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BILL S-218 : NATIONAL FIDDLING DAY (SECOND READING)

 

Honourable Senators, I rise today to speak in favour of Bill S-218, National Fiddling Day. Understanding that today's attention span is much shorter than at the birth of the Canadian Senate, I will attempt to be brief.

If I may, fiddle music has been a part of our country's history since its birth. The French, Scots, Irish, Germans, Danish, First Nations, Ukrainians — to name a few — all share in our rich fiddle heritage in Canada. In my own part of New Brunswick, people of all ages join together at events to listen and play tunes, both hundreds of years old and those newly composed. When the fiddles come out, toes start tapping.

Honourable senators, the fiddle is a humble instrument that has touched the lives of Canadians for hundreds of years. Fiddles lent themselves well to the folk traditions of Europe and were the instruments of choice for the first Canadian settlers in the 17th century.

The Jesuits in Quebec City were the first ones to mention fiddlers in Canada.

In fact, in a document in 1645, they reported the use of two fiddles at a Quebec wedding. Not much else is known about the wedding, but I bet you that was the very first kitchen party.

Like most folk music, fiddling is an aural tradition taught by ear through successive generations rather than being written down. Each culture has its own distinctive style of fiddling, as stated by Senator Hubley so ably. The fun of it is identifying which area of Canada that particular tune came from. The styles meld together and influence each other, and they have created a distinctive Canadian sound.

In the Maritimes, fiddling is influenced by strong Anglo-Celtic groups of Scottish-Irish settlers. Cape Breton, especially, is known for its distinctive sound. Their fiddling tradition was started by Scottish immigration fleeing eviction from their homes in the 19th century. Fiddlers in Cape Breton avoided the classical influences that European fiddlers embraced and adopted a strong and gutsy style that distinguished them from the rest. If you have ever heard the Cape Breton Symphony, that mass band of fiddlers, on stage, anywhere, your hearts would just turn to fiddling. Scotty Fitzgerald was a renowned and well known Cape Breton fiddler. His early recordings helped to establish certain tunes as standards for fiddling.

The Scottish and the Irish, however, were not the only cultures in the Maritimes to bring the tradition with them from the old world.

The Acadians also brought a wide range of stringed instruments with them when they settled in Atlantic Canada.

Many of these instruments followed them during the expulsion to Louisiana and you get the Cajun style of music. First Nations communities also adopted the fiddle. Aboriginal fiddlers built on European foundations, incorporating traditional vocals into their playing. In the Maritimes, Mi'kmaq fiddlers would play a game with children matching words in Mi'kmaq to the fiddler's tune. When older Aboriginal practices became discouraged or outlawed, many First Nations communities turned to the fiddle as their main musical outlet.

Acadian and First Nations styles merged in the Maritimes with the Anglo-Celtic tradition and are still kept alive in many rural communities in New Brunswick and P.E.I. The fiddling tradition in New Brunswick is personified by fiddlers like Ivan Hicks and dare I say Don Messer, who was from New Brunswick.

Don Messer's Jubilee" was a well-known national broadcast and some sources suggested it was the second most popular show on air after "Hockey Night in Canada." The cancellation of the show in 1969 resulted in a protest on Parliament Hill and several pointed questions in the House of Commons. Messer is finally remembered today in the Village of Harvey Station by a four-metre tall red fiddle, the symbol of his trade.

Honourable senators, fiddling is not confined to the Maritimes. It is truly national. Canadian fiddlers inherited traditions brought by early settlers and interpreted them with distinctly Canadian variations from coast to coast to coast. Anglophones and francophones alike prize the fiddle as a small instrument that could be easily stored and transported across the rough frontier. Fiddles were so valuable to the people of Quebec City that many were hidden during the 1759 siege. A dozen of these instruments were uncovered in the city hospital in 1860.

The Metis in Manitoba also developed a separate fiddling tradition. They adapted styles learned from the French Canadian and Scottish fur traders who brought their fiddles with them as they crossed the frontier. As immigration to Canada increased in the 19th and 20th centuries, so too did the varieties of traditions reflected in our Canadian fiddling. Ukrainian settlers, in particular, played a big role in the West. They fled oppression in czarist Russia for the Prairies and incorporated the fiddle into their traditional folk music. Ukrainians were not the only Europeans to contribute to Canada's fiddling tradition. Hungarian and Romanian settlers brought their interpretation to Saskatchewan and many other parts of the West. German and Polish immigrants left their mark on the fiddling styles of Ontario and the Prairies, and several popular tunes may have German origins. One example is the "Jessica Waltz" from the Ottawa Valley.

I first began to listen to fiddle music after I heard the Cape Breton Symphony. I loved the sound and it may have been my roots calling me, but I was hooked. I was touched by the poignant bluegrass fiddle that played in the haunting American PBS documentary "The Civil War." To me, that's a prime example of why we should look at National Fiddling Day. It tells us that this iconic music is everywhere in North America; we all celebrate it and it calls out to some part of us.

There are many styles of fiddle music and it is fun to identify the styles and trace the traditions, and there are many great fiddlers in Canada's tradition. I've named a few and I hope I'm forgiven because I can't include everyone. There are many new fiddlers as well who are making their mark on the evolving style and attracting their attention to it, bringing young people to the music. Iconic figures like Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie MacMaster are purely awesome. MacIsaac's mercurial style and brilliance of his composition is incredible.

Honourable Senators, fiddling did not develop in an isolated cultural space. It was and is associated with many Canadian and European folk traditions passed down through time. Fiddlers danced, sang, sat, stood and accompanied a variety of instruments from all around the world. The fiddle brought Canadians together in our kitchens, our barns, our nations, our legions. Everywhere you go, they've had a fiddle party somewhere. The influence of the fiddle extends from the common homes of New Brunswick farmers into the parlours of classical violinists. It's time we delegate a day to this national tradition as a boon to the Senate, and as a platform to celebrate in a truly Canadian way. If you give a moment's thought to the fun to be had, you can host a fiddling party every National Fiddling Day and give all the credit right back to the Senate and to Senator Hubley from whom this idea springs.

Colleagues, I hope you will join me in supporting Bill S-218 and take the opportunity to host a fiddle party in your own regions. Thank you.