Carleton Place photos thanks to Sheila Coyne
Carleton Place photos thanks to Sheila Coyne
One of Hank Snow’s outfits
It is not fun to be motherless any day of the year, but sometimes you have no choice in the matter. Is one ever ready to lose a mother? Mine died of cancer when I was barely 12. Some days I feel I missed out on so much, but because of a kind neighbour named Agnes Rychard in Cowansville, Quebec–a little of my mother was returned to me.
We all have issues to deal with. I think this is part of life’s journey back to our true pure selves, but without a real feeling of love early on, it’s challenging. How do motherless children get through Mother’s Day? I personally would like to think that some of us have had people like Agnes in our lives. Adoptive mothers, or those that chose to be by our side, were born with the ability to change someone’s life. They gave us places to feel safe, loved, and shed a few tears.
Agnes has remembered each and every birthday with a greeting card, and we still sometimes swap photos, stories and treasured mementos through the mail. She has allowed me to know my mother in a new way. Thanks to her, when I look at these mementos I discover new pieces of my mother all the time.
This woman took the time to rescue snippets of my mother’s plants while a construction crew tore my childhood home down. With my horticultural talents, I successfully ended up killing every plant she gave me, but I still got to enjoy them for a short time. I always knew in my heart she had a dream, but there was never an ounce of anger shown when my late sister and I chose others over her sons for partners.
To all these women who took the time to befriend a young girl or boy in their time of need I am sending you my heart. If your doors had not been open we would have never become part of your “kitchen table family”. Mine was a table that was filled with comfort food, conversation, accompanied by the songs of Hank Snow and Jim Reeves playing in the background.
I used to hate Mother’s Day, but thanks to Agnes, my mother still lives somewhere within me in a very real way. Each of those moments and days she spent with me worked to create a world in which my sons will carry me within themselves as they move forward in their lives, no matter what lies ahead. These women were always busy with their own families and their hands were always full, but so were their hearts.
Mister Valley Hall of Fame opens its doors for George Essery By Patrick Langston
When George Essery lit out on his own at the ripe old age of 12, he was just doing what comes naturally to many country musicians: rambling. Seventy-four years later, health worries have forced him to settle down but that old wanderlust still creeps into his eyes when he starts reminiscing. Sitting in the living room of his double-wide trailer home in Moose Creek, east of Ottawa, Essery looks around at the dozens of railroading books, magazines and pictures that vie for space with photos of his children and grandchildren. “I’d still love to go and hop a couple of freights,” he says with a smile. “But I’d have to get on them when they’re standing still”
That restlessness drove him back and forth across Canada’s musical landscape, playing at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel in the late 1930s, working in Edmonton a decade later, joining forces with several bands in Montreal during the ’50s and ’60s, and performing in Ottawa and touring from the mid-’70s until he finally retired four years ago at the age of 82. And while country music is Essery’s first love (his career included stints as steel guitarist with country stars Orval Prophet, Zeb Turner and for almost 20 years with Sneezy Waters), his repertoire has covered everything from Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady to old Vaudeville numbers.
George Essery’s banjo playing kept him fed handy with that kind of song list. In fact, he may owe his life to his trumpet playing. The Royal Canadian Signal Corps, which Essery joined in 1940, was so desperate for a trumpet player that it kept him safely posted at its headquarters in England throughout the Second World War rather than risk losing him on the front. Essery, who will be inducted into the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame this Sunday along with Dusty f ” i 4 ‘ ? ‘ ‘ i I V ” C XT’ P during the Depression. He plays 1 1 instruments without reading music. King Sr., Phyllis Woodstock and The Lauzon Brothers, was born in 1915 in Medicine Hat, Alberta and raised in Prince Edward Island. Although he landed his first paying gig at 14 playing banjo and singing on CHGS Summerside, Essery never learned to read music. “If the tunes were tough, I’d have to woodshed them a little.” Remembered by Sneezy Waters as a guy who could patch up not just tunes, 1 ! CHRIS MIKULA, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN but anything mechanical (he’s even made a couple of his own steel guitars), Essery has turned his hand to non-musical jobs over the years. As a teenager, he shipped out on a four-masted schooner hauling New Brunswick pulp wood to Delaware. During the ’30s, he was an auto mechanic. In the early ’50s, he repaired outboard motors. But the jobs couldn’t hold him. “Oh, I got pissed off with that. I was never happy doing anything else but music. plaque It’s like a drug it drags you back.” Even when riding the rails at the start of the Depression, Essery kept his banjo close at hand: “I never had to bum because every town had a band-shell in the park. I’d sit on the steps and start playing, and pretty soon you’ve got a crowd giving you nickels and dimes and the odd quarter.” He might be “retired,” but Essery still hasn’t kicked the musical habit. He’s never cut any albums, but he’s recently cobbled togethera tape of himself playing steel guitar and banjo and singing a forlorn version of Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?, a song he learned from a couple of buskers on King Street in Toronto during the Depression. When his tape rolls out steel guitar versions of Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart or old standards like Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?, Essery is hooked. “Listen to those chord changes!” he exclaims. “It’s a beautiful instrument. You can put your whole heart and soul into it.” Essery, who played steel in more than 500 performances of the top-rated touring musical Hank Williams The Show He Never Gave, with Sneezy Waters in the starring role, follows contemporary country music, but disdains its narrow subject matter. “There’s nothing wrong with the music, it’s just not country music. You listen to Shania Twain. Now she is good, this girl, but they’re all love songs. That’s not country.” Although he still plays steel guitar for himself, Essery can’t be coaxed into performing for a stranger. “I can’t play worth a shit now,” he says, explaining that a slipping memory and stiffening fingers have taken their toll. And the thrice-weekly dialysis treatment crimps his style a bit. Still, “I’m a tough old bastard, you know.”