No matter his age, no matter where you saw him or what was happening in his life at the time, there was always a hint of the barefoot boy who grew up on the shores of Lake Kasshabog in the smile on Pat Laurie’s face. It was a little mischievous, that grin of his, but it was always genuine and pure, filled with love. He was the type of guy who made friends effortlessly. That smile of his invited friendship and when the summer throngs of cottagers descended upon the lake, his circle grew. He was the bridge that brought the city-dwellers together with his country friends from school, and together these kids from all walks of life grew up in the clear waters of the lake.
Alongside his two older brothers, Brendan and Jeff, and his little sister, Kim, Pat was boy of the outdoors. Summers were spent at the baseball diamond and on the water and winters were spent on ice. Pat was a gifted athlete. Many in the town of Norwood will remember his natural abilities on the field and on the ice. He skated with the grace and speed of the elite hockey players of the world, and his strength was such that nobody could knock him off the puck. Baseball was the same. Nothing got by him at shortstop and no matter where he was on the field, he could throw the ball like a bullet that was somehow timed to arrive at the bulls-eye just in time for the out. It was like he wanted the runner on base to feel every time as though he might make it before the ball, but they rarely did.
His heart was never in the pursuit of elite sports, however. He could easily have been a professional, but he only ever played for fun. At 15, he was invited to play for the Lakefield Chiefs Junior C hockey team alongside athletes five years his senior, but he was content to play in Norwood alongside his friends. He didn’t belong anywhere else, in his mind, for alongside his friends was where he found the greatest joy.
Sadly, the happy days of his youth turned darker as Pat grew and a grim illness took hold. Through his 20s and into his 30s, Pat struggled with heavy addiction. It was a demon he couldn’t shake and its grip grew ever tighter with time. Perhaps he chased the sunshine of those carefree summer days on the lake – nobody can say for sure – but hearts broke around him as his friends and family watched the man they loved so deeply wrestle against a relentless, deepening tragedy.
Their support was always there, but Pat could never absorb it for long. As quickly as things looked bright they turned dark again, but through it all, amid every challenge, that boyish grin shone through. He was always in there, that boy everyone loved, and people latched onto that memory as they tried to help him beat his demon down.
On the night of Nov. 17, Pat’s struggle ended when the illness took his life. At 37, he suffered a devastating stroke and that boyish grin now shines only in the memories of so many people who loved him. He’ll be sorely missed.
Friends and family are invited to gather at the Norwood Town Hall on Dec. 3 from 12-2 to celebrate Pat’s life and share memories together.
In the first two weeks of November, my wife, Becca, and two children, Eli and Abby, enjoyed an amazing adventure in Athens, Greece and The Peloponnese to the Southwest. We hear so much of strife and sorrow these days, but this trip and the memories created in an awe-inspiring land remind me of the beauty in the world around us. No matter where we are from, we are all brothers and sisters. I hope we can all remember that.
I’ll share a few thoughts jotted down during the trip:
The evening has fallen on us again in our little cottage outside of Napflio, Greece. In the distance, a dog barks and the tall, stark mountaintop with the small church atop is alight – the ancient sites across this beautiful land are offered the respect they deserve. Just beyond that mountain, where ages ago guardians of the land watched for danger with huge pyres waiting to be lit should the need arise sending warnings to the mountains across the valley, the waters of the Gulf of Argolis rock ashore in steady rhythm.
I was in those waters yesterday with my family and maybe six other people on the beach at Tolo. The sea was comfortable on a warm November Day, as my children tasted salt water upon their lips for the first time. The sea is much different than a lake in the Kawarthas of Ontario, they quickly discovered, but the sand is so much denser, like deep flour you sink into as the waves come across your feet.
Our hosts at this little cottage have been beyond hospitable; they are gracious and kind and eager to ensure we have all we need in this humble place. Lydia and Thanasis have been here for 14 years or so; they bought the land partly because of their love of another small church atop their hill, a sanctuary above groves of Olive and Orange trees. For them, our cottage, which carries the name of its Queen, Lydia, was a getaway from the pulse of Athens while they built their retirement escape. Now they live below in a magnificent home, rich with rooms for their large extended family, and a ping-pong table coveted by our children.
