National Canoe Day

Today is National Canoe Day….a day to celebrate the culture of the canoe.

First welcome to the BARK SIDE!!!!

The Spirit of the Birch Bark Canoe

To fully understand and appreciate the birch bark canoe, you have to fully understand the Indigenous culture because that’s how it developed.

It’s only been in the last 200 years or so that we developed the canoe using different construction techniques and materials. But in many eyes, those newer techniques will never match the resonance and spirit of the birch bark canoe.

A birch bark canoe is harvested by hand in the forest. It comes from living trees and materials harvested only after asemaa (tobacco) has been offered and a prayer has been said. The canoe is formed by hand, keeping good thoughts in mind. When you go through all the harvesting and construction of the canoe with that type of approach, something magical happens.

But as with all canoes, a birch bark canoe is meant to be used….not merely hung from a ceiling….or a wall….or stuck in a museum. This is not to say that a bark canoe is not a work of art. But that doesn’t mean they should lose their function and become untouchable art. You should be able to put the canoe in the water and use it….to paddle it. A birch bark canoe should be a work of art that is functional.

Form will follow function, and be linked to available natural materials. From the birch tree will come the bark; from the spruce, pliant roots; from the cedar, the ribs, planking and gunwales; and from a variety of natural sources, the sealing pitch.

A typical birch bark canoe consists of selected high grade birch bark, over 35 hand-split cedar ribs, 50 wafer-thin cedar sheathing, full-length gunwales and pegged caps, deck ends, birch thwarts, about 500 feet of spruce root lacing, and two quarts of spruce gum/bear fat waterproofing. Depending on the materials used, a 14-foot canoe can take between 30 and 50 hours to complete. This time commitment requires dedication.

A birch bark canoe is inherently beautiful. The canoe connects us not only to past cultures but reminds us of the importance of nature in our lives. Balance. Harmony. Grace.

A bark canoe is a living being….made from natural materials….all of which is alive….from the bark of a living birch tree….to the green wood of the cedar used for ribs and sheathing….to the roots of the spruce tree that help hold the canoe together….and the gum of the spruce that helps seal it. All of these are alive….as is the birch bark canoe itself. The spirit of the bark canoe is very much alive.

Some other thoughts on canoes:

A Recipe For Success:


An elegant accompaniment to fish.

Make ahead of time for relaxed visit with friends.

51 board feet of peeled and deveined eastern white cedar

10 board feet of combined ash, black cherry, and maple

2600 brass tacks

18 feet of 10 weight canvas

¾ gallon of oil base filler

3 quarts of varnish

2 quarts of paint

Assortment of beer to taste (chilled if possible)

Using a large shop, prepare all ingredients the night before. Early the next day preheat element to high heat. Bring an adequate quantity of water in a large pot to a tumbling boil. Steam ribs until al dente (flexible) and bend immediately while still tender. Let stand at room temperature to blend flavors until cool. Chop cleaned white parts of planking into long thin slices, (smaller pieces will fall to ground). Add bulk of brass tacks and planks at random until ribs disappear (careful not to tenderize planking with pounding of tacks). When ingredients become solid remove from mold and set aside. Prepare gunwales and decks by chopping fresh hardwoods. Snip to length and desired shape, introducing slowly for best results. Wrap with canvas skin; skewer with tacks along edges, leave middle open. Add both caned seats and center thwart until balanced. Inlay decks for garnish.

Use the same basic recipe for fifteen and seventeen footers.

Quantities will vary including concentration of beer.

Well before serving time, press filler firmly onto bottom side of prepared carcass to seal in natural juices and let marinate. Heat entire hull at medium to high sun for about three weeks, covering occasionally, until fully baked. From a separate pot, baste inside with all-purpose varnish to glaze ribs, careful not to drip, and let harden. Repeat occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk and and gently combine, until mixed but not runny, an assortment of fresh paint to color, stirring occasionally as you serve, and dressing the outside lightly from end to end. The condiments blend even better if allowed to stand for several hours until sticky topping hardens. (Careful not to undercook, but do not let baking temperature bubble surface.) Repeat spreading of additional layers on outer crust and again set aside and let stand until hard. Cover and store in a safe spot until needed. Present whole at room temperature, arranged attractively on an adequate bed of water. If desired, garnish with cherry paddles as a starter. Bon voyage. Serves 2 to 3. (Note: Depending on degree of festivities, presentation may be turned into a dip.) – Don Standfield, from Stories From The Bow Seat: The Wisdom & Waggery of Canoe Tripping by Don Standfield and Liz Lundell.

“First, the canoe connects us to Ma-ka-ina, Mother Earth, from which we came and to which we must all return. Councils of those who were here before us revered the earth and also the wind, the rain, and the sun – all essential to life. It was from that remarkable blending of forces that mankind was allowed to create the canoe and its several kindred forms.

From the birch tree, came the bark; from the spruce, pliant roots; from the cedar, the ribs, planking and gunwales; and from a variety of natural sources, the sealing pitch.

In other habitats, great trees became dugout canoes while, in treeless areas, skin, bone and sinew were ingeniously fused into kayaks. Form followed function, and manufacture was linked to available materials. Even the modern canoe, although several steps away from the first, is still a product of the earth. We have a great debt to those who experienced the land before us. No wonder that, in many parts of the world, the people thank the land for allowing its spirit to be transferred to the canoe.

Hand-propelled watercraft still allow us to pursue the elemental quest for tranquility, beauty, peace, freedom and cleaness. It is good to be conveyed quietly, gracefully, to natural rhythms….

