MY B-LIST OF SONGS FOR CANADA DAY

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Well, hello there, Canada. Another birthday, eh? Dominion Day is my favourite holiday of the year, a time for us all to set aside those petty differences over just about everything the you-know-who gang does in Ottawa, and celebrate being Canadian. My Canada includes a Prime Minister who loves hockey and gets excited about finding Franklin’s ships up north. It doesn’t include an ugly monument to “victims of communism” beside the Supreme Court of Canada, nor a massive Mother Canada statue scarring Cape Breton’s beautiful Highlands National Park, nor…(fill in 50 blanks here)….but never mind. Happy Dominion Day! What’s that? It’s now called Canada Day, you say? Pity!

I usually celebrate Canada Day with a list of good old songs that best exemplify the spirit, history, beauty and character of this grand land of ours. The usual suspects are always at the top: The Great Canadian Railroad Trilogy, Northwest Passage, Four Strong Winds, Sudbury Saturday Night, Let’s Go Bowling, Ontario-ari-ari-o, and so on.

This year, I’m opting for something different. Being the kind of obscure guy I am, herewith my list of 10 fine songs about Canada that you may not know. They are compiled from my own collection of vinyl, CDs and cassettes (alas, no 8-tracks). So you will notice there are no relatively recent songs evoking where we live, such as Sam Roberts’ fierce Canadian Dream or Joel Plaskett’s bittersweet True Patriot Love. Folk, of course, looms large. Apologies for not being more tragically hip, and additions gratefully acknowledged. But it’s my list, and I’m sticking to it.

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  1. Stan Rogers: Free in the Harbour. A lovely, evocative song about the heartbreak of having to leave the fading outports of Newfoundland for the “riches” of Alberta. A way of life gone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbjEmEifZp4
  1. The Band: Acadian Driftwood. The timing of the expulsion of the Acadians is a bit off (history is hard), but there are references by the boys from southwestern Ontario to the Plains of Abraham, cold fronts and the lure of winter. A terrific Canadian version of The Band’s big hit, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=te7KW4K-00E
  1. Spirit of the West: The Crawl. Could there be a more Canadian song than this rollicking combination of sea shanty and drinking song? Become an expert on the geography and pubs of West and North Vancouver. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N37oQmdlrU
  1. James Keelaghan: Stonecutter. A powerful tale of the stonemasons called out of retirement to help rebuild the Parliament Buildings, after they burned down in 1916. The fledgling young apprentices had all been called to war. No video, but here are the lyrics. Well worth the iTune purchase. http://lyrics.wikia.com/James_Keelaghan:Stonecutter
  1. Barra MacNeils: The Island. Anthemic tribute to the history and enduring lure of Cape Breton. I guess it is pretty well known back east, but not out here in this parched part of the country. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apD1IuE5Lwo
  1. Stringband: Dief Will Be The Chief Again. Written by my good friend Bob Bossin, this is certainly the best song ever written about John Diefenbaker, and maybe about any Canadian politician. “Everyone’s happy back in ’57, and nobody’s happy since then.” Available right at the end of this Bossin jukebox compilation. http://www3.telus.net/oldfolk/jukebox.htm#dief
  1. The Byrds: Blue Canadian Rockies. Yes, by the Byrds, but from their best and one of my most-loved albums ever, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It doesn’t get any better than this. Sorry, Wilf Carter, but Gram Parsons kills on this country classic, written by the legendary Cindy Walker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJkXkvLNs6U
  1. Grievous Angels: Crossing the Causeway. There’s no sadder Canadian tradition than Maritimers leaving “the folks back home” for Toronto in search of work. Few have captured the poignancy better than this song by Charlie Angus (now an MP) and his band. “I wipe my tears on the kitchen wall.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSN_dZB55wg
  1. Sadly, besides suggesting anything from my numerous La Bottine Souriante casssettes, I have little to offer in this list category from Quebec. Robert Charlebois’ Québec Love talks about taking up guns. Yikes. And so on. So I include, instead, by far the best known song about La Belle Province, it’s unofficial anthem, Mon Pays C’est L’Hiver by Gilles Vigeneault. It’s wonderful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH_R6D7mU7M
  1. Finally, no Canada Day list would be complete without Stompin’ Tom Connors, even if The Hockey Song and Sudbury Saturday Night are too well known. Of course, he has a myriad other Canadian classics. I’ve opted, appropriately for his great Cross Canada. Sing it loud. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=012Bo_iihpI

Happy CA – NA -DA Day!

