Local History Memories Writing

A Sussex story of the 50s

Playing Hockey On ‘The River’ Could Be Hazardous!

“Watson get out of the water! You’ve got your new clothes on! Your father is gonna kill you!”

These were the words we heard before we could even see the dam and river. But, I’m getting ahead of my story … you have to understand certain things first!

In Sussex from at least the 1930’s to the early 1950’s the favourite unofficial rink in Sussex was a stretch of quiet water above the filtration plant dam on Trout Creek. The dam created a deep pool about 30 feet wide which, because it was not as free-flowing as other river channels within the town, was always the first to freeze over in late fall..

It was the rink where most of us in that area got our early hockey instruction from older kids, no coaches or referees, seldom an audience. My apprenticeship began at eight when my grandfather bought me my first pair of tube skates. That was 1942; until then my skating had been done with bob-skates on garden patches of ice.

Like most everyone who played on ‘the river’ in those years I couldn’t afford a pair of shin pads or hockey gloves until my final years of high school. Just buying a stick and an occasional puck bent my budget and most of us still have bumps and scars as reminders of those happy days when we’d play from early morning to after dark Saturdays and Sundays and almost every afternoon after school when the weather permitted.

It was pick-up hockey with usually ten or more aside but with a number of those always ‘temporarily winded’ or recovering from minor injuries ‘off ice’ it made the number on each side usually just about right…a couple of defense men, a goalie and a number of forwards. Anyone coming late to ‘the game’ was picked up alternatively by the sides.

The big problem with the location, however, was losing pucks. All we ever had at the dam end as a barrier were wide planks on their edges and pucks lifted over a foot high that missed the net went over the dam and were usually not retrievable until the ice broke up in late March or April and water levels dropped. Those who took the time to fish them out became the suppliers of pucks the next fall but that stockpile usually ran out as all of them, of course, could ever be found, washed downstream and under banks. I remember one year retrieving 38 of them myself and others found some as well.

But the biggest thrill of all any fall was to be ‘first on the ice.’ You sort of felt you owned that river rink for the next few months if you were. But qualifying for that honour was not without its dangers as some found out. Thankfully there was never a fatality, but there were nail-biters.

I lived on Magnolia Avenue from 1939 until a couple of years after high school, a street that at our mid-stretch, had only a government yard and shed … a long tin covered structure housing bridge materials and road maintenance machines … between it, the river and dam. Winter Street which parallels Main in that part of Sussex ends right across from where the filtration plant and the dam once existed.

One afternoon I was walking home from school with Delbert Thorne, a friend in my class who lived on what was then the far end of Magnolia Avenue in the last of what were, originally, identical houses called the Seven Sisters. When we reached the end of Winter Street Delbert said suddenly: “It’s been pretty cold the last few nights, lets see if the river has iced up yet.”

As it turned out his sudden thought proved providential. We crossed the Avenue, walked along the side of the filtration plant and rounded the end of the tin shed to see a sight that afterwards the four of us would laugh about but could have easily ended in tragedy. Paul Watson who lived nearby had broken through the ice and was holding on to the edge. He was a grade younger than we were and his next door neighbour, a year younger than him, was running around yelling “Watson, get out of the water! You’ve got your new clothes on! Your father is gonna kill you!”

Well, Delbert and I quickly got a plank from the lumber piles in front of the shed, and between the three of us we were able to get Paul out, dripping and cold but uninjured. Paul’s father owned a fairly successful hardware and had taken him and his brother to Saint John recently for new winter outfits, one of which Paul was wearing. As the neighbour, who was his constant companion in those days, said he’d been so concerned about what Paul’s father was going to do to him he just hadn’t thought about helping him get out and, well, he knew Paul was a good swimmer.

That was the big danger of being ‘first on’: the dream of being that year’s celebrity could result in a quick cold splash back to reality. And if any of us had, unfortunately, gone through and came up under the ice we would have met the same fate as the young hockey player in Stephen King’s Dead Zone. If you’ve read that book or seen the movie that scene may already have come to mind.