The canoe especially connects us to rivers – timeless pathways of the wilderness. Wave after wave of users have passed by. Gentle rains falling onto a paddler evaporate skyward to form clouds and then to descend on a fellow traveller, perhaps in another era. Like wise, our waterways contain something of the substance of our ancestors. The canoe connects us to the spirit of these people who walk beside us as we glide silently along riverine trails.” – Kirk Wipper, in foreword to Canexus (also published as “Connections” in Stories From The Bow Seat: The Wisdom And Waggery Of Canoe Tripping by Don Standfield and Liz Lundell, p. 15)

A true Canadian is one who can make love in a canoe without tipping. – Pierre Berton

Anyone can make love in a canoe, it’s a Canadian who knows enough to take out the centre thwart! – Philip Chester

There is a sense of timelessness and tranquility that goes with canoeing. These feelings come from fitting in with history, tapping a connection to our beginnings in the here and-now and having a concern to preserve the future integrity of this activity. So past, present and future meet…. – Bob Henderson, Reflections Of A Bannock Baker from Canexus.

Canoeing more or less defines who I am. Patched boats in the backyard affirm soul truths. My home, Canada, is not an abstraction; it is kindred canoe spirits and a constellation of sun-alive, star-washed campsites, linked by rivers, lakes, and ornery portages; scapes of the heart, rekindled by sensations that linger long after the pain is gone. When I meet someone, I wonder what they would be like on a trip. – James Raffan

For the canoe is as much a part of the Canadian landscape as the trees, the rocks, the mountains, the rivers – and even the highways heading for essential escape. – Roy MacGregor, author and Globe and Mail Columnist

We are Canadians who took the time and hard work to feel the history in the stroke of our paddles and blisters in our boots. – Michael Peake

In Canada, whether or not we have much to do with canoes proper, the canoe is simply inside us. — Roger MacGregor

Even long ago there were some men who could not make all the things that were needed. In each camp there were only a few who could make everything. The hardest thing to build was the canoe. The man who could make a canoe was very happy because the people depended on it so much. – John Kawapit Eastern Cree Great Whale River, Quebec

The canoe is the most practical, efficient and satisfying way to travel through wild country, particularly on the Canadian Shield, where you can go almost anywhere. I think of that country every day of my life. One of the things I like best about canoe travel is that you are completely self-reliant. There is no dependence on mechanical devices. It is utterly simple. For me, the canoe means complete freedom – the ultimate escape. – Alex Hall

I have always had a desire to explore out-of-way places. Together, the canoe and this country’s many waterways provide the ideal combination. When travelling by canoe you seem to blend in rather than being an intrusion on your surroundings. – John B. Hughes

Ultimately, a paddling trip simplifies life. – Wendy Grater

Canoeing is the best way to become intimate with the land. You can cover so much more territory in a canoe. You don’t need to concentrate on your feet, thereby allowing your eyes to soak up the landscape around you. Travel by canoe is more about the journey than the destination. – Rolf Kraiker

Today, most Canadian canoeing is recreational. Many of us would assert that it is usually meaningful, aesthetically fulfilling and ecologically sensitive recreational canoeing. Admittedly, these modifiers are not present in the highly competitive, highly structured and technically oriented canoe racing sports which tend not to take place in a wilderness environment. But with these large exceptions, canoeing, certainly canoe tripping and lake water canoe cruising, tends to involve in varying degrees a quest for wilderness or at least semi-wilderness. It also involves a search for high adventure or natural tranquility or both. These activities are an integral part of Canadian culture. Bill Mason asserts that the canoe is “the most beautiful work of human beings, the most functional yet aesthetically pleasing object ever created,” and that paddling a canoe is “an art” not a technical achievement. That certainly means culture. – Bruce Hodgins, from Canexus, p.46

It’s pretty hard for me to go more than a few days without getting a paddle wet somewhere. For me, that stepping into the canoe and pushing off is a very special spiritual and physical experience. Bill Mason had it right: it’s like walking on water. It transports you to another way of being, another way of feeling – it restores my soul. – David Finch

In the early morning light, just as the world seems to wake up and come alive, the canoe glides over the glass like lake. The beautiful wood canvas hull easily slices through the lake’s surface, water slipping aside almost as if willed, forming undulating wavelets in its wake. Above the ripples, the paddle hovers momentarily like a dragonfly, before dipping down to break the intricate pattern formed. The canoeist seems lost in the moment.

On the wing over the watery expanse an eagle soars, in synchronicity with the man’s journey; as the paddler shifts to miss a rock, the raptor slows to test the wind. The large bird lazily wheels across the horizon, almost touching the rays of the rising sun. Yet his flight seems to keep pace with the canoe below. The eagle rides the air currents while the canoe dances over those of the lake’s surface. As the paddle flashes in the early morning sunlight, dipping once again into the water, the eagle dives to capture his breakfast, a silvery trout. Then, only briefly, do both break the mirror reflecting their seemingly choreographed display. While they never quite meet except for that, it doesn’t stop the dance. One on water, the other in the air, they are partners, each moving rhythmically over a northern vista of rocks and trees and water.

Occasionally, such magical moments happen out on the water. For the canoeist, the lakes and rivers become more than mere passageways. Waterways become vantage points to observe all that is around, carrying a message of life while still being the very lifeblood of Mother Earth herself. All at once, the paddler is both vessel and prophet, both audience and actor, just by merely venturing out on the water. Paddling these liquid highways takes the canoeist and canoe on a wonderful magical mystery tour, blending into the surrounding natural world.

The paddler is blessed to be able to join in the dance around him for awhile. While he watched, the large bird of prey flew off, likely to share his meal of fresh fish with his young brood nesting in a nearby lofty pine. Eventually the canoe glides on. A new dance may soon begin anew. – Mike Ormsby

If I get out and paddle my canoe, I feel freedom. That much I’ve stated here before. But freedom from what????? Certainly freedom from stress. Possibly freedom of expression in that I am able to express myself in a way that is definitely free….not only in cost, but in freedom of spirit and emotion. Canoeing is physically freeing too.

Something about gliding on water….going with the flow….having a way to get into spots on the water that no other water craft can so easily….sometimes just drifting along….others moving with purpose and direction (such as when paddling from point A to point B and even in a certain time frame). But no matter how you travel in a canoe, there is part of you that just naturally slows down….finds a natural “groove” at least….a rhythm….and as has been pointed out often (here and otherwise), eventually you become one with your canoe. It might take some practice….learning how to paddle your canoe efficiently and properly….but with time, you do become in “sync” with your canoe….just as it becomes one with the surroundings….blending in so to speak.

