MUSKOKA - From the war of 1812 to Pierre Trudeau’s canoe paddle, the air was thick with Canadiana at Clevelands House last weekend.
Several dozen people gathered at the historical resort on the shores of Lake Rosseau for the second annual Muskoka Chautauqua Reading Circle signature event.
Revived in 2011 after an absence of nearly 80 years, the Muskoka Chautauqua is held annually to celebrate the arts and Canadian heritage. The first gatherings in the early 20th century brought together some of the top names in Canadian literature, who gathered on Tobin’s Island for lectures, workshops, discussions and performances.
The new incarnation continued that approach, with top writers such as journalists Richard Gwyn, John Ibbitson, Steve Paikin and Rolland Smith leading the discussion.
The event featured two themes — Our Canada: Rocks and Roots is the overall theme of this year’s events. The Reading Circle weekend featured a focus on the War of 1812, with a look at how the event has shaped Canada’s culture.
One of the highlights of the event was a panel discussion, moderated by Paikin of TVOntario. Canadian journalists Gwyn and Ibbitson, multiple Emmy Award-winning American news anchor Smith, Francoise Noel of Nipissing University, and native American musician Mockingbird discussed the event, debating such topics as what would have happened if one side or the other had scored a decisive victory in the largely stalemated war.
The afternoon session featured talks by several of the keynote speakers, as well as local writers who have addressed the theme of Rocks and Roots. They were followed by musicians and poets addressing the same topic in unique ways, such as Beverlie Robertson performing a song Gordon Lightfoot had jotted down on a waitress’s pad for her, and Jamie Sherman performing a medley of songs he feels a strong connection to.
They were followed by Jowi Taylor, the organizer behind the Six String Nation Guitar.
The guitar, which took several years to create, is crafted from a wide range of materials, all reflecting a part of the diverse Canadian experience. They include Pierre Trudeau’s canoe paddle, the knife from a champion oyster shucker, a fragment of gold from Maurice Richard’s Stanley Cup ring, a slice of wood from the sacred “golden spruce” of Haida Gwaii, and an array of other materials.
Taylor has travelled the country showing the guitar to thousands of people and inviting them to pose for photos and perform on the guitar.