My own icy water baptism occurred a couple of years later but not during a try at being the ‘first on.’ When it snowed we… us kids…would shovel off our river rink but when a thaw came and the river refroze with shale and ridges, as it sometimes did, we’d borrow a force pump with hoses from the filtration plant and flood the tennis court across the river in O’Connell Park.

One Saturday morning, after a late Friday night of hockey by moonlight I overslept, wolfed down breakfast, pulled on a jacket and hat, grabbed my skates, stick, a couple of pucks and ran across the open space…where the new Sussex Public Library now stands…which led directly to the river a few hundred feet upstream from the dam, jumped down. Unfortunately a few days of higher temperatures had weakened the ice under the snow and I was in water up to my waist before I knew it and still sinking. Luckily my reflexes were much faster then than they are now and I was able to catch an overhanging tree limb and pull myself out.

Then it was a fast run back to the house, dripping water all the way, a quick change of clothes and footwear and I was off again on the longer but safer route around by Main Street’s turreted bridge. And really thankful to find, on reaching our tennis court rink, that no one had witnessed my drenching or my dripping exit from the river

I’ve often thought that my two sons, who were transported in heated vehicles to indoor rinks with dressing rooms and toilets facilities during their dozen school years in organized hockey and never played a skirmish game on an open pond or river, missed so much in physical conditioning! All the fun of walking a couple of miles to play other area teams and often helping shovel an outdoor rink when you got there for a game at which we’d be lucky to have a referee, never even expect a linesman. It sure helped built self-reliance, certain survival skills and endurance, though, if nothing else!

Country and Western In Memoriam Memories Movie History Music Music History Writing

Bob Nolan’s Inspiration

Hatfield Point Funeral Brings Back Memories of Bob Nolan

I had expected more Southern New Brunswick country music entertainers to attend a funeral in Hatfield Point two Saturdays ago.

The name in the obituaries that week filled me with a sense of deja vu: Robert Nobles, his place of birth, Hatfield Point. According to a brief bio, although born at the point his family had moved with him to Massachusetts when he was four. He was 89 when he died in Holliston, MA on Oct. 14 making the year of his leaving N.B. 1921. Another Robert Nobles, a cousin it was explained to me, had lived with his grandparents at Hatfield Point from the time he was three until he was 12. The Point’s Baptist Church from which the service was held overlooks the beautiful Belleisle from a high hill,

This Bob Nobles with a brother younger brother Earle had left there a year earlier in1920, to live with an aunt near Boston in that same state. Joining their father in Arizona a years later they found their family name had been legally changed to Nolan. Bob claimed his father had it done because Nolan sounded more ‘western’. That Robert Nolan would grow up to become a founding member of the Pioneer Trio, later the Sons Of The Pioneers. The other two singer songwriters were Tim Spencer and Leonard Slye, a name Hollywood studios signing him would change to Dick Weston, then Roy Rogers.

Bob Nolan would eventually become internationally famous for penning such western classics as Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Cool Water, Touch of God’s Hand along with scores of others including two of my all-time favourites: Song Of The Bandit and Echoes From The Hills. Many of the songs would be used in the 79 movies in which he and the Sons of The Pioneers would back western action stars of the 1930’s to 1950’s: stars of the calibre of Charles Starrett, Ken Maynard, Gene Autry, Dick Forin and, of course, Roy Rogers.

A study two decades ago published a statement that Cool Water at that time had been recorded by more different groups and solo artists than any other song. Those included blues artists, rock ‘n roll bands, jazz ensembles and choral groups. In a letter to an aunt in Hatfield Point Bob wrote that when he composed that song he was thinking of the cold, cl;ear spring on his grandparent’s farm. What a claim to fame for this province! But, as so often, we waited to milk the fame of it.