(As a bonus, here’s the Travellers’ maple syrup version of Woody Guthrie’s famous song, This Land is Your Land. We have our own identity, after all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwLyVl11iV4 )

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NEWS YOU NEVER WANT TO HEAR

It’s been a tough month for those of us who have been around ye olde J-biz in Vancouver for a while. Three journalists many of us knew and admired have passed on to the great typewriter in the sky. Sean Rossiter, dead at 68 from the ravages of Parkinson’s. The incomparable Doug Sagi, taken from us just short of his 80th birthday by complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And most recently, and most heartbreakingly of all, the courageous Alicia Priest, her life cut short at 61 by the truly terrible scourge of ALS.

I mostly knew Alicia from a distance, via occasional phone calls, emails and paths crossing when we were both journos in Vancouver. But as a one-time health policy reporter myself, I was a big fan of her excellence on health policy matters. A former nurse, she knew the field, and her solid, comprehensive articles were always on the side of improving the country’s beleaguered health care system. Many made their way into my bulging clipping files. Alicia cared, and she was smart.

With life partner Ben Parfitt, a master of the thorough, hard-hitting, investigative report, the two eventually abandoned working for bosses, forging a freelance living for themselves in Victoria, while raising their daughter Charlotte.

Then, in 2011 she received the cruel news that the cold numbness in her hand was a symptom of ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was a death sentence. As Alicia told Paul Lukas of The Province: “In the 75 years since Gehrig died, medical science has come up with zilch – no treatment and no cure.”

Alicia faced her fate head on. She chose to regard it as a deadline for a writing project she’d had in her mind for years: the story of her family and her flawed, off-beat father, who masterminded the great Yukon silver heist of the early 1960’s. Of course, it was a deadline no writer or reporter would ever want, but it was a deadline nevertheless, one referred to by Alicia as “the ultimate deadline”. As always, she met it with flying colours. Her book, A Rock Fell on the Moon, was published to glowing reviews last fall. Best of all, although unable to speak and nourished through a tube, Alicia was able to return to the Yukon in October for a very special book launch at the Baked Café in Whitehorse.

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A Rock Fell on the Moon is a fine, fascinating read, well-researched and well-told. It relates a saga that seems, itself, to come 1550176722from the moon, accompanied by the heartbreak of growing up in a dysfunctional family. The book has a little bit of everything, including some vintage stuff about life in a remote, Yukon mining town. Recommended — as an unflinching glimpse into a time that has long passed, a family’s intimacies, and larger-than-life characters who might have been pulled from the pages of Elmore Leonard.

This time, life, so often desperately unfair, wavered just long enough to reward her heroic effort to finish the most important story of her career.

Here are two excellent features about Alicia that were written last fall. They serve as vivid reminders of how much spirit and talent were lost with her tragic death.

http://thetyee.ca/Culture/2014/10/31/Alicia-Priest/

http://www.theprovince.com/health/ultimate+deadline+With+tightening+grip+Victoria+writer+completes+book+about+criminal+father/10199096/story.html

Just before that, we lost Doug Sagi, one of the best newspaper guys I ever worked with. It wasn’t because of lights-out brilliance or eye-popping prose. He was simply a pro, master of the craft of consistently turning out clear, well-written, often elegant stories for the folks who read newspapers. I don’t think he wrote a clunky sentence in his life. Below is a classic photo of Sagi in 1977 pounding out the last Sun story to be written on a typewriter. In the words of ex-Sun hack Tom Barrett: “That was Doug, hunting and pecking with his sleeves rolled up. I have this mental image of him confronting the typewriter (and later the computer), while rolling up his sleeves like a guy about to chop wood.”