So that’s part of this freedom….travelling under your own power in a water craft….that is so well suited to such travel. And you don’t even need music to make your canoe dance. Maybe just the song of your paddle. But the harmony that you and your canoe can form is truly beautiful music. If you’re fortunate enough to become proficient, your paddling seems almost effortless….too easy in fact. But even for those of us without such skill, we can still paddle our own canoe very freely….still find a way to free ourselves….just being on the water is a way to feel free.

I believe we have an inherent part of us that is in tune with water….the human body is largely water….so we are all part water….and consequently, water is part of us….add in a canoe that is so well suited to being on the water, being part of the water, and you have an interesting equation….and there is a very real “flow” to it. Maybe something as simple as:


Paddles up until later then. – Mike Ormsby

(NOTE: Please excuse the number of photos below….these include first bark canoe I built with me paddling it in several shots….and several with my favourite green wood canvas canoe including an overhead shot of us dancing on the water together.)


“Oh oh oh ya

I will sing for the ice to break

I will sing for the rivers to run

I will sing for the thaw to take

I will sing for the spring to come

Oh oh oh ya, for the spring to come

I will sing to free the lake

I will sing for the rain to run

I will sing for the seed to wake

I will sing for the spring to come

Oh I had a dream about spring coming right along

Oh about a nice way to ask them for a song

So I asked the mountain if she might wanna move me

She said tell the rivers to wake up the lake see

Rivers take it from sky into home base

And yellow belly hawks know how the kill tastes

Singing for the spring is like kissing pretty things

And change is like fire, change is like wings

Birch bark and maple and seas of black hair

Sing baby sing love fill the air

Oh oh oh ya

For the spring to come

Oh oh oh ya

For the spring to come”

“Spring To Come” by the band Digging Roots

This is one of my favourite songs by Digging Roots, an incredible Indigenous group….hell an incredible group period. I’m proud to count them as my friends.

Oh I had a dream….NO I have a dream….a vision that some of us are working towards becoming much more than just a dream….very soon hopefully. But let me share a bit of what that dream is. A dream called STUDIO JIIMAAN.

But why call a recording studio after a canoe? In Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway language)? Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: birch bark canoe. Through STUDIO JIIMAAN we will be able to create a vessel that will take us on an incredible journey….allow others to participate in that journey and even take their own journeys. As a former birch bark canoe builder it just seemed to make sense.

It has been said: “To know where one is going, one must know from where one has come.” In doing so, it is also good to think in canoe terms: “When in doubt, keep the open end up, and the pointed end forward.” Or like the Telecaster just keep it simple.

SO the name….STUDIO JIIMAAN….just makes sense.

Music is the universal language….it is healing….and a way we can share our stories….better understand each other.

For me, having decided to pursue my interest in music, to get more involved in the music business, it has been an interesting time. I was supposed to start at Harris Institute in The Audio Production Program (APP) and The Arts Management Program (AMP) together to combine for The Music Business Professional certification last March. But COVID-19 prevented that, and I decided to withdraw from Harris instead of continuing to wait….and subsequently I enrolled in the online Music Production certificate program of the Berklee School of Music, which I recently completed.

I am 65 years old….supposedly retirement age….and I am still trying to figure out my life. Oh I am fortunate to have a great lady in my life….reasonably good health aside from a few (or several) aches and pains plus type 2 diabetes and arthritis….ok my health could be far better….yes I could be in better shape….smoke less and exercise more….but most of my faculties are still intact.

But I have been unsure about what I should do next….I am far from ready to ‘retire’. I know my wife would say I’m having a ‘mid-life crisis’.

I have thought for some time about getting involved more in the music business….music is a passion….music is healing….and I support Indigenous music which is an important way to share our story.

I dreamed of a music recording studio, with an Indigenous theme….either as a non-profit or as a collective/cooperative….maybe even an Indigenous music label. I looked at lots of possible spaces for such a studio….more than once had thought I’d found a good space….along the way met an incredible studio designer…..and even created a team as well as support for such an endeavour.

But I was never sure if that was the best path to take. Bit much maybe at this time of life.

I still have a passion for the canoe….for the jiimaan….and where it can take us. It is part of me….and my story.

I started to return to my visual art….I love to paint….and the stories that art can tell. I love writing….even rants and raves like this post.

Whatever I decided to do would be based on the whole concept of storytelling….whatever form it takes: music….painting….theatre….or written word. Of telling our stories….our teachings….our traditions….our culture. To try to bring awareness and educate those who don’t quite get us.

So whatever the rest of my life was to hold, I guess it was to include storytelling. I have been a teacher….a social worker….an artist…a canoe builder…..a musician….a storyteller…..and several other labels might apply as well. Or not.

I love my community….even as dysfunctional as it can be at times….but I will always work for my people. I had a great teacher in Art Solomon….who said there was two type of people….those that do….and those that don’t….but those that don’t should get out of the way of those of us that do. Whatever I do will be an active means of ‘doing’.

So I had to alter plans for STUDIO JIIMAAN’s physical space….due to COVID-19 I have down sized on those original plans….streamlining things as it were….keeping it simple. STUDIO JIIMAAN has actually always been more than just a physical space or entity….it is more than just a vague dream too. Its final form will be both amazing and interesting….at least that it is my hope….a place that people will want to come and create in.

I am working on a project called IMPEL (Indigenous Music Producing Empowered Lives)….and hope to be able to provide basic recording studios to communities….plus basic training to use such equipment….so that various communities can share their stories….their music….create podcasts….interview Elders and Knowledge Keepers and Traditional Teachers so they can share their knowledge and stories….even provide ways to develop language programs.

I will also be working with others like Make Music Matter to help heal others in harmony….including in Indigenous communities.