In the 1980’s when our provincial parliament was planning a Come Home To NB Year I suggested Bob’s wife, his brother and daughter: some of our most famous ex-patriots were being invited, all expenses paid. I was assured they would given a priority and lent them biographies, newspaper and magazine articles I’d collected. Bob had died on June 16, 1980. They assured me they would be returned. When I checked two months later I was told they hadn’t been able to locate even one of the three. With just six phone calls in 24 hours I had located and talked with all three. When I called the Come Home Committee spokesperson I was told it was too late, all funds had been allocated. Although I made requests I never saw my loaned items again.

Every country music history book written until a half decade ago, listed Bob as born in New Brunswick and Roy Rogers on his weekly TV show often said Bob had been born just a few miles from Saint John New Brunswick, Canada. When I asked his brother Earle if he was sure they had been born at Hatfield Point he said he was sure he had been but on a visit to the Point in 1938 he’d heard a suggestion that Bob might have been born somewhere else. Winnipeg perhaps. Bob, however, when he’d asked him, said he’d no recollection of living anywhere in Canada but Hatfield Point.

An Elizabeth MacDonald in BC, engaged by the University of North Carolina to collect details of Bob Nolan’s life and to assemble all the songs written by him, in talking with relatives was told of the rumour. Regretfully I mentioned Winnipeg when she asked me. She then hired a professional researcher who found Bob’s birth certificate dated April 8, 1908, Winnipeg. He’d always thought he’d been born on April Fools’ Day. When Bob was elected to the International Songwriter’s Hall of Fame a half decade ago the mayor of Winnipeg and assorted Manitoba dignitaries were there to take bows. New Brunswick was never mentioned.

The Bob Nobles buried in the Point’s Bayview Cemetery on Oct 23, had led a very interesting life, as well. He returned every summer with his parents to holiday at the Point and continued that ritual with his own family. His wife, Lillian J. (McKellar) whom he married in Scotland during the Second World War, in 2006, was buried in the same family plot. A Rev. Boyd who had been pastor of Hatfield Baptist for a dozen years in a eulogy, spoke of Bob’s interesting military career. He had, in one phase of it, manned a listening station in Scotland, part of a code breaking team monitoring German U-Boat radio trans missions. When discovered he was Canadian born, however, he was immediately replaced. Evidently it was thought Canada harboured terrorists even then!

Most of his family had made the trip up. It was one of the warmest, most family oriented funerals I’ve ever attended. And there was lots of talk about the other Robert ‘Bob Nolan’ Nobles, as well.

Column Archives Music Writing

Ned Landry honoured at St Thomas

Ned Landry among Distinguished Three Honoured by St. Thomas.

Stompin' Tom Connors and Ned Landry
Stompin’ Tom Connors and Ned Landry

Some of the most exciting events in New Brunswick’s long romance with the fiddle are taking place this summer!

And this past weekend folks who flocked to Harvey saw the kick off of it — the 100thAnniversary of Don Messer’s birth in the village of Tweedside near there on May 9, 1909. That event was the first of several to take place celebrating Messer’s life and the integral part he played in popularizing the Down East style of fiddle music through his network radio and television shows, Canada-wide summer tours and performing forays into the US as early as the 1930s.

And last Sunday at St. Thomas University in Fredericton three time North American fiddle champion Ned Landry, who began his long career with Don Messer’s New Brunswick Lumberjacks in 1934, was bestowed with an honorary doctorate by St. Thomas University at their 99th Convocation. Ned, born Frederick Lawrence Landry on February 2, 1921 in Saint John is a recipient of the Order of Canada and has also been honored with lifetime achievement awards by the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Championships which named a trophy after him and the East Coast Music Awards. He is an inductee of the North American Fiddling Hall of Fame (in their New York State Shrine), the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nova Scotia Country Music Hall Of Fame. He has had a biography Master Of The Fiddle published of his life as well as many magazine and newspaper articles. Last year tunes he composed were a subject of a study at fiddle camps throughout Maine.

