Just east of Lindsay, nestled snugly in dairy farm country is the historic and predominantly Irish Catholic parish of Downeyville. The deep community roots of this hamlet were planted back when the first Irish settlers arrived in May of 1825. Arriving here from the County Cork in Ireland, these families established themselves within Victoria county, in what would become known as Downeyville. Many of their Celtic ancestors live in the community to this day. If you want to know more about the history of Downeyville, just ask a resident. My friend, Tom Lucas recently told me that in school, it was a priority for all students to know the history of the parish.
Now, I know music, and the Irish go from cradle to grave to the sweet refrains the likes of She Moved Through The Fair and Drowsy Maggie. Pure voices, rhythm, storytelling ability, passion and an innate sense of blending melody to harmonies seems the birthright of anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them. Never was a truer example of these Celtic musical gifts than what is found in the community of Downeyville right here in the City of Kawartha Lakes.
I spoke to Tom the other day and he told me the story of how he and seven other fiddlers from the Downeyville area began the Downeyville Music Night back in 2001. Tom’s been the jam’s go-to man ever since and the surrounding music community has never looked back. It’s come a long way since that first night with the 8 fiddlers jamming in a circle around the stage of the hall. At one point a few years ago Tom laughingly admitted that although they were all delighted to see the jam’s popularity grow “Well, it just got to be too big!” The rows around the perimeter were packed row after row, on the floor and up on the stage of the hall. Not everyone had a chance to participate with the numbers that were joining the great jam. Today the numbers are a bit more manageable, 75 players come out for the average jam night and everyone has a crack at either joining in or leading the players with a tune. More often than not, standard Celtic, East Coast, County, Old Tyme or Bluegrass jam standards are the songs of choice but occasionally someone brings in an original song or two.
The players have fun, the atmosphere is welcoming but as Tom says, “Far from pro!” but I think he’s being modest. Locals in Downeyville have an innate sense of musicianship and a kind, welcoming manner. As a matter of fact, you’d be surprised how many of the players are coming from outside the parish to join in the fun! Now, my wonderful partner in business and life, John Beukeboom wants me to add that Downeyville, although not established by the Dutch certainly have had some well-established Dutch families working, living, farming and playing side by side in the parish. John himself grew up on the family dairy farm on Post Road at the outer limits of Downeyville, in Ops. He has many lifelong friends among the parish residents. Among these families are (and forgive him if he forgets to mention someone) the Lucases, the O’Connells, the Scullys, the Winns, the Herlihys, the Carrolls, the Downeys, the Dorgans, the O’Neills, the Murthas, the Perdues, and his fellow Dutch, the Jilesens!
Jilesen's Service Centre, Downeyville
The ages of the players tends to range from 40-80 years young although sometimes, if all the homework’s done, you’ll see the talented youngsters from the community in the hall on jam night. James Cadigan occasionally brings his 3 daughters, 7-11 years of age, to delight everyone with their voices and their step dancing. Rosemary Winn brings her vocal talents and her lovely rendition of Rita McNeil’s “Working Man” as well. Most singers bring folk and country tunes to the jam. You can expect any manner of acoustic instruments. From fiddles, guitars, piano, banjos, harmonicas, box accordion, hammer dulcimers, the occasional stand-up bass and of course, vocals; this jam delivers a fun night! If you feel like doing a turn at a Virginia Reel, there’s also Square Dance calling at every jam night! With a donation from all the participants, the ladies put together a nice meal for the participants, sandwiches and cookies and such.
Finding Downeyville in the City of Kawartha Lakes.
Tom told me the locals seem to have an innate musical sense. I believe that goes back to what I said about the Irish and their musicality, but what is also true of Canadians. It has always been my opinion that the reason we Canadian musicians do so very well on the world music scene is that by nature of our climate, we work hard, we get to know our neighbours, and help each other out, and in the long winter months we turn to music and/or hockey to bring us all together. So between a solid work ethic and the innate music sense we inherit in our blood and bones, we’re a musically talented country.
The Downeyville Music Night meets every 3rd Thursday, from September until June, evenings from 7 until about 10 or 11 at night. Meet in the Knights of Columbus Hall to the immediate west of beautiful St. Luke's Catholic Church. The next Jam night scheduled is for March 14th. So rosin up the bow, put a fresh set of strings on your guitar, warm up your pipes and get ready for a good olde tyme in Downeyville. For more details please contact Tom Lucas, 705-799-5695.
Hannah Lucas. Image courtesy of MyKawartha.com
Of course, it just wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day in Downeyville without an Irish Concert. John and I had the pleasure of attending last year to a sold out hall and we had a blast. We were fully entertained with step dancing, musicians and comedians from the very young to the more seasoned performers. It was a time I will always remember happily looking across the hall at the close community gathering together in story and song. This year’s Irish Concert will be March 15th and 16th at The Knights of Columbus Hall. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a ticket, a good time will be had by one and all! Here's a video link of some talented young ladies step dancing at last year's Irish Concert at the Knights of Columbus Hall: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZjDHqbDIkc
Last year, to raise funds for a new roof on St. Luke’s church and put money back into the church fund, Downeyville’s musical community put their talents to good use again and started the first Raise The Roof outdoor music festival. The event featured the Downeyville Fiddlers, A Pint of Blarney, Crooked Furrow and the Tom Dutch Band to name a few of the very talented acts. The event’s 550 tickets were sold out immediately. This year’s Raise The Roof II proves to be even more successful with 80% of the 700 tickets already sold for this year’s festival on June 30th. Looks like I’m going to have to wrestle down a couple of tickets for John and I soon! Contact Tom for more information.
Crooked Furrow. Image courtesy of MyKawartha.com
So, if you’re thinking by moving to the Kawartha Lakes that you’ll compromise the music, sports and culture of the big city, I’m sorry but you’re wrong. The trade-offs are: kind, patient, helpful neighbours, fresh air, a sense of community, beautiful homes on larger lots for about half the price of their GTA equivalent, sporting organizations that produce some of the finest athletes in Canada, and as I have illustrated here and in previous blogs, music and culture. Feel free to call me anytime and I will answer or find the answers to any questions about culture, music, sports, programs, schools or services that you may have. Come on! Make that first step in joining us here in the beautiful City of Kawartha Lakes!
Slainte, everyone and may the road rise up to meet ye!