I have a home studio, a desktop setup to be used strictly for the music side of things….this will provide me with more power and flexibility to record….to mix….and even master. As well as make such processes even that much easier.

I have continued to read and study….and learn….and dream….all I can while I have the available time. Part of my interest these days is creating a way to best work with remote Indigenous communities….taking some of the same best practices and technology used in online live streaming and adapting it for use with such communities….cutting down on cost….yet providing the best of all available. Hopefully, especially during these crazy COVID-19 times, this will let opportunity to continue to find a way to work together with Indigenous artists and communities….in a way to all get in the same canoe and paddle forward….keeping the open side up….and the pointed end forward.

Paddling Forward….

SO I wrote a while ago on my personal Facebook page that I was feeling conflicted….I think it was just something I ate lol….

Seriously though, after much thinking….and with the support of an incredible network of friends….after much searching for the ideal location (which may have been found BUT going back for second look to make sure)….with many ups and downs….& more than a bit of a roller coaster ride….I’m moving forward with the idea of a second (or is it third or fourth) career in the music business….including a kickass recording studio designed by the incredible Martin Pilchner….hopefully an Indigenous label/promotion/production company….a space where we will be able to work as well with youth (especially from marginalized communities)….plus with available office space for like minded cool people in music and related arts….hopefully even working on side projects with Make Music Matter and The Remix Project….

So STUDIO JIIMAAN is moving forward….through STUDIO JIIMAAN we will be able to create a vessel that will take one on an incredible journey. Music done naturally in balance, harmony, and grace. As with the jiimaan or canoe. We envision a studio space that reflects the canoe….the jiimaan….not just as a metaphor….but also incorporating some of its inherent designs….that we think can be useful to create an incredible acoustic space.

It has been said: “To know where one is going, one must know from where one has come.” In doing so, it is also good to think in canoe terms: “When in doubt, keep the open end up, and the pointed end forward.” Or like the Telecaster just keep it simple.

There will be an obvious Indigenous slant to a lot of this….but Indigenous people sometimes wear what is called a Unity button….a button with the four colours of red, white, black and yellow on it. These colours represent the four sacred colours of the Medicine Wheel….the four races of man….and these colours all meet in the middle. So we need to learn to meet in the middle too….to actually find common ground….equal footing. I think that music can do just that….music heals….and can bring people together.

We can all learn to listen to each other more….a lot of the mainstream society needs to learn to listen to Indigenous people….to actually hear them. We have two ears and one mouth so should listen twice as much as we speak….

And it is said that when the Europeans first came and ‘discovered’ North America that they had no eyes and no ears, since they didn’t see or hear. Maybe it is time to change that. Open up their eyes….and ears….most definitely though music.

I attended the incredible We Are The Stronghold music benefit last Thursday Feb. 27th put on by the International Indigenous Music Summit….so much great music….such a positive message….and positive vibe.

Music is truly healing….and can both get the right messages out there AND make you think too….bring all people together….but also allows one to create in one’s own unique individuality.

On March 23, I start at the Harris Institute of the Arts, taking The Audio Production Program (APP) and The Arts Management Program (AMP) together to combine for The Music Business Professional certification. Since I am part of a group planning to build a recording studio, I thought I had better learn all I could.

So the journey continues….more to come….though I may not have much time for Facebook for the next 20 months….

“The Death Of The Music Industry”?!?!?….Same Old Song….In Need Of A New Tune….Or A ‘Tune-Up’





You may have heard about how the music industry is dying, being at its deathbed, breathing it’s last. How digital is killing it, the Internet is killing it, MP3 is killing it, file sharing is killing it. Actually, strictly speaking, it’s not the elephant in the room, because that would mean that ALL know it but NO ONE speaks about it…and EVERYONE speaks about THIS issue. Those who should, and those who really shouldn’t. Those whose knowledge and understanding of the industry’s past and present enables them and entitles them to speak, AND those whose ignorance compels them to speak. You know the cycle – ignorance breeds arrogance, and arrogance breeds mindless audacity, and mindless audacity breeds broad but shallow opinions, miles wide and an inch deep. Of course, as it often is the case in the society in general, the latter are usually louder and publicly more numerous, so their opinion prevails and drowns out everything else.

And so we got to “the death of the music industry” chorus, echoing through the endless hallways of the media and the cyberspace. But regardless of all the noise those messengers of the industry’s death are making, for good twenty years now, the music industry is still here and is not going anywhere, especially not to the great beyond. To paraphrase Mark Twain: the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, the industry says, as it goes about its business. No, it’s not the same as twenty or thirty years ago. It’s not the same today as it was yesterday. What is? It’s changing, evolving, adopting to the new world and the new markets as it has done throughout its history.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, an iconic United States Supreme Court judge from the early 1900s, once said, commenting on one of the Supreme Court cases: “A page of history is worth a volume of logic”. And he is right. History itself validates and justifies this truth. The facts of history will always be more potent and compelling indicators than logic, of the true nature of the situation and the realities now and to come. So let’s look at that page for a second and see what’s there regarding music industry.

Doomsayers and naysayers have always been with us, especially at the pivotal, changing moments in the history of the industry. Some were even great music figures. John Philip Sousa, for instance, a star of the music scene in late 19th and early 20th century, the American March King, loudly opposed and demonized the recording technology, and boldly prophesized the doom of music because of it. “These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country”, he said. “The country band with its energetic renditions, its loyal support by local merchants, its benefit concerts, end so on, is apparently doomed to vanish in the general assault on personality in music”, he angrily opined. And then, the recording industry made him into a superstar that he was, and made him and his band pretty well off, to say the least, the income that aided him to continue making his music and to share it with the world. Didn’t return any checks to the Victor record label that issued numerous of his band’s recordings. And the music played on.