Ned credits his wife Mildred, who recently suffered a critical heart attack for providing the spark that led to the bestowal of his St. Thomas University doctorate. At a Miramichi concert last summer Mildred seated in the audience beside Professor Shanahan told him of Ned’s many accomplishments and his significant contributions to the world of music, noting that Ned’s cousin Tom Connors — Stompin’ Tom had received two honorary doctorates, the first one from St. Thomas in 1993. That was the stimulus that led to this honor being bestowed on him. As Ned said at the impressive reception and banquet, at the University’s spacious Conference Centre the previous night that although he, an 88 year old veteran of the Second World War, had only a grade five education, he was now a doctor — at least, an honorary one. That statement and his performance of a tune he recently composed, the STU (St. Thomas University) Special, both drew applause from the distinguished audience which included the faculty and the two others receiving honorary degrees at this year’s Convocation: First Nation’s writer, educator and actor Lee Maracle and the president of the Oblate School Of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, Rev. Ron Rolheiser, the author of 15 books of religious insight.

Column Archives Memories Music History


Pegasus performs at Rising Star

Coffee House in Hampton NB

From the Taylor  COLUMN Archives, Saturday, Nov 5, 1994

Pegasus-winged horse of Greek legend- a constellation that can be seen well up in the evening skies of autumn in our northern heavens. Well, it’s autumn and Pegasus can be seen- and heard- a lot closer to Earth tonight, appropriately enough at the Rising Star coffeehouse in Hampton.

That is our Pegasus, a legend native to our particular area of North America; the instrumental duo of Allison Cran and Adrian Thorton.

A more appropriate encyclopedic defining of Pegasus explains it however; their licence to use the name. The Muses according to mythology held a contest. The music made at this competition charmed the streams and made Mont Helicon grow toward the heavens. Poseidon, the god, ordered Pegasus to strike it. He did with his hoof and the fountain of Hippocrene sprang forth. It’s waters inspired people to write poetry. In this way Pegasus is connected with poetry and music. A poet or composer is said to “mount his Pegasus when he begins to write.”

This modern Pegasus- Allison and Adrian- are two very skilled interpreters of the poetry of music. They have been entertaining and soothing Saint John audiences at receptions, weddings, parties and art and literature events for more than a decade.

Usually this respected duo- Allison on penny whistle, flute and recorder, Adrian on guitar and mandolin- is retained to create a pleasant atmosphere of low key intimate music, background interpretations of popular and classical melodies. But tonight in the non-regimented format of the Rising Star Coffeehouse they can really let their hair down and give their wildly inventive talents free rein.

Don’t miss it. Pegasus tonight along with the other very interesting duo, No Bridge To Walk. Sounds like a sequel to Woman Who Walks Far doesn’t it? I don’t think this musical pairing , Jen Mercer and Carl Killen share a drop of native blood; they do however share the ability to blend vocals beautifully. I heard them in concert at a Broadway Cafe Coffeehouse this summer in Sussex and was greatly impressed with the versatility of their repertoire, which merged modern folk style hits with originals, songs penned by Carl. They call their music acoustic rock and I guess that describes it.

Carl, the lead singer and instrumentalist has written more than 60 compositions so far. Vocalist Jan Mercer adds tight smooth harmonies that give any song interpreted by No Bridge To Walk a distinctive sound that is all it’s own.

Aside from these two great duos the Rising Star’s perennial favourite, Donnie Fowler, will be back with a wide and varied repertoire of songs. Another favourite Willie MacEwan is appearing for the first time in the solo spotlight with a selection of country standards. It is hoped that Valerie and Felicia MacDonald will also contribute a set of songs. Seating is at candlelit tables in the Masonic Hall on Church Street, just down the hill from the RCMP barracks beside the Catholic church.

Tickets $4 at the door. Barry MacDonald , as usual acts as emcee.

Also in this column,, Boiestown Jamboree, Clogger’s Workshop, Butler Family Concert and Frank Mills at Miramichi.

Sorry no photos available.

Album Release Bluegrass Collector Concert Folk Local History Music

Bernie Houlahan and Eddy Poirier



CD cover
I don’t think it’s tea!