We are the first guests at Lydia’s Cottage, aside from their children and grandchildren, who stay here often, and we couldn’t be more grateful that we met them. Tonight, after we spent the day visiting the ancient theatre at Epidaurus, where two millennia ago people paid homage to the influence art and beauty has upon the moral compass of man, we shared an amazing meal with our hosts. Their friend, Barbara, who now manages that theatre’s summer schedule, joined us and sang for us when the lamb was all but gone and the wine gave up its last few drops. The song was of love and nature and in this place we feel them both with amazing force.
Thanassis shared with me a bottle of homemade Tsipouro, pure and perfect, as he said; we spoke a little of politics and of the challenges facing the world, and we spoke about art and music. We all sang ‘Let it Be’ together, and wished John Lennon was beside us to help with the words when the verses missed their mark. This was a magical evening. They spoke of their pride in their country and a little of their fears for the future, but most importantly they shared the common understanding of the importance of cherishing simplicity.
In ages past, the people here knew strife and challenge and blessings and possibility, just as today the world over these things push and pull against each other. I sat with my son today in the jail cell within the Palamidi, a fortress built in the 1700s on the cliffs above Nafplio, where modern day Greece’s most honoured soldier, Theodoros Kolokotronis, was sentenced to rot after he led the nation to independence in 1822. In that dank cell, I felt the weight and confusion of conflict. Here was a man who won the fortress back from Turkish rule and led the revolution, condemned by the Bavarian Prince installed afterwards to rule the country. It makes no sense to me now just as it made no sense then and today, questions still arise as to who rules the fate of this proud nation.
Over a fourth glass of Tsipouro, Thanasis explained this history to me and offered his interpretation of the present, and I’m thankful for his wisdom. When I came to Greece with my family, I expected to see amazement in my children’s eyes at the sight of a gorgeous beach, I anticipated the wonder we’d find in ancient stones unearthed by the curious hands and minds of the not-so-distant past, and I hoped for the hospitality I’ve heard so much about. An all counts, the past few days have been a wonder and Thanasis, Lydia, and Barbara will forever hold a special place in our hearts for the warmth they shared with us in this beautiful part of Greece.
This weekend past, my family and I sat along the shores of Maple Lake just south of Parry Sound with several others, sharing space together under grey skies and the bright colours of the autumn forest surrounding us.
We were new faces there - many of the other families had been gathering like this for nearly nine years, bound together by the invasive grasp of Neuroblastoma, a deadly childhood cancer that attacks upwards of 50 new children a year in Canada. This is a disease that shatters families who are forced to place their lives on hold while dedicated specialists navigate each individual case, hoping to find the best way to fight back. Some children will live and as science and research progresses, hope in the face of this disease continues to grow, but sadly many children are destined to follow the path of a young boy named James Birrell, for whom this annual Family Retreat we find ourselves at is named.
We were invited to join this year’s retreat because of the role my wife and I play on the committee that organizes the annual Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic, the Peterborough tournament that raises funds to pay for this retreat. Our children are healthy, thankfully, but our definition of family is broad and Neuroblastoma came into our lives through others we hold close. We know the fear.
We also have known that The James Fund Family Retreat is an important weekend for many families who are either going through treatment, living with the hope that relapse is a word they’ll never hear, or have lost a child after a torturous fight against the disease.
We know family support is so important, but until you sit with the families and hear their stories, you can never really understand the significance of this gathering. For Hannah Munro, for example, who’s been coming to the James Fund Family Retreat since the first one was held 9 years ago, the gathering helped her discover her true self while offering a depth of confidence that may have eluded her had she not met other survivors.
“Everybody I know who goes to camp is so much more accepting and knows themself better than those who don’t, and they find that out quicker,” Hannah says. She looks at friends who’ve lived healthy lives and sees insecurity in many ways, she tells me. I see how she carries herself today at 21 with poise and self-assurance, and smile when she tells me that her time with fellow survivors helped make her the person she is today.
