Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Where is that Town in North Ontario? (2)

In "Where is that Town in North Ontario? (1)", Thunder Bay
(nee Fort William) emerged as a strong contender for being that town.
Many people, not all of whom grew up there, would say "no doubt, eh?".

They would point out that:
a) it is a town
b) it is in north Ontario
c) Neil lived there, gigged there and was writing songs
    and recording them there well  before he headed "south"*.

* a term that would include Toronto, California and all points in-between.

It's a strong case to be sure, but if you were to suggest such a heresy
in Omemee, Ontario you just might get your lights punched out.


WTF is Omemee?

It's one of the communities within the "city" of Kawartha Lakes, Ontario.
It's named for the Omemee people, who once hunted in the area. Omemee
is a Mississauga word that means "pigeon".

Soon after Neil Percival Young was born in Toronto in 1945,
he moved to Omemee, with his father Scott, mother "Rassy"
and brother Bob.

Long after he'd moved to California Neil describe it fondly
as a "sleepy little place".

He suffered from a bout of polio in 1951, in what was the last
major outbreak of the disease in Ontario. Curiously, a thousand
miles away, future Canadian songwriter Joni Mitchell, then aged
nine, also contracted the virus in this epidemic.

Neil (left) and his bother Bob (right)

In 1960, his mom and dad split up. Bob stayed with his father
in Toronto and Neil went to live with his mom in Winnipeg.
He was already deeply fascinated by music - his most treasured
possessions were a blue transistor radio and a plastic ukelele.

But he'd be back...

Neil (left) and his bother Bob (right)

Two Towns, One Song...?

People from Omemee would say that when Neil and his friend
Jonathan Demme made the film Journeys, they drove in his
1956 Crown Victoria from Omemee to downtown Toronto's
iconic Massey Hall where he performed the last two nights
of his solo world tour.

Thunder Bayers mention how Neil met Steven Stills in their town,
and that he's probably never even heard of Omemee.

Omemeers might point to the Omemee's Youngtown Rock & Roll Museum
and ask (somewhat rhetorically) if there was one in Thunder Bay?

Thunder Bayers might pull out a map, noting that they live
at 48° 38' North latitude and that Omemee, at 44° 18' 0" North
latitude, is not even IN north Ontario*.

* In rural Ontario, there is an understated understanding that Ontario is divided into two unequal
parts- south of 7, and north of 7. Omemee straddles Highway 7.

Omemeers might say "Oh yeah? We have a postcard".

Thunder Bayers might point out how Alice Cooper once played
at the drive-in there which proves they totally rock.

Then people from Omemee might slap the table like they were
playing the Jack of Spades in a euchre tournament, and shout
"Neil Young said so".

But did he? In classic Canadian fashion, the answer is yes... and no.

When the question was put to him in an interview with Nick Kent
from Mojo magazine in 1995, Neil did say "Omemee, Ontario"
but - and it's a big but - here is that response in context:

"Well, it's not literally a specific town
so much as a feeling. Actually, it's a couple
of towns. Omemee, Ontario, is one of them.
It's where I first went to school and spent
my 'formative' years.
Actually I was born in Toronto... *I was born
in Toronto*... God, that sounds like the first
line of a Bruce Springsteen song (laughs).
But Toronto is only seven miles from Omemee."

Well, there's a bit of artistic license here - Toronto is actually
130 kilometers from Omemeee, which works out to about 81 miles -
but that aside, it sounds like both towns are at the heart of this essential
Canadian song, and maybe even a few others.

It also wouldn't come as a surprise if kids growing up somewhere
off the map in Montana or Saskatchewan or South Dakota or any
number of other places felt like the song was about where they grew up too.

And somewhere out there, a Winnipegger is reading this and muttering
"he might have set the song in Ontario, but he wrote it HERE".


and if you don't believe me about how twitchy people can get
about this kind of thing, take a look for yourself....



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