A picture on a CD, from Moncton, ten years ago I would have been sure was trick photography!

It’s a picture of New Brunswick’s veteran king of the bluegrass fiddle, Eddy Poirier, sitting across a circular table from a leading senior folk and Irish music interpreter, Bernie Houlahan, little tea cups raised. Eddy, on the left, a saucer in front of him and Bernie,on the right, an orange and black cat perched. Between them is a teapot….a Brown Betty, no less…objects I would never have associated with either.

Yet, I must admit years ago, whenever I’d meet Eddy at a festival he’s always invite me to: “Come over to my camper and have a cup of tea, We need to talk.”

Funny thing it never was tea. But it was served in mugs. Mugs! Not dainty little china cups!

Here’s another rub, too! They even named this album of six instrumental Irish fiddling tracks… each a medley of two tunes…and six Irish songs The Cup Of Tea- Irish Traditional Music.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise though. Eddy and Bernie have been getting together for years and have played the odd Moncton venue together. And each has always had a great admiration for the other’s musical talents. The surprise should have been that it took so long!

I have listened all night long to Eddy’s fiddle and banjo around campfires at early NB festivals that his Bluegrass 4 staged on the old Shediac Road! And on more nights until near daylight listening to Bernie sing dozens of songs from the inexhaustible repertoire he’s filed in memory during a lifetime dedicated to learning all the beautiful songs and melodies, he’d find, through ceaseless searching.

They’re two of my favourite musicians and people. But, so different in the perception of many who know them. Both driven, however, by the same unquenchable thirst to learn both old or new-to-them music and perform it for audiences in an effort to give such discoveries a deserved new life, the appreciation such treasures deserve!

‘Two veterans of the Maritime music scene,’ this CD’s back notes read, ‘have collaborated on a collection of their favourite Irish music. Although they’ve pursued somewhat different musical paths they’ve always enjoyed getting together to ‘play a few tunes’ around a kitchen table or to appear together in public performance.’

Well, in their words, “ it’s nothing fancy”, but to most of us who have known them since the 1970s this CD is a treasure. A wealth of Irish fiddle tunes…12 on six tracks… with six of the loveliest, and perhaps most enduring, Irish ballads thrown in to sweeten the pot… brew, that is!

The fiddle tunes played by Eddy, Bernie’s guitar backing him, include: Toss The Feathers, Woman of the House, Cup Of Tea (the title theme), Tarbolton Lodge, Home Ruler, Cross The Fence, Jackson’s Morning Brush, Tongs By The Fire, Cooley’s Reel, The Wise Maid, The Peeler’s Jacket and Love At The Endings.

Eddy Poirier has been featured on nearly a hundred albums…lps, cassettes, CDs and, I think, maybe an 8-track or two, over at least four decades. Many of those were as one of the Blue Diamonds during the decade that that quartet of singing musicians were Toronto’s leading country club band. Then he did a few with Smiley Bates, and with his wife Rose and Smiley. Then back home with various alliances of top NB performers called The Bluegrass 4, a number of solo recordings and an unknown number with performers Moncton to Toronto he’s backed at recording sessions in those years.

I first met Bernie Houlahan when he joined our Saint John Folk club in the late 1970’s.. By then he had belonged to several Moncton music groups and during at least one bluegrass flirtation was part of an alliance that brought in such legendary acts as Flatts & Scruggs, Mac Wiseman and others. At that time he was hosting a weekly Moncton radio folk music show that had a long run of nearly 18 years. And Bernie was a part of the Hal ‘n Tow folk trio, from the early 1980s until this past September, with composer, multi-instrumentalist James Stewart and the late, lamented great musican and vocalist John Murphy. For the last twenty he has been a member of the Miramichi’s Comhaltas Irish Chapter, too,

Some of the most treasured evenings of my life have been listening to Bernie and Portland, Maine’s Kendall Morse taking turns dredging up old songs from memory and performing them thrillingly downstairs at a club in Belfast, Maine during folk gatherings yearly .