“When you come here, you learn to let go,” she says. People are quick to rush to judgment in the outside world, but the retreat has always been a safe place where children can be themselves and parents can find comfort in each other’s collective strength.
And there are brothers and sisters, grandparents and close friends, all of whom have lost and given so much to support a child facing death. In their presence, I was in awe, filled with gratitude to be a part of it, learning firsthand about the power that lies in connectivity and true peer support.
“I have found that having a young child with Neuroblastoma in the house – whatever else it does to you – can be an isolating experience,” wrote Ronald Orenstein in a thank you letter to the committee following the retreat. His three-year-old Grandson, Royce, has been in treatment since February. “Except for trips to the hospital, you become confined to your home, fearful of encountering infection and too exhausted to seek out others. You feel alone, singled out for your own particular punishment.
“Because of that, I cannot tell you how glad I am that my wife, Eileen, had the diligence to seek out the James Fund and to sign us up for its October retreat at Camp George. Here we found friendship, understanding, and at least some measure of comfort.”
This event would be almost impossible to arrange if it weren’t for the generosity of so many people connected to the James Fund Golf Classic, strangers who give of themselves in the name of supporting other strangers from afar. Each day the world of Neuroblastoma is filled with hope and terror, courage and fear, optimism and tragic sorrow; for those who stare the disease down each day, knowing they don’t walk alone may be enough to keep them moving.
“Haiti?” came the shocked response from a friend this fall when I told him my plan. “Why the hell would you want to go there?”
I’ve heard similar responses from others, in varying degrees of surprise and confusion, and more than once I’ve overheard people suggest, in tones of masked intolerance, that Haiti is beyond hope – a lost cause that draws resources away from other places that could make better use of them.
When I hear that, I cringe.
If there is no hope for Haiti, then is there any hope for any of us?
On the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2010, the ground shook with the thunderous devastation of a 35-second earthquake in Southern Haiti that decimated the already struggling nation, and people around the world responded.
Governments matched the donated dollars of their citizens as aid agencies struggled to support an estimated 1.5 million homeless people, while the country waded through unfathomable grief in the face of a death toll that ranged between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
Aftershocks continued as photos of the destruction and sorrow spread throughout the world.
I have a friend in the Canadian Navy and one in the Air Force who were both dispatched in response to the crisis. They worked alongside countless other foreign soldiers, aid workers and locals to try and bring some semblance of order to the chaos left in the aftermath of the quake.
There was a global telethon, organized by George Clooney. Coldplay was there. So were Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift, and CNN’s Anderson Cooper was on the ground in Haiti urging audiences around the world to donate and explaining why they should. More than $60 million was raised, which was unprecedented in terms of public response to a telethon.
But news cycles adhere to the realities of a distracted populace, and stories from Haiti eventually moved off the front pages to the back of the papers and magazines and now, nearly four years after the quake, we hear so very little about what has become of Haiti, but I know the people struggle onward.
There are many people and organizations, such as the microfinance group Fonkoze that are helping to strengthen Haitian families and give power through knowledge and solidarity.
I’ll be travelling to Haiti in February with Tourmagination and a crew of people connected to Schlegel Villages, an elder-care provider in Southwestern Ontario that chooses to spread compassion beyond its villages’ walls. Schlegel Villages has been supporting Haiti for the past three years by raising somewhere around $100,000 in support of Fonkoze.
In February we’ll be working alongside Haitians with an organization called Haiti Communitere, which links Haitian groups with international ones to foster a sense of community as they work together to rebuild infrastructure, assist in clinics and orphanages and re-imagine ways to strengthen the country. Haiti Communitere and its partners continually work towards renewal in Haiti, long after the world responded with immediate relief following the devastation of 2010. I aim to be a small part of that rejuvenation, and in the process I want to discover new stories to share that might counter the misguided perceptions I’ve come across here at home.