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Yet there was more to Sagi than that. He was a lovely human being, with a finely-tuned sense of humour, a highly-appreciated mentor to young reporters, someone who enjoyed life and tolerated all our bitching with a bemused twinkle in his eye. He took the job of journalism seriously, yet was never shy about laughing over its vagaries, and criticizing its failures. He was a joy to be around.

10906123_10155142213710085_5331332063716782041_nWhen Sagi joined the Vancouver Sun in 1975, after stints with Canadian Magazine and a time as one of the Globe and Mail’s first western correspondents, I thought it was a real coup for the Sun, and a bit of a come-down for the man, himself. But maybe he relished the stability and the extra bucks of a good-paying union job. He may also have liked the chance to write a regular column, and eventually “win” a spot on the desk as a seasoned assignment editor.

When word came of his death, Facebook tributes quickly accumulated, many from reporters counselled over the years by Sagi’s trademark wit and wisdom. I particularly liked this anecdote from Chris Gainor, which, I think, captures the measure of the man. Having covered the legendary John Diefenbaker during his young newspapering days  in Saskatchewan, Sagi was the Sun’s obvious choice to ride and report from the Dief funeral train. Sagi also knew of Gainor’s strong admiration for “the Chief”. So he picked up an extra copy of the official funeral program and gave it to Gainor when he got back. “It remains a valued part of my Diefenbaker collection,” wrote Gainor. Ever classy.

A memorial service for Doug Sagi is scheduled to take place Saturday, Jan. 17, 2 p.m., 1450 MacCallum Road, in Abbotsford. It’s in the amenities room at the Crown Point townhouse complex.

After scrolling down a bit, you can read the many Facebook tributes here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/421770301289270/611325509000414/?notif_t=group_activity

And this is John Mackie’s well-done tribute from Wednesday’s Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com/Doug%2BSagi%2Bobituary%2Bclassic%2Bschool%2Breporter/10726463/story.html

Finally, there was Sean Rossiter, who died Jan. 5, after a long, tough struggle with Parkinson’s disease. I remember Rossiter more from the old days, during his brief tenure at the Vancouver Sun, when he was Tom Rossiter and the first guyRossiter I ever knew to write about ferns and household plants. Strangely, he was also the papers religion editor. Rossiter soon tired of the Sun, however, and bravely ventured into the world of free-lancing at a time when such a career move was considered ill-advised at best. But he prospered. For 16 years, he wrote a monthly, groundbreaking city hall column for Vancouver Magazine that treated urban affairs as more than just the latest political shenanigans at 12th and Cambie. As someone mentioned during Thursday’s memorial, “Rossiter made urban planning seem interesting.” He also wrote regularly about one of his many passions, the value of old buildings and heritage. But his bread and butter were long, superbly-crafted magazine features and a myriad books on a myriad subjects. Rossiter defined the term “successful free-lancer”.

I was never that close to Rossiter. His early tendency to look down on daily journalism irked me. However, he seemed to mellow on that score as time went by, and I was always glad to run into him. No one could deny his talent and ardent embrace of subjects that mattered to him. His death is a loss for the craft of the written word.

I do have one Rossiter anecdote from those funny days at the Sun, way back when. One Sunday, as he sped to work over the Granville Bridge in his vintage Morgan sports car, he was pulled over by the cops. A quick check revealed a raft of unpaid speeding/parking tickets, and he was tossed in the hoosegow. With his one phone call, he called city desk. Sunday staffing being what it was, a young Lesley Krueger was dispatched to the Main Street lockup to bail him out. There, she discovered that Tom Rossiter was listed on the police docket as Tom Seaport Rossiter, which office wags immediately began using as his real name. Meantime, after being sprung from jail, Rossiter was driven back to the Sun newsroom to finish his shift. It was a normal day.

Here is Charles Campbell’s heartfelt piece on Sean Rossiter.

http://www.straight.com/news/803101/beloved-vancouver-writer-sean-rossiter-dies-68

Alicia Priest, Doug Sagi, Sean Rossiter. May you all rest in peace.

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(Photo by Bruce Stotesbury of the Victoria Times-Colonist.)