On The Cup of Tea Bernie sings: The Blarney Roses, Welcome Paddy Home, Lord of the Dance, Bridget Flynn, Galway City and Far Away In Australia.

This great CD was recorded at E.J.P. Studio in Moncton, mi

xed and mastered by Eddy Poirier. For copies, phone Bernie at (506) 389-2042 or Eddy at (506) 384-8655.

Concert Event Local History

Ashley tomorrow, Matilda and Eva Steele birthdays


ashleyMacIssac09Ashley’s coming to the Imperial Theatre, Saint John, Sunday at 8 p.m….Cape Breton’s native son, Ashley MacIssac, that is…and reportedly back on track!

They’re billing it ‘traditional fiddling the Cape Breton way: fast, furious, phenomenal!’ A real stompin’ Celtic kitchen party where traditional song and exceptional musicianship take centre stage! A return to his traditional fiddling roots!

As flamboyantly outrageous and controversial as any Canadian entertainer, Ashley now, reportedly, has put spontaneous misbehaving and rudeness behind him. I’m sure Conan O’Brien will be glad to hear that, should he ever think of interviewing Ashley again!

No one, however, has ever questioned Ashley’s musical genius. As one admirer of that genius proclaimed 15 years ago: “Don’t be judgin’ this here fiddle music before you’ve treated yer ears to the stuff. As you may already know, the devil’s in the kitchen and Ashley MacIssac is leading him around by the horns. The (then) 20 year old Cape Breton wunderkind has made (masses of) fiddle lovers out of fiddle haters!

“The kilt wearing, Doc Marten-stompin genre bender has crossed jigs, reels, strathspeys and airs with a submersive sound-scape of rock, fusing it all into a new raw exhilarating Celtic passion”.

Ashley, now, has returned to his earlier influences, a tradition known as the ‘Cape Breton Way’, defined by the recordings of Winston ‘Scotty’ Fitzgerald, Angus Chisholm and Buddy MacMaster, his original influences.

Ashley Dwayne MacIssac was born at Creignish, Cape Breton on February 24, 1975…he’ll be 35 on that date this year! At an early age he began immersing himself in the recordings of those three masters. Picking up a fiddle physically at the age of eight, once he set his bow to strings he was never the same again. A-tuned he began playing anywhere anyone would listen, at neighbours and relatives , at school…wherever people gathered. By 14 he was playing local festivals, pubs, church halls, clubs. Then, with local bands he began touring Celtic communities across Canadaand into the US, as far as Massachusetts and California,. At 16, in 1992, he recorded Close To The Floor, his first traditional album. A Cape Breton Christmas followed a year later. Before he was 18 he’d toured internationally with both John McDermott and the Chieftains.

His name then spread globally, earning him fame as an extraordinary talent who could breath new life into old fiddle music. And he was soon performing at prestigious venues world-wide, winning acclaim and sharing stages with the most elite entertainers. So although his career has had it’s thorny moments Ashley MacIsaac is still a spectacular act, master of the blazing fiddle. For more info visit

And don’t miss Ashley at the Imperial, Saint John this Sunday, Jan.31, 8 p.m. Tickets are $20, $25, $30. on-line www.imperialtheatre, at the Imperial box office or by phoning 674-4100 (outside directory 1-800-323-7469).


Matilda Murdoch has been part of the Miramichi’s cultural community for most of her 90 years. A Celebration of her Birthday, a milestone in this province’s fiddling history, takes place this Saturday, 7 p.m., at the Community Center, Loggieville. An unbelievably energetic and stirring fiddler, even at her age, ‘Maddy’ has a unquenchable love of music so the party’s apt to roll right on into Sunday’s early hours. Come prepared. If you play a traditional instrument bring it along. There will be music, dancing, food, camaraderie and Matilda, Queen of the Bow will be front and center, wielding it as only she can! If you love her music….the over 200 inspired tunes she has written…pop in and say ‘hello’. “It’s gonna be a shaker of biblical proportions,” I’m told. Everyone’s invited, so feel free to bring friends.