I’ll be travelling with nurses and personal support workers who spend their lives caring for the elders of their communities; people who give of themselves constantly, yet always want to do more. Two women in our group came to Canada as refugees, and see this journey as their opportunity to repay kindnesses they received as young people in the face of struggle in their homelands.
My reasons for the trip pale in comparison, but I must lay them out. I choose to live in a world where we come alongside our neighbours, be they in our local communities or our global ones. I refuse the sentiment that hope is ever lost on anyone anywhere, for there is always hope, and I seek to discover where it rests in a country so many people seem to forget.
I choose to believe that small, ongoing acts of kindness and solidarity are the basis of hope that we all need in a troubled world, and I choose to reaffirm that belief in Haiti.
On Saturday morning, two days before Remembrance Day, a note sat waiting for me in my e-mail inbox. It was written by Stephen Young, the nephew of a soldier who died on a cold March night in 1944 outside of Anzio, Italy. The soldier’s name was James Donald Schofield, or just Donald to his sister, Vera.
The story of Donald Schofield’s death first touched me two years ago when I read it in newsletter at the Village of Humber Heights, a long-term care and retirement home where Douglas Martin lives. As a storyteller I work with Humber Heights and 11 other homes owned and operated by Schelgel Villages, and I’m always on the lookout for stories to share.
This newsletter related Doug’s recollection of the night J.D. Schofield was fatally wounded, as dictated to one of his daughters years before. His hope in sharing the story was that someone, somewhere, would read it and know that the 19-year-old Schofield didn’t die alone, for Doug harboured the regret throughout his life that he never tracked down Schofield’s family to tell them what happened that fateful night in Italy.
"I have always regretted not contacting his next of kin," explained Doug in the first dictated story. "The only thing I could have said to them was that I was with your son on the night he was fatally wounded."
Doug’s memory was cloudy and blindness was darkening his days by the time I came across the story, but when I spoke to his wife, Elsie, she said his memories of the war remained vivid and he held out hope that one day someone who knew and loved J.D. Schofield would hear about his death.
"Nobody's come forward yet, I guess the people are all gone now" said Elsie at the time, but she was thankful to know the story was still circulating.
"You never know," she told me, and I could hear in her voice that she hoped upon hope that her husband’s burden of regret could be laid down.
The story was the kind that starts to burrow into your skin and I soon found myself sifting through online records at the Canadian Department of National Defence looking for anything related to J.D. Schofield. It turns out he was from a small village in Nova Scotia called Cambridge Station. I started calling area legions and people in the phone book who shared the name Schofield. I eventually found Pam Schofield, the daughter of a University of British Columbia professor named Wilf – Donald’s brother who died a few years ago – and I shared the story with her.
I later told Elsie that her husband’s story had found the fallen soldier’s kin nearly 70 years later. When Stephen contacted me on Saturday, it opened the story up all over for me. I called Humber Heights and was pleased to hear that Mr. Martin still makes his home there. They patched me through to his room where Elsie and his daughter, Susan, were visiting, and I had the pleasure of speaking with Elsie again and Susan for the first time.
I passed along Stephen’s words: “I know very little about the circumstances surrounding my uncle's death and just came across the ‘Remembrance at Humber Heights’ article. I would like Mr. Martin (if he is still alive) and/or his family to know that his story has indeed made it to, and touched very deeply, one of Donald's next of kin.”
And the story continues to touch me deeply. There were thousands of J.D. Schofields – young, brave warriors who gave their lives to preserve ours, yet whose full story may never be told and sadly, there are fewer and fewer Doug Martins left to tell them.
I’m honoured to have found myself in the middle of this real-life fable, and I’ll be certain to live my life with no regrets, ever thankful of the lessons imparted by Mr. Martin and the fallen J.D. Schofield.
If anyone reads this would like help sharing the stories of a veteran in their life, I’d love to help. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view the original article and a second reviews how the story found its way to the Donald Schofield's sister, Vera.
