That time James Gordon wrote a song for the township that would cease to exist
Already a singer-songwriter, author, musical theatre performer and politician, James Gordon can add one more item to his resume: Roots Music Canada columnist. He periodically shares some entertaining stories with us from his lengthy career in the arts.
The reeve of little Minto Township calls me up. The Township is 150 years old. They’ve made it through everything from droughts to floods to depression, but they can’t make it through Ontario’s Mike Harris years – he’s amalgamating the local governments, and the township won’t exist after Jan. 1.
Will I write a song about it and perform it at their ‘Farewell to Minto’ dinner?
Of course I will.
I write a poignant tune, with a chorus claiming that “though the name will be gone, the spirit will remain.”
I arrange with the CBC to perform the song on the air the morning of the dinner. The night before the song’s debut, I call the reeve to confirm some details.
What will the new regional government be called? Minto, he tells me. What will be the new boundaries? They are staying the same. Will all the little towns like Harriston and Clifford lose their identities? No, he says.
“Why am I writing the song?” I ask myself.
Turns out that the main change will be that the reeve will lose his job.
The dinner is in his honour at the banquet room of the Harriston arena. I walk through the door and suddenly it is 1958. Two hundred and fifty current and former employees and elected officials are gathered for a turkey buffet dinner, a lot of speeches, and a short presentation from yours truly.
The Township Clerk sees me arrive. She introduces herself and says that there is a “glitch” in the evening’s proceedings. The man of the hour, the reeve, has had a heart attack that morning. His tribute dinner will go on though.
I set up my stuff and drift over to the bar. I make the mistake of asking what kind of beer they have.
“Both kinds,” the bartender says.
(I forget that in the “real country” of Ontario, they only offer Canadian and ‘Blue’.)
Having given myself away as being from another planet, I take my seat for dinner. Turkey, mashed potatoes and turnips, mysterious jellied salads – you know how it goes. The reeve’s wife arrives and sits nervously beside me. She has left her husband’s deathbed to bring me my cheque.
I do my shtick successfully after dinner, and realize that I am stuck there for the speeches and awards since my gear is trapped on the stage.
Everyone who has ever lived in the township gets a plaque and makes a speech. The men are named Bert or Bob; the women have wonderfully antiquated names like Ida and Phyllis.
The dog catcher, the tax assessor, the livestock evaluator, the road grader operator, the softball coaches, the cemetery custodians… after a while they all start to look the same, and then I realize that they ARE the same! Most people make two or three trips to the podium, once for each of their job descriptions.
Finally, the end comes, after moving tributes to the absent reeve. The deputy reeve says that the formal part of the evening is over, but hopes that we all can stay for Euchre.
On the planet that these people come from, there are no homeless, there is no crime, plaid suits are still in fashion, and they still play Euchre on Friday nights.