In the 1920s radio entered the picture, and together with all the economic changes in the country, seemingly threatened to decimate the industry. In the early 30s, record sales plummeted to mere 6% of what they were in the previous decade. 6%. And doomsayers and naysayers were everywhere, of course. Radio is killing the music industry. Why would anyone buy records if they can hear it for free on the radio? It’s over. And it wasn’t. Radio became the closest ally, a great partner, a business conduit and a significant income stream for the music industry. And the music industry went about its business, in spite of all the rumors of its immanent death. And music played on. And then when those two industries became allies (the radio and the recording industry) and radio switched from live musicians to records, musicians union cried foul, and saw it as the end of the musicians’ livelihood, and the end of the live music industry, because playing live on radio was such a significant income source for them that without it they would have to change professions, and there goes the live music industry with it. Radio and records are killing music they cried out. And in 1942 went on strike against both, and for two years, from 1942-1944 no union musician recorded or did radio in the United States. The end is near. And yet the industry went about its business, and the musicians didn’t change professions, and they got union recording contracts, and the recording activities and income eventually became a regular part of their livelihood, and the music played on.

And then came the 60s, and the dropping out of the society, and the drug culture, and the communes, and the free love and free everything else, and though 400,000 came to Woodstock, the festival lost money, and the doomsayers and naysayers were everywhere again. These young people can’t afford a haircut, much less records and concert tickets. It is over for the industry. If we are counting on these fans to buy music, and they are leaving the society in droves and joining the lala land where money doesn’t exist, then it’s game over. But industry went about its business, and the 70s came, and music played on, louder and more alive than ever before.

And then a cassette tape came, and the doomsayers and naysayers were positive it was the Armageddon of the industry again. Why would they buy, if they can just tape it from the radio, or from their friends’ records? It is the end indeed. And yet the music played on. And then a digital audio tape came, and a recordable CDs came, and larger and cheaper hard drives came, and MP3s came, and P2Ps and Napster came, and there was that doomsayers’ cry over and over again – the barbarians are at the gates, now it’s over for sure. And yet, time and time again, music industry went about its business, and music played on.

And here we are today. “Death of the music industry” chorus echoes through the halls once again. And music still plays on. On more stages, and in more homes, and in more cars, and through more services, on more devices, by more artists and for more fans than ever before. So tell me, you think it’s over? History speaks louder and truer than any logic we can conjure. And what does it tell you about the music industry and its doomsayers? Judge for yourself. All of which, by the way, doesn’t change the true nature of music, which is not only our product, but the essence of our industry as well.
Or at least, it should be the essence of the industry. Because all our industry is, its whole purpose, is to facilitate the communication between the artists and the world, while allowing the artists the benefit of livelihood so they can continue creating, and music can keep on playing. That’s it. And that’s all. Not fame. Not fortune. Not expense accounts, private jets, and penthouse parties. That may or may not be there, but if that’s our sole motivation, if that’s our true impetus, then we need to rethink the whole thing and perhaps pick some other industry to be a part of. Gambling industry comes to mind. Maybe banking? But not music.

Because at its best, music is not just amusement or entertainment. It’s much larger that that, much more powerful that that. It is nothing less then a miracle, as archaic and arcane as that may sound. Because when a vibrating molecule of air tickles your eardrum, and makes you weep or rejoice or dance or stop dead in your tracks, I don’t know what else to call it but a miracle. And because unlike anything else that we know, it speaks directly to our soul, crossing all of those boundaries of the physical form and image, and of language, color, gender, generation. It can say what no words can say, and show what no image can show. It speaks the language beyond language, and tells the stories that transcend the tactile and the ordinary, which connect us all with an invisible thread that is stronger than the strongest chord.

And with THIS flowing through its veins, it’s not just business. It’s the business of music, and that’s not an ordinary business. The danger lies in a temptation to make music a means for a business end, instead of the other way around. Business is here because of music, and not music because of business. When that gets mixed up, when music becomes just a mean, just another product, and given human condition, it happens more often than not, music itself suffers. It gets reduced to a can, a package, a pretty cover, to a pathetic, predictable, pedestrian shadow of itself, and becomes a street walker, fast food for the soul, that does more harm than good, no matter how much money it makes in the market. You know that music. You all heard it. On the airwaves and in the cyberspace. And you instinctively recognize it. You may not admit that’s what it is, because it tastes good and it goes down easy, but it’s empty and mute. It doesn’t nourish, it doesn’t say anything. It just is. Because business needs something to sell. No genre is immune to its numbing sting.

And it has been with us ever since the beginning of the industry. Refuse to be a part of such travesty. Be involved with artists you truly believe in, and be committed to music that moves you, that speaks to you, music that you understand and love, and then all that you learn in this course can set you on the path to something really productive, meaningful, and stimulating, which is what music industry was always meant to be and should be. Remember, business because of music, not music because of business. Simple, like all the great things

Healing in Harmony/Make Music Matter Fundraiser

I’m donating two pieces of art to the Healing in Harmony/Make Music Matter fundraiser….through silent auction.

1) Loon Call of the North (Acrylic on Canvas, 24” X 18”) Value: $500 to $750
The common loon is found in many parts of the North. Its haunting call is heard at night on Northern lakes. This painting incorporates the loon in its favourite environ, on water, with a Northern scene of forest and a sunrise.

The loon is one of the leadership clans for the Anishinaabe, known in Anishinaabemowin as maang ….Make Music Matter is a leader as well.

IMG_4760 (3) - Copy

2) Leadership & Strength/Mother Earth & Turtle Island/Reconciliation Canoe (Acrylic on Canvas, 36” X 24”) Value: $1000 to $1250

As stated above, the loon represents leadership for the Anishinaabe. The loon is also known in Anishinaabemowin as maang. The bear (or mukwa/makwa in Anishinaabemowin) represents strength and protection. Bears spend a lot of time roaming around on the land, and in so doing, they learned which roots, bark, and plants were food or medicines, which they taught to the people. Then the people could take better care of themselves.

IMG_4766 (2)

Make Music Matter is a leader as well and takes great care in the good work it does for people.