In reviewing last night’s Frightened Rabbit concert at Toronto’s Kool Haus under skies teaming with Scottish rain and wind that blew to honour the band, I could write about many things.
I could write about the energy that swept from stage to crowd, forcing itself into dancing toes and limp wrists that dangled while skirts inched higher to reveal sweaty shins above stomping feet. It was an energy that flowed about like a ghost infecting everyone in the crowd.
I could write about an opening act I’d never come across before, Brooklyn’s Augustines, and I might describe how, within the first two songs, the three-piece had me hooked or how when lead singer Billy McCarthy broke into the song Philadelphia with a raspy cry about brotherly love, I looked at my two brothers standing beside me and felt a calm wave of happiness, the sort that can bring a tear to the eye.
I could write about the strange sense of pride I felt watching Frightened Rabbit take the stage and open into a set filled with songs from four albums that each carry the heart of a band I’ve admired for nearly four years on the sleeves of harmony. From the first song, Holy, to the final chanted echoes of the Loneliness and the Scream, I never stopped moving; a sweaty mess of an awkward dancer who managed to find a few different dance partners, equally impassioned as part of the muse of a favourite group of artists.
I could write about the primal drumbeats, how they vibrate in me still, or about the dripping Scottish voice that carries some of the most poetic lyrics ever. I could write about the eerie keyboard that began Keep Yourself Warm, a song that teaches us in its beauty and its harshness to dig beyond the superficial relationships in life and find meaning in true love and friendship.
Scott Hutchison with a lone guitar and his voice haunting us with Nitrous Gas; I could write about that.
It amazes me how much can be absorbed in a short span of time. I found a thousand new friendships, and I could try to capture that feeling and so much more in this review.
But I won’t.
I choose to write about 21 of us welcomed out of the rain, hours before the official show started. We watched a few songs during sound check – an intimate sort of privilege I’ve sometimes taken for granted in my life following music.
I choose to write about a girl with a flower in her hair, invited in to join us against the official rules that can govern things like “meet and greet” packages. Anna drove nearly 300 km and arrived early, but she wasn’t on the list. Gracious hosts, as the members of Frightened Rabbit and the crew are, she was invited in and beamed with happiness when my brother offered her his poster for signatures. I could see how tight her hugs were when she met the band.
I choose to write about five men and a crew who crossed oceans to be with us, and how, though the road can be a long and toil-filled hardship, they met us with grace and genuine gratitude on a wet Toronto evening. I was honoured to offer them a small token of my appreciation; a small jar of pure maple syrup I made this spring that I hope might give them satisfaction on some hard morning ahead.
They returned the favour by blowing my mind for the second time this year, and that should keep me warm for a while.
Art of Dying, acoustic style
Art of Dying, Three Days Grace, and 10,000 bikers
Art During Toronto’s NXNE festival, 29 bars in downtown Toronto stayed open until 4 am. The Dakota Tavern was one of them. I was there on June 13th, the night bassist Todd Menzies and Willhorse delivered their final Ontario performance on a tour that brought them across the country.
Late bar service and a pile of music fans hopped up on adrenaline was a dangerous mix for me on the first leg of a journey that would eventually land my brother/photographer and I at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater outside of Detroit with 10,000 bikers and the other two friends I had in mind for this tale of three bass players.
It was sometime around 3:30 when I was gently urged onto a late-night city bus. I sailed through the next day of commitments in London remarkably unscathed and we arrived at Freedom Hill early in the afternoon of Harleyfest to the smell of leather, motorcycle exhaust, cheap American beer, and smoky barbecued ribs.
As soon as we got to the park, I recognized the place. In 2003, Three Days Grace played an early afternoon set there during a radio station’s daylong concert. The band was rolling in a converted Bell Canada van, lovingly referred to as the “Blue Bitch,” and they had one song on the radio that was getting some solid playtime.
