|My grandmother, Katie (front) and her sister,Clara (behind). Date is unknown.|
The above photo was very likely taken along the banks of the Mira River on Cape Breton Island. It would have been a bit of a journey from Glace Bay to the country, but well worth it to spend a happy day on the river, pleasure-boating, or picnicking on shore.
When I think of the Mira River, I immediately call to mind the well-known and loved song written by Alistair MacGillivray, “Song for the Mira”.
I come from a heritage of music and The Arts, a direct result of the culture of Cape Breton itself. Some of Canada’s national treasures hail from the island, including those listed at the end of this post.
My Great-Aunt, Marguerite was a concert-pianist who, in 1929, received the first Bachelor of Music degree ever granted by the university of Mount St. Vincent in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She worked as a soloist, arranger and accompanist and taught in her home town of Glace Bay for nearly 80 years!
According to her obituary, friends and family used to say, “She played for everyone from Metropolitan Opera Stars to Lassie”. (She apparently did accompany the dog on his Cape Breton appearance in the late 50s.) She also appeared a few times on the variety show of one of Canada’s best-loved country-music artists, Tommy Hunter.
My mother and her siblings were all taught to play the piano by my great-aunt, “Margie”. Once, she paid us a visit in Ontario and played the “Raindrop Prelude” by Chopin on our upright-grand Heintzman . It was something I will never forget.
Other members of my mom’s family had talent in the Arts too. My grandmother could play the mandolin. She and her sister, Annie, used to duet, Annie on the keys and Katie on the strings. My mom and her sister, Joan were both trained in classical piano and played in a number of Kiwanis Festivals.
My mom’s brother, Jimmy used to play jazz and boogie-woogie, by ear, and then in his 70s went back to piano-lessons so he could really play his old favourites.
I myself, took lessons as a kid – moving through the Royal Conservatory of Music’s program to Grade VI, but growing bored with it. To my parents’ chagrin, I stopped playing altogether, until I took it up again in my 40s. I don’t play very often, but now I’m quite happy as part of my church choir, singing soprano every weekend.
Now that I think of it, I also have a hazy memory of my grandfather, Guy Wheelock Harris playing either the spoons on his knee, or waxed paper on a comb. They were a fairly restrained bunch, the Harrises, but I’m sure there must have at least been some toe-tapping on that side!
As well as music, painting is a talent in my mother’s family. Her cousin, Jean is a skilled oil and water-colour artist. Here’s a bit I wrote about her a few years ago:
(Excerpt from my “Velvet Elvis” post on my old blog, “Blasts From the Past”.)
My father once gathered up a load of “art” (actually it was mainly a goodly number of calendars and chocolate boxes) and took it to be framed professionally. We ended up with a number of religious pictures, some ancient photographs of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and the “Old Country” as well as some treasures – the original artwork of my mother’s cousin, Jean Khanbegian.
I remember we had old magazines downstairs in the linen closet that had feature articles on this member of my family. She worked mainly in oils and concentrated on the sea. I have a real love of the sea, not merely as it’s in my blood on my mother’s side, but also from having looked at these fantastic works of real art. Jean Khanbegian is in her late 80s now and still paints, superbly. She focused on the ponies of Sable Island in a series of paintings a few years ago. These are gorgeous, wind-swept, wild pieces that carry you away to an almost mythical world. My mother has two pieces of Jean’s and one day, I trust they will come to me and my husband to join the collection of oddities we have accumulated.
Jean’s sister, Jacqueline has a children’s book of Bedtime Stories coming out in the near future.
Great-aunt Margie’s daughter, Marguerite McNeil (we know her as “Dee Dee”) is an acclaimed Canadian actress, whose best known role was the mother in “Marion Bridge” (see below).
My mother’s homeland has provided Canada with some superior talent in the form of musicians, authors and films. I am proud to be a part of this heritage, and proud to share it with you here on Sepia Saturday.
Some Famous Cape Breton Musicians
The Rankins (Click HERE to listen to “An Inish Aigh”the song of the title performed by The Rankins accompanied by The Chieftains.
The Men of the Deeps
Mary Jane Lamond
Ashley MacIsaac (a highly-talented, but somewhat troubled musician)
Marguerite McNeil (Dee Dee)
Two of my favourite authors (from Cape Breton)
A few great films (set in and made in Cape Breton)
The Bay Boy
New Waterford Girl (one of my all-time favourite movies)
Click the above image to visit the Sepia Saturday website and enjoy other responses to this lovely image.