapping  stories  at Freddy Phelan’s Cottage Gardens, Alf Connors’ Sports Tavern, and the Cochrane and Newfoundland Hotels. Memories of the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax, relishing the luxury of beer-drinking in the only Nova Scotia town besides Sydney where taverns were allowed in the early 1950s. Sharing lunchtime beer and snack outings in such Ottawa haunts as Grad’s, Riverside Hotel, the Maple Leaf, and the unique Prescott Hotel. Being at the Prescott in 1976 when doors were opened to women for the first time.


And there were of course countless days and nights stepping up to the bar at the National Press Club, home away from home for news and communications people and occasional politicians. Yes, beer appreciation has more than its share of fond recollections.

Back now to the banishment of beer bottling.

All was not lost as experience revealed that wine consumption, in genteel moderation, would skirt the gout menace, well, nearly always. Thus, wine bottling might continue, and so it has done most pleasurably through the able services of what was fittingly renamed the Wine Station. Youthful wine boss Jason Ananny brims with enthusiastic energy in welcoming a steady stream of customers pleased with the quality and consistency of wines produced. His father, Peter, started the business in 1992 in an old Victorian red brick building at 2400 Bank Street near South Keys Mall.

Wine Station

Wine Station

Now in our 20th year as fans as well as customers, we drop in twice a year to order, contribute briefly to the wine making process, and a month later bottle batches of current red and white special brands. Jason and his cohorts are unfailingly helpful, knowledgeable and friendly, so we treasure the experience.

Beer times may be long gone, and roses have yet to bud, but putting new wine into old though well- sterilized bottles, promises well for the days ahead.

Fisheries Fans Welcoming Spring

It is called the Gathering of the Clans, but there is nothing ethnic about it, even though it happens so close to Paddy’s Day. This clan brings together us retired Ottawa area employees of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and we love to party. Starting time is 12 noon Wednesday, March 18, in the friendly ambience of the Clocktower Brew Pub at McKay and Beechwood in New Edinburgh. We do this four times a year, adhering to a celestial schedule reckoning the change of seasons.

Fisheries and Oceans differs somewhat from other departments, or at least it did so when much of its senior and operational staff hailed from coastal areas. Logical enough, because that’s where the oceans, and the fish, tend to be found. So intimately involved with a vital natural resource and its environment, DFO embodies a unique culture commanding intense pride and loyalty among its employees. Leaving such a workplace upon retirement so thoroughly severs close knit relationships that many find it hard to adjust. For all the pleasures of home life, recreation and hobby pursuits, the yen to keep in touch with workmates is hard to shake.

Finding a way to make this happen began 12 years ago over a few pints shared at the Kent St. Legion Club. Former British Columbian Dennis Brock was talking about it with Newfoundland buddies Lionel Rowe, Bob Mills, Dennis Williams and Don Wells. They hatched the idea of a reunion, not just once a year, but four times on dates marking the spring, summer, fall and winter solstices. Dennis took on the organizing role, using skills honed over a 33-year career begun on the Pacific coast and culminating as Director General of DFO’s Conservation and Protection service in Ottawa. And he’s run the quarterly luncheon program ever since.

First held at the Clocktower Brew Pub’s Bank St. site, events later moved to New Edinburgh for its wheelchair access, ground floor location and greater elbow room. From modest beginnings, attendance steadily grew, peaking at 100 or more in mid-December when spouses are invited.

Few if any other government departments seem to engender comparable activities for their retirees.

Communicating by e-mail to 300 subscribers, Dennis sets quarterly lunch dates, issuing weekly reminders in the preceding month. Contact lists are constantly updated, augmented by word of mouth referrals and current DFO staff advising on upcoming retirements. Name tags are worn, head counts duly noted and lists of attendees are circulated the day after each meeting.

Attendees range all the way from former clerks and stenos to senior managers, including deputy ministers and at least one former cabinet minister. Spirited discussions on past and current policy issues are not infrequent, but mainly conversation dwells on everyday doings of members, their families and friends. Only agenda normally at play: quaff a refreshment, order a luncheon special, and mix and mingle.

Support for the Ottawa Food Bank is a yearly tradition of the DFO clan. Every pre-Christmas gathering sees attendees arriving laden with suggested food and other donations as in effect the price of admission. Last December, our offerings completely filled the Food Bank van, while a silent auction and cash donations contributed $376 to the cause.  Delighted Food Bank volunteers once asked: “Is o’l DFO Farts and Tarts Inc. a big company?”  They were promptly assured that this facetiously dubbed moniker referred only to a bunch of Fisheries and Oceans retirees.

Upcoming DFO lunch dates: June 18, Sep 23, Dec 10.

In between hosting quarterly DFO lunch gatherings, Dennis Brock and spouse Darlene relax on Cancun holiday.

In between hosting quarterly DFO lunch gatherings, Dennis Brock and spouse Darlene relax on Cancun holiday.