I made the trip to that show with my buddy, Nate Brewer, and soaked up the slow burn of what would become the band’s explosion into a life of music. I remember watching bassist Brad Walst working on his stage presence that day in front of a sparse crowd sitting in the light rain – his “bass face” was always solid, even when we were kids and he was still learning to string the notes together. Ten years later, he was preparing to take to the stage again to close out a night of rock music with thousands of people singing along to every word his brother on lead vocals belted out off a set list from four successful albums.
Walst and I grew up beside each other as neighbours and the closest of friends and here we were – things had come full circle. On the day of Harleyfest outside the amphitheatre, bands played tribute to the likes of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top and AC/DC. Inside, three of the feature bands – Saving Abel, Hinder, and Three Days Grace – were preparing for another night on stage. Some guys were napping, some were drinking, and we were all wondering where the first act of the night was.
Tavis Stanley, Jonny Hetherington and Cale Gontier of Art of Dying were still somewhere between Kansas City and Sterling Heights, MI. A lot can happen during an 800-mile stretch between gigs, but nobody seemed worried.
Gontier is the third bass player of this tale, though during this tour he’d seldom had to pick up anything more than a microphone. A stripped down Art of Dying, minus drummer Jeff Brown and guitarist Greg Bradley, had been touring steadily with Saving Abel on an acoustic tour featuring one Norwood-built, Gontier-Lee guitar and three voices blending perfect harmonies from the band’s album, Vices and Virtues.
Art of Dying's Cale Gontier
They rolled into backstage at Harleyfest in typical fashion – cold beer wrapped in coolies not far from the hands of the two not driving accompanied by worn out smiles and hugs for people they hadn’t seen in quite some time.
Within a half hour or so, they were on the stage upon three stools pulling off a short set of five songs that wrapped the small but growing crowd into a collective voice. It’s quite a remarkable feat to warm up a full-tilt rock show with a 25-minute acoustic love-in, but it worked. The odd mumble of skepticism I heard at the back of the amphitheatre evaporated after the first song, and by the end of the set, a line-up had formed near the merchandise tent where these three musicians entertained every person who waited to meet them in extended conversation.
Saving Abel guitarist Scott Bartlett offered me a bit of insight into his experience over the month he spent touring with Gontier, Stanley, and Hetherington, and he captured the essence of their personalities which, when combined with their talent, give me hope for the successful future of Art of Dying.
“They pulled up in a four-door sedan,” Bartlett recalls of the first day he met the guys. “Nobody does that on tour; they jump out and they’ve all got coozies, one acoustic guitar, and I’m like, ‘Who drove?’ and they say, ‘All of us.’
“Now we’re supporting Hinder and Three Days Grace and they’re like, ‘We’ll just do it with one acoustic guitar, eh.’ They don’t need anything more; their harmonies are so sick – I can’t say enough good things about those guys. They actually look like rock stars. Some of us don’t really dress the part and look the part, but when they leave the house they look the part.”
Bartlett spoke about how easy the music business can be when you have an opportunity to share space and time with relaxed musicians who don’t subscribe to any form of pretension. Then he pulled a slug from a bottle of Jack Daniels before taking the stage to prepare for his part in this tale, and I watched Gontier and the boys work their crowd of admirers.
His words stuck with me as I watched the bands work their magic for the night. By the time the Three Days Grace set ended, the entire crowd was a sweaty pulse and I spoke with countless people about what they’d seen and why they choose to spend their dollars on live music.
Brad Walst of 3DG
“It’s amazing that that amount of talent comes out of such a small area,” said Kate Hayward, who travelled from the London area to celebrate her daughter’s 17th birthday at the show. They’d followed Three Days Grace, Matt Walst’s band My Darkest Days, and Art of Dying for a number of years. They have a vested interest in the bands’ continued success, you see, for in live music, they can be swept away from the turmoil of life to be caught in one shared moment with thousands of other people.
I think that’s why so many music fans embrace a sense of ownership over the bands they choose to support. They feel pride when things go well, and this is what I feel when I consider my bassist friends and their separate journeys through the chaotic sea of the music industry.
