November 22, 2012

Sepia Saturday #153: An Inish Aigh* (The Happy Isle)

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

Barra MacNeils
The Rankins (Click HERE to listen to “An Inish Aigh”the song of the title performed by The Rankins accompanied by The Chieftains.
Rita MacNeil
The Men of the Deeps
Mary Jane Lamond
Ashley MacIsaac (a highly-talented, but somewhat troubled musician)
Natalie MacMaster


Marguerite McNeil (Dee Dee)

 
Two of my favourite authors (from Cape Breton)
Jean McNeil
Alistair MacLeod

A few great films (set in and made in Cape Breton)
The Bay Boy
Life Classes
Margaret's Museum
New Waterford Girl (one of my all-time favourite movies)
Marion Bridge


Click the above image to visit the Sepia Saturday website and enjoy other responses to this lovely image.


39 comments:

  1. Wow! What an amazing heritage. The film clip and music - fantastic! The music has a haunting, ethereal quality to it. Now we know that your talent runs deep in your genes!

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    1. Well, I may have inherited a wee bit, but I must say, when I hear the music - especially in Gaelic - that it truly stirs SOMEthing in me.

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  2. What a talented family you have, Kat! I remember watching the Tommy Hunter show on tv when I was a little girl. I suppose it's possible that I might have seen your great-aunt on one of the show's episodes :)

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    1. Yesterday was the first time I read about that fact, Yvonne. We used to watch THE TOMMY HUNTER SHOW every week, but I don't ever recall my mother saying that her aunt was on. I don't think she even knew about it!
      Did you watch DON MESSERS JUBILEE as well? I don't think we ever missed it! I can recall dancing around our small living room with my dad, to the sound of that fiddle!

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    2. Gosh, I used to watch all those CBC shows, Kat. I guess I watched what my parents did, but I also loved "Chez Helene" and "Mr Dressup", too.

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    3. Yvonne, you are the only person I know who watched, "Chez Helene"! I used to love her, and Mr. Dressup both! (Did you ever see, "The Pig and Whistle" variety show?

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  3. There is so much music and other arts in your family, incredible! In my family it is completely the opposite. I have only been known to play outside ;) As a boy I was also a member of a church choir. But when the conductor heard my voice, he told me to move to the back rows and to limit my singing to moving my jaws...

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  4. Ha! Peter, you're a riot! I don't believe that for a second. You were probably a little Aled Jones!

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  5. What a talented lot! And the two old photos are great, too.

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    1. Thanks very much, Jinksy. Lovely to see you again.

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  6. You are a talented lot; none of our family have any musical skills - me least of all. The video is superb - what would I give to be able to photograph some of the plsces shown.

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    1. Me too, Bob! I took some photos years ago in '89, but would be thrilled to go back now with maturity and experience behind me. One day.

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  7. What a wonderful post, Kat! The musical heritage is amazing, and the Mira song just lovely -- brought tears to my eyes. I'm especially delighted to learn of your grandfather's spoon playing -- because I, too, play spoons -- taught to me by my grandmother, who grew up in Frederickton!

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    1. You're a Canadian too, Deb? I think I might give the spoons a go myself. I've never tried it. Knowing me, they'll end up halfway across the room like my toothbrush does on occasion! The music is very emotional for me too. I do love it.

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    2. Well, I'm only one-eighth Canadian -- my grandmother grew up in Frederickton, New Brunswick (born at Bear Island); moved to Boston in early 1900s - she taught me my alphabet, and for years I thought it ended with "w, x, y, zed, z..."

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    3. What do you mean? It DOES end with a "zed"! ha ha

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  8. You sure have a lot of talent in your family. The full photo with the background in interesting even though damaged.

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    1. Oh, I know, Postcardy. Don't you hate to find something like that with such a scar? Oh well, better than not to have it all.

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  9. What a talented bunch Kat! You have shared some lovely memories with us. Thank you for the links to the music and film. I'd never heard of Margaret's Museum but I'll be on the lookout for it now, as Helena Bonham Carter is a favourite of mine. How funny too that I have a link to Rankin song and used it for the title of my post. See Kat you sent that magic I asked for on Facebook :)

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  10. Hi Nell, I said that "New Waterford Girl" is my favourite, but I have a special place in my heart for "Margaret's Museum" as it is centred around the coal mines in Glace Bay where my mom's family worked. In fact, my Great-Aunt, Clara, in the photo was the secretary at the Miner's Museum for years!

    I love HBC as well! Love, "A Room With a View", "Howard's End" and "Where Angels Fear to Tread" particularly, but have seen many of her other films too (mostly, pre-Tim Burton.)

    Off to see what the Rankin song is. I've seen them in concert and they are way up on my top-music list. They've had much tragedy in their immediate family and group. The lead male singer, John Morris was killed in a road accident in 2000, and very recently one of the sisters in the group, Raylene, died of Cancer.

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  11. Wow! What a family! I so enjoyed your memories and the music. All was new to me - I will have to check out more of the links. If you want to take up spoons, have you seen this lady in Australia? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNY3i6MybpU. I was glad to have an excuse to look her up and watch her today as she makes me smile!

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    1. Forget the spoons, I want those ROOS!!! Thanks for reading Kathy, and for the link.

      Kat

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  12. Oh my Kat- great detailed story, and your grandmother and her sister appear to be very happy indeed. Almost like they are ready to explode with cheer! Very beautiful video as well. I enjoyed picking up more tid bits about the Rankin song and family!

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    1. Very glad you enjoyed it all, Karen. Yes, they certainly do look serene and happy.

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  13. I must admit I didn't know much, if anything, about Cape Breton. Being Dutch I can appreciate living near rivers. Being musically busy is healthy for your mental state of mind.

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    1. Good thing, Rob, and it must be true, as both my grandmother and most of her sisters lived into their 90s, and not a senile one in the bunch!

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  14. What a wonderfully talented family you have! My dad was an artist. He could paint and draw cartoons. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit that gene. But, we do have musical talent in the family as well, though not world-renowned like yours.

    Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Jana! I'd love to see some of your dad's art-work. Have you shared any on your blog? I'm sure you have many other talents. I know you can write well, that's for sure!

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  15. Indeed that is quite a talented list, Kat. The photo is a great accidental work of art with its cracks and finger prints. The reddish sepia tone gives it a modern impressionist style.

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    1. I agree, Mike. I don't like pristine things, as a rule. I must prefer something with wear, and a mark of history!

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  16. And you should be proud! Sounds like a lot of pressure to come from such a talented family. HA! And you are doing them proud, I must say.

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    1. Well, thank you very much, Wendy! I hope my ancestors would be proud of me. I don't feel the pressure, really; I just try to be true to who I am.

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  17. It's wonderful the amount of talent in your family. Aunt Margie must have been something.
    One of my favorite movies is "Shipping News". Was that filmed anywhere near Cape Breton?
    Nancy

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    1. I've always meant to read that book, and see the film, Nancy. I'm pretty sure it takes place, and was filmed in Newfoundland - not too far away from Cape Breton, and with an equal amount of talent on THAT island.

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  18. What a creative bunch! You know where you get it from :-) Jo

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    1. And that's just ONE side of the family!

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  19. Wow, Kat! This is some great stuff; you come by your talents naturally don't you? Thanks for sharing all of this with us.

    Kathy M.

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    1. My pleasure, Kathy! I'm very grateful for all that's been passed down to me - directly through the bloodlines, and culturally from the region of my ancestors' homelands.

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  20. Some of these names are somewhat familiar.

    Margaret's museum, what an odd movie even if it was with one of my favorite actresses.
    :)~
    HUGZ

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