Mother Earth was formed on the back of turtle’s back…hence North America being called Turtle Island. Reconciliation should be tied to the land that Indigenous peoples are connected to. Reconciliation is not just about saying one is sorry….or that one can forgive….it requires more than just words….it is about taking action. ReconciliACTION!!!!
We need to refloat or right the canoe that is Canada, especially as we work towards reconciliation. This is both hope and challenge for us; what we strive towards as real possibility for a shared future; to remind Canadians that we’re all in the same canoe and that to make this country work we should all be paddling together. (NOTE: The birchbark canoe is a bit off centre, tilting slightly, so not quite even keeled….but still has the four sacred colours, the four races of man, on board….and the canoe is floating upright and almost level.)

Come check out this event….bid on some art & some other auction items….plus a great record….and live music….see you on Dec. 16th.

Healing in Harmony/Make Music Matter fundraiser info: 


Reflections and Dreams

This past week or so has been one of reflection….frequently positive and sometimes not so positive.

A week ago Saturday I attended the Secret Path concert commemorating both Chanie Wenjack and Gord Downie, and witnessed how reconciliation can truly be reconciliACTION….in a very moving and positive tribute to both Chanie and Gord.

The next day I attended a funeral of a young Indigenous man, saw how devastating it was to his family and friends….yet also saw the healing that can occur when a community rallies around those in need….and for its own needs….a community that is more than just Indigenous or non-Indigenous….beyond class or racial barriers.

Yesterday I was part of the Davenportage, providing an Indigenous opening. Starting from Étienne Brûlé Park, teams carried canoes along the Davenport Trail. The trail runs north along the Humber River then turns east at Lambton Park on what used to be a sand bank. Further east the trail meets the ancient shoreline of Lake Iroquois and follows it east across Garrison and Taddle Creeks. The trail then follows Yellow Creek back to the Evergreen Brickworks, a short 16.5 km portage! The Davenportage is a walk through an incredible amount of Toronto history and geography. Michael Bumby, one of the organizers, concedes the route deviates somewhat from the original First Nations trail, due to modern development. But it still provides important lessons….especially connecting to the land. “Until you do it with your feet, you haven’t learned a lot about the land,” says Bumby. “That distance has not changed in 10,000 years. You can’t sense it in a car.”

In many ways these past few days have also been a time of reassessment….refocus….re-evaluation.

A group I am involved with have been working at trying to build a recording studio….plus other music industry related space (such as offices for artist development/management/promotion; production suites; song writing & rehearsal spaces)….plus possibly non-profit arts organizations. We have looked at lots of different spaces, including the Daniels building at Queens Quay and even the old Matador Ballroom.

The Matador Ballroom was of definite interest because of its iconic music history, all the great folks who played there….but also for its space with 18 ft ceilings and no columns and nearly 4000 sq. ft in the old ballroom. Unfortunately it was bought by three investors for $4.4 million last May who intend to build a condo development there. Literally tear the old Matador down and build condos with a possible commercial space that might pay homage to its musical legacy.

We did contact the current owners last July/August (I actually happened by there one weekend and saw nothing had been done with the space….finally tracked down the owners and actually sent an email “To Whom It May Concern” indicating possible interest in purchasing the building). To our surprise we actually got a response and began such a discussion….even getting an opportunity to extensively view the property. BUT there was never any indication of an acceptable price provided by the new owners….and while they indicated they would entertain an offer, we just couldn’t come up with a figure that would make sense. Not having to guess a figure to offer….and also build in the cost of equipping and outfitting such a space, not to mention the extensive renovation to bring the mechanical aspects up to spec.

We looked at several creative means to finance such a purchase: trying to finance part through private lenders or by mortgaging; having several potential investors partner on such a venture; using community bonds through Tapestry Community Capital (who had helped with an earlier attempt at saving the Matador); and any combination of these.

We looked at the possibility of a workers cooperative or even a non-profit studio. Our intention was to create a community hub for music and other arts.

We had a meeting this past Wednesday re: the Matador at which we gave a final ‘sales pitch’ as it were….but unfortunately the current owners have made plans to completely demolish the building and rebuild on the site with condos….possibly building in something acknowledging the Matador’s history….but 3 to 4 years from now….and while they would likely sell the whole building as is, their asking price would be far higher than it is worth. While the Matador is an incredible space, it is a huge undertaking….and realistically not worth the cost it would entail….with any purchase price well over $5.5 million….and it would still likely cost twice that to fully renovate and outfit properly.

It was nice to dream of saving such a space but the reality is that there is little or no need for a huge recording studio these days….not in these lean and mean days….and while we could have created smaller studios at the Matador with other spaces for performance arts etc… was just going to be too costly….and too time consuming….taking money and time when we could be doing what we really want to do.

AND sometimes one tries just too hard to do too much.

Besides, Joe Dunphy from Revolution Recording Studios told us that it was going to be a roller coaster of a ride just finding the right space….with highs….and lows….but that we would eventually find the right space….so make sure we enjoy the ride wherever it takes us.

SO, as for myself, I have re-evaluated my goals….decided to concentrate on what are priorities in my mind….focus….not try to do too much….or so much.

SO here are my priorities:

FIRST, to follow through with Make Music Matter and firm up plans on a possible partnership for a pilot project in an Indigenous community….healing through music…..maybe calling such a partnership IMPEL (Indigenous Music Producing Empowered Lives).

SECOND, find a suitable commercial studio space….not too big….big enough for one medium sized studio….and one smaller studio….plus a couple of production suites and couple of offices….looking at about 3000 sq.ft. in total….maybe bit more….but far from the 8000 sq.ft. that Matador had in total.

THIRD, to help some good friends get their latest recording completed.

FOURTH, to create an Indigenous record label/production/promotion business….to produce and promote Indigenous artists especially emerging artists….not to ‘compete’ with anyone else doing so….but provide a more cooperative and all inclusive approach than other approaches….never to ‘rip off’ artists….but to create a win/win for all involved.