Willhorse’s Menzies, Art of Dying’s Gontier, and 3DG’s Walst are three humble artists who subscribe to no pretension and play music simply for love. They work hard to bring their art to those who crave it and share themselves willingly each time they take the stage. They’re at different points upon the same career path that began in the same small town, and as I watch them grow as a friend and a fan, I choose to write about my pride because I, too, have a vested interest in their success.
In the tale of three bass players I find the stripped down, honest fact that if you honour your passion in anything you do, then the realization of every dream becomes possible. It was worth the trip, for sure.
Another big thanks to my bro, Daniel Partington for being my wingman and for the great pictures. This article originally appeared on the Canadian Musician Magazine blog. Click here to see the original.
If you want to see part one, visit this link.
Backyards, legion halls and NXNE with Willhorse
This tale of three bass players began about a month ago as a 1973 Detroit Diesel engine carried the frame of an old-school tour bus and a band called Willhorse down Maple-lined Queen Street in little Norwood, ON to park in front of my house.
Actually, the tale began many years ago under different trees across town, but I’m not sure there’s enough space here for the many stories that led to this particular adventure, which began in my backyard and ended in a suburb of Detroit with Art of Dying, Three Days Grace, a few thousand bikers and I on a sunny June Saturday.
Willhorse, Art of Dying, and Three Days Grace all have deep roots in Norwood. At Toronto’s Dakota Tavern in the midst of my bass player adventure during the Willhorse NXNE showcase on June 13, 2013, I saw Ralph James, the Founder and President of the Agency Group’s Toronto office. Ralph knows Norwood well, and he told me over a couple of pints that, per capita, this little village on the highway between Toronto and Ottawa must churn out more musicians than anywhere.
I had to agree.
Bassist Todd Menzies of Willhorse is one of them. He grew up with music in his heart and watched and learned as older friends played guitars around fires and in basements and garages. In a small town, there really are no age groups when you hit teenage years, and Menzies had no trouble holding his own with the older guys. Picking up the guitar was as natural as anything
He moved to British Columbia 11 years ago, eventually settling in Golden where he got lost in the love of powder snowboarding and music. He’s been part of several music projects and played with many talented musicians throughout the past decade, but when he connected with Jeremy Borschneck, Nick Petrowich, and Branden Winterholt last year, he says the chemistry was different. There was simplicity and honesty in the music they instantly began to write together and it wasn’t long before these three guys from North Battleford, SK, who grew up with music and friendships intertwined, would set up permanent roots in Golden, BC alongside Menzies. Their only goal was to write and record an album they could be proud of.
It’s a testament to the quality of their art and the good nature of their personalities that they were invited to record at Blaeberry Mountain Lodge under the guidance of producer JP Maurice. He also mixed the debut album with Nygel Asselin at The Farm Studios at Fader Mountain Sound, which is owned by the iconic Garth Richardson – Rage Against the Machine’s debut album? That was Richardson in the producer chair.
It seems everybody who comes into contact with the straight-ahead sound Willhorse found is caught up in it. There’s a raw, Southern-rock influence that captures the essence of classic ZZ Top or Lynyrd Skynyrd while being fresh and new. Kings of Leon took the music world by storm in the same way, and Saskatchewan’s Sheepdogs proved hard work can make lightning strike again. So many new artists today seem to have one sound or one tempo, but Willhorse managed to dial in 10 unique songs on this album that showcase a diverse range of harmony and lyrical beauty – at once soft and then hard hitting. The blend of voices led by Borschneck mixes with catchy guitar riffs and Winterholt’s leads, while the steady musicality of Menzies on bass and Petrowich’s prowess on drums rounds out the sound.
I’d never heard one song until the album landed in my mailbox just after it was pressed in December, and the result was far beyond my expectations. The tour they started when the album dropped carried them throughout Western Canada in the winter months and to Ontario this spring.
A stripped down acoustic set in my backyard was part of a fundraising campaign my family organizes on the May 24 weekend, and it was my first chance to see them play live. Barefoot and happy, I was, as the music carried on beside a bonfire well into the late night. I expected the police, but my neighbours know me well and I think they liked the music as much as the gathered crowd in my yard.