Matilda Murdoch was born January, 1920, at Loggieville, now a part of Miramichi City, where she still resides. When she was eight, her father gave her a fiddle:within months she was playing tunes. Her first public performance at 11, was in 1931, and has been thrilling and amazing a continuously growing army of fans ever since. Her playing still holds audiences entranced. Her original compositions were played even by Don Messer during his radio and TV fame. Her style has been a subject of study, not only in the Maritimes, but by fiddlers throughout North America and, in recent years, in Ireland.

In fact, Tracey Robinson (of the Miramichi’s Dirty Nellys) on Jan 10, commented on Matilda’s Birthday Facebook page that: ‘A recent trip to Ireland brought me to Doolin, a small village on the western coast, about five miles north of the Cliffs of Moore. A sign as you enter reads The Hub Of Irish Music and indeed the three pubs there were totally dedicated to it. I made my way to McDermott’s and found Irish music was, indeed, alive and well. In fact there were six musicians (The Ceili Bandits) blasting out their stuff, and of these six, five were current All-Ireland Champions. Not being able to resist, I introduced myself and when I told them of my travels and that I was from the Miramichi they instantly, asked ‘did I know Matilda Murdock?’ Like Alex (Alex Baisley had the exact same experience two days before in a Galway) , I was shocked. I said yes, and soon was sitting, 4000 miles from Miramichi, tapping my feet to the tune they played next, Matilda’s Loggieville Two Step!

Matilda as a fiddler has garnered international recognition as a composer, player and teacher. She has been elected to both the North American Fiddle Hall of Fame in New York State and the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2002, she was the recipient of a Stompin Tom Connors Award at the ECMA’s in Saint John. And that same year was proclaimed a Freeman Of The City of Miramichi and, more recently, honoured with the Order of New Brunswick. Join Matilda Saturday at her 90th Birthday Celebration!


dancing up a storm
Gerry and Eva doing the Charleston

It’s 25 years, at least, since I took my first Charleston dance lesson from Eva Steele at a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner in the, then new Saint John Trade & Convention Centre. She would have been 70 or so and I was, well…a little over 50!

But Eva has always seemed so young, the eternal Irish Colleen, since she immigrated here from Erin. And she she been the darling of the Comhaltas (Coal-tas) Saint John Chapter since their inception here: front and centre at most of their events.

Well, Eva’s Surprise 95th Birthday Party last Saturday at the city’s lavish new Chateau Saint John was no exception. The cream of Comhaltas singers and musicians were there to pay her a musical homage. Even this paper’s retired editor-in-chief Fred Hazel took a turn at the mike to dedicate his rendering of Danny Boy in an impressively deep voice to Eva. And a song written in her honour was read dramatically by its composer. Also heard were Stuart Hook, Bruce Neill, Tom Noel and and Keith Facey in the time we were there.

Also in attendance, among a multitude of invited guests, was the 2009 honorary Irish Gala chairwoman Helena Hook, originally from Athlone, Ireland, who with Dr. S. Kumar, was honoured last St. Patrick’s Day as an Irish Person Of The Week. It was a year of double honours for the Hooks: Her husband Stuart Hook was inducted into the Comhaltas Music Hall Of Fame at a Canada East Region Gala event in Toronto, for his dedication to traditional Irish music and culture. Stuart has been a member of the Saint John branch for more than 15 years. Although he was born in England, Helena says he is more Irish than even she is. And it was through the nurturing of Comhaltas that he found the confidence to play instruments and sing. Their local chapter has done the same for others and is always seeking new members. They meet Tuesdays, 7 p.m. at O’Leary’s, Princess Street, Saint John. For more info visit


The Park Avenue Fiddlers host a Fiddle Jam, Sunday, 7:30 p.m. at Park Avenue United Church, Saint John East. All fiddlers, accompanists and fiddle fans are invited. Coffee or tea is served with free-will offering to help with expenses. For info phone 847-81034