I am working with some great friends….some very talented people….and am equally fortunate to be supported by other talented and good friends.

SO the dream lives on….just in a smaller version….with more focus….maybe with less folks directly involved….but still paddling forward on this journey. With the open end up and the pointed end forward. STUDIO JIIMAAN is still moving forward.


“Oh oh oh ya

I will sing for the ice to break
I will sing for the rivers to run
I will sing for the thaw to take
I will sing for the spring to come
Oh oh oh ya, for the spring to come

I will sing to free the lake
I will sing for the rain to run
I will sing for the seed to wake
I will sing for the spring to come

Oh I had a dream about spring coming right along
Oh about a nice way to ask them for a song
So I asked the mountain if she might wanna move me
She said tell the rivers to wake up the lake see
Rivers take it from sky into home base
And yellow belly hawks know how the kill tastes
Singing for the spring is like kissing pretty things
And change is like fire, change is like wings
Birch bark and maple and seas of black hair
Sing baby sing love fill the air

Oh oh oh ya
For the spring to come
Oh oh oh ya
For the spring to come”

“Spring To Come” by the band Digging Roots

This is one of my favourite songs by Digging Roots, an incredible Indigenous group….hell an incredible group period. I’m proud to count them as my friends.

Oh I had a dream….NO I have a dream….NO actually a group of us have a dream….a vision that we are working towards becoming much more than just a dream….very soon hopefully. But let me share a bit of what that dream is. A dream called STUDIO JIIMAAN.

STUDIO JIIMAAN will be a non-profit recording studio for music makers in Toronto. STUDIO JIIMAAN’s mission will be to remove the technical and social barriers between Toronto’s music makers and their creative visions through truly affordable music workspace and professional development programs. We envision a city where anyone can make and enjoy music.

Imagine a vibrant and equitable community where music makers are creatively fulfilled and music is an inherent part of what makes Toronto a great place to be. It’s possible…and hopefully we can make it happen.

The non-profit angle came out of a realization that no one really needs to own a studio, people just need access to one.

We want to create a space that is accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, and we want to create a space that is a part of the community and gives back to the city. We will charge our clients to use the facility like any other studio but the rates will be subsidized by foundations/grants and individual donors who believe it’s important to cultivate a vibrant and creative scene in Toronto.
This is a way to allow artists to come in and use the facility at a price point that works for small/non-existent budgets while relying on other sources of funding to keep daily operations running.

Serving the Toronto area, our key to progress will be our business model: a non-profit studio founded to serve artists and labels, and the community by looking beyond the bottom line. STUDIO JIIMAAN will create a structure that not only greatly benefits artists, but also multitudes of freelance audio engineers and even other Toronto-area recording studios.

We believe that STUDIO JIIMAAN can host annually over 1,000 sessions between two studios, as there’s a definite demand that we hope to be filling (while still seeing new studios pop up and legacy studios stay in business).

In many ways, STUDIO JIIMAAN will forge its own path in the music business. Paddle its own canoe as it were.

Toronto is a vibrant city. Just like any city there is a very large and diverse music scene here but it’s not as much of a focal point as it could be, or a point of pride like it should be. Toronto is called a Music City, but an argument could be made against that.

At the moment, the biggest challenges we’re facing in Toronto are a lack of reputation and infrastructure coupled with high real-estate costs, all of which lead a lot of musicians to leave the city in search of places with more perceived opportunities.

Our mission as an organization is to create a sustainable and equitable music scene in Toronto, and we hope to provide a support structure for musicians that allows for more opportunities and a better awareness throughout the city of all the awesome music being made here.

OUR VISION: a city where everyone can make and enjoy music.

OUR MISSION: To remove the technical and social barriers between Toronto’s music makers and their creative visions through truly affordable music workspace and professional development programs.

We believe the musical arts are an important part of healthy communities: encompassing the values of co-creation, entrepreneurship, and youth/adult collaboration among others.

Vibrancy in the arts builds bridges between disparate communities and makes cities a more desirable place to live and work.


ACCESS. Music making is for everyone — no matter your gender, race, class, sexuality, or other status. We champion those with less access and we welcome all with radical hospitality.

WORK. Music makers are workers who should be fairly compensated. They deserve to control their own creative process and the use of their work.

COMMUNITY. No heroes, no assholes. The best music scenes thrive on mutual trust and respect. Every music maker deserves to learn, grow, and progress in a supportive community.


PATHWAYS. We’re building a hub where music makers of all walks can exchange ideas and grow their artistry together. Our house is your house – just show up, connect, and create.

BREAKING COMMUNITY SILOS. We champion those with less access. To complement the universal accessibility of our space we’ll make focused professional development investments in those makers who need it most. (NOTE: A silo mentality can occur when a team or department shares common tasks but derives their power and status from their group. They are less likely to share resources or ideas with other groups or welcome suggestions as to how they might improve. Collaboration in a business culture with silos among teams or departments will be limited, unless collaboration benefits the members of the department. In addition, the members of a silo tend to think alike. They get their power from association with their function and their shared technical knowledge.)

We will not be a label, but there are some similarities. Back in the day record labels sought out bands early in their careers and made a commitment to develop that talent. Today the story is very different. The few remaining labels look for well-packaged, profitable acts they can “partner” with.

At STUDIO JIIMAAN we will take an old school approach. We invest in musicians early in their careers with the predication of an eventual return — just not a financial one. The social/cultural return we’re after is at the core of our non-profit mission.

It’s not about ownership, it’s about access. There is a whole community of musicians that don’t need to own a studio, they just needed access to one. The non-profit model fits that perfectly.

Go up to almost any music recording studio owner and ask them the following two questions and you’ll probably get similar responses: 1) “Are you making a large profit?” – “No” 2) “Why are you doing this then?” – “I love the work and I think it’s important/has cultural and/or artistic value.” And there you have the most informal definition of a non-profit organization. So why not build a non-profit recording studio.

STUDIO JIIMAAN will likely be a 100% freelance studio, which means that we won’t have any staff engineers. We think it’s really important for artists to work with technical professionals that they get along with (both personally and musically) and so we will enforce that every client brings in their own engineer. We expect to have over a 1,000 gigs for freelancers every year happening in our facility, and we’ll price our studios in a way that leaves room for engineers to charge a reasonable rate for their services.

When clients need referrals we will be able to refer to those on our staff who are great engineers as well as other engineers on a roster of available engineers (but they will still negotiate their own rates and get paid directly by the client as a freelancer). We also expect to see a lot of engineers coming in from other studios around town.

We hope to see thousands of musicians/artists/engineers come through our doors every year so that it feels like we have a large community surrounding the work that that we do. We really value the face-to-face interaction that takes place in the recording studio and expect to see so many people coming out of the small home studios in their basements or bedrooms and start collaborating with others. The best music doesn’t get made in a vacuum, it usually takes a team.To us it will be about collaboration.

We expect to further contribute in two ways: through direct support to artists/musicians and through an effort to raise general awareness about the great music that is being made in our city. There is an obvious need for the programming we plan to have thousands of people take advantage of our studios. We want to give bands and engineers a reason they stay in Toronto instead of moving elsewhere.

We will also make an effort to engage music fans in Toronto and let them know that you don’t need to look too far to find good new music, that there’s actually lots being made all around you, right in Toronto. Raising the reputation and awareness of what’s happening here in Toronto is a long process but it only serves to make the city feel more like home for all of the musicians/artists that struggle to live and work here in Toronto.

We hope to partner with two other non-profits Make Music Matter and The Remix Project on some work with Indigenous communities. Much of these partnerships will be part of the social mandate of STUDIO JIIMAAN through its IMPEL program (IMPEL stands for Indigenous Music Producing Empowered Lives).

This is what Make Music Matter is about:

‘Make Music Matter uses the creative process as a therapeutic tool to help empower marginalized individuals and communities. Our innovative music therapy program, Healing in Harmony, centres around a locally-built recording studio on the grounds of a healing institution or community centre. Participants gather in the recording studio and work with a therapeutic team that includes a psychologist trained in music therapy and a professional music producer; patients are transformed into artists. The songs are then disseminated back to the local community through radio broadcasts, concerts, CD distribution, and social media, as tools to raise awareness and reduce stigma. In January 2018, we partnered with Warner Music Canada to launch Samothrace Records, a platform to celebrate the artists and reach wider audiences on a global scale. We are currently working with partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Turkey, to expand programming. We are also exploring opportunities to work with Canada’s aboriginal communities. At Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, our program has successfully integrated into the holistic treatment of survivors of sexual violence, with promising results in significantly reducing levels of anxiety and PTSD through its unique approach. “The program is creating a breakthrough in healing. We’re witnessing transformative change in the lives of women, children, their families, and vulnerable community members we serve. As survivors and patients transcend their suffering, we hear their voices anew, and together we are delivered to hope.” — Dr. Denis Mukwege, Founder and Medical Director of Panzi Hospital’

Make Music Matter has begun to work in Indigenous communities in Canada around sexual violence, using the same techniques proven in their work in Africa.

This is what The Remix Project is about:

‘The Remix Project was created in order to help level the playing field for young people from marginalized and under served communities. Our programs and services serve youth who are trying to enter into the creative industries or further their formal education. The Remix Project provides top-notch alternative, creative, educational programs, facilitators and facilities. Our mission is to help refine the raw talents of young people in order to help them find success as participants define it and on their own terms.

This includes programs in Recording Arts, Creative Arts and Business Arts. These programs offer training for up to 9 months. The Recording Arts Academy is the umbrella to the school of programs at The Remix Project primarily concerning recording and composing music. Whether a participant’s goals are entrepreneurial or more towards developing a career within an existing organization, The Recording Arts Academy is in place to support young people in finding success in fields related to their passions.’

Both of these organizations are very much in sync with what we hope to be able to do through IMPEL….and rather than re-invent the wheel why not form equitable partnerships where possible.

So why call a recording studio after a canoe? In Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway language)? Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: birch bark canoe. Through STUDIO JIIMAAN we will be able to create a vessel that will take us on an incredible journey….allow others to participate in that journey and even take their own journeys.

It has been said: “To know where one is going, one must know from where one has come.” In doing so, it is also good to think in canoe terms: “When in doubt, keep the open end up, and the pointed end forward.” Or like the Telecaster just keep it simple.

We envision a studio space that reflects the canoe….the jiimaan….not just as a metaphor….but also incorporating some of its inherent designs….that we think can be useful to create an incredible acoustic space.

SO the name….the brand….STUDIO JIIMAAN….just makes sense.

Where will this be? We are working at getting an iconic music space….with fantastic room for a kiss ass studio. More on that to come soon….but for now dream with us as we work to bring this dream to reality.

Who are we? A group of like minded folks (many of whom are very talented….some real movers and shakers in the music industry) with a love for music….a desire to share that love of music….and to hopefully bring more music to this crazy old world….because music is truly the universal language….and if we fill the world with more music maybe we can create an abundance of positive energy to make this a better place for all of us.

(NOTE: Some of the ideas posted here were liberally borrowed from a very successful non-profit studio in the USA, The Recording Company in Boston, that we intend to pattern STUDIO JIIMAAN after. We share a common goal….common values….and a common vision.)

18881868_10155931096746002_1365010101792042810_n - Copy

Footprints In Time

On Friday, I was part of Indigenous people asked to walk across clay in moccasins to help eventually create a bronze cast of footprints that will honour footprints of our ancestors found over 100 years ago in Toronto, but then covered over by concrete as described below in the Toronto Star article from 2008.

This is one monument that I think needed to be done….and glad it will not be covered over by concrete….but rather be set in bronze….lasting for years to come….and maybe it will bring about a positive conversation of how long the ‘footprint’ of Indigenous people have been on this land. It will certainly be far better than those of dead politicians. Because we are still walking this land.