A note attached to the door of the bus read something like. “Thanks for the concert last night. We really enjoyed the music.” It was signed “61 Legion Street” – a house a little jaunt away from mine. No cops, just a nice friendly note; I took that as a good sign.
A couple weeks later, after Willhorse hit Toronto, Kingston, Perth, Ottawa, and Peterborough, they blew the doors off Norwood’s legion, joined by the raucous adventure in music called Shred Kelly. It was another night to remember, and again, it proved that in any situation, be it backyard, legion hall, or proper stage in a club, this band has all the working parts in order.
Their final show in Ontario was the NXNE showcase at the Dakota Tavern, where a few industry folks mingled with a packed house of music fans and, again, they played with the same passion and heart they carry with them everywhere.
They’re in Alberta now on the last leg of their cross-country tour, playing small clubs and sharing their music, working hard towards the next opportunity and preparing for a few festivals in B.C., along with Vancouver’s PEAK Performance Project.
I may be biased, but in my humble opinion, Willhorse is bound for magical things in a tough industry where talent and dedication all too often falter during the daunting challenge of making it to the next level. I had three chances to watch their passion unfold, however, and my confidence is high for my bassist friend Menzies, and the brothers he’s found.
Thanks to my brother, Daniel Partington for the great shots. This article originally appeared on the Canadian Musician Magazine blog. Click here to see the original.
Much has happened in the last while to fill me with a great sense of pride and satisfaction and yet, somehow, a hole remains that can only be filled with the determination to do more.
Over the Victoria Day holiday weekend, we hosted our annual weekend-long fundraiser – we being my lovely wife and countless other people we’re fortunate enough to call friends. There was a barbeque, my daughter and the daughters of others shaved their heads; my son and his best friend did as well. We ran a yard sale and enjoyed live music around a 100-hour bonfire thanks to Willhorse and a host of other musicians – some whose blood remains in the sound hole of my guitar, because that’s what happens when you like to play hard.
This fundraiser was about a boy named James who died a boy. In 2001, he was taken from his family by a dreadful cancer that haunts many families around the world. James died far too young and though I never met him, I feel like I knew him, and know him still, because he left behind a beautiful legacy – a mantle carried under the banner of the James Fund for Neuroblastoma Research.
Neuroblastoma came into my life when two of my closest friends’ son was diagnosed with the disease. There had already been cancer deaths in my life and my wife was actually dealing with her own melanoma at that time – but this was a boy. He was and is my son’s best friend, but the fear I felt must’ve paled in comparison to what his parents grappled with as they watched him suffer through surgeries and chemo treatments that would buckle a man.
That’s when the James Fund came onto our radar. Millions of dollars have been funnelled into research laboratories at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital and the brightest minds in the field travel to Toronto to battle this curse, all in the name of that little boy, James.
We found solace and hope in their work, and that's why we do what we can to support such a worthy cause.
We raised nearly $4,000 over the course of the weekend, and through the speech I offered while watching children play and shave and laugh, I suggested that while the money we raise may be but a drop in a large ocean, we’re doing something special when we teach our children the beauty of looking out for others and the honour in giving of ourselves, what little that may be.
Earlier this week, I was also part of the 6th annual James Fund Golf Classic – a gem of an event among countless golf tournaments, all raising money for worthy causes. The money raised at this event is used to support families living with neuroblastoma. Research is critical, yes, but families need to escape and the golf classic funds an annual retreat where families find strength in each other. It also helps cover the mounting bills some families may face while their children are healing or dying.
The importance is never lost on me when I think about what is at stake, so I’m glad to be of service. In sorrow and suffering, one can find a strange beauty in the resilience of the human spirit and the willingness of friends and strangers to lift the sunken hearts of others.
It’s been a busy few weeks, to be sure, but it’s the good kind of busy.
Click here to learn more about the James Fund. Two related stories can be found here and here.
Here's a little Willhorse from the backyard fundraiser; a great group of guys with close ties to the place I call home: