Singer Gail Gavan Honoured For Keeping the Music Alive
Published by Emily Meloche on 2010-10-27
by Lynn Saxberg
The Ottawa Valley has an incredibly rich musical heritage, a hearty concoction of logging tunes, French folk music and Irish drinking songs, mixed with the old-time country of a home-grown song writing hero named Mac Beattie.
Too bad Beattie doesn't have the name recognition of Stan Rogers, and the Valley isn't considered a folk hotbed like Newfoundland or Cape Breton.
If Gail Gavan had any spare time, she'd work to change that perception. She's one of the few Ottawa-area musicians who specializes in Valley traditions, blending country and folk, French and English, fiddling and stepdancing into an engaging performance. But as a full-time teacher and busy hockey mom, music is a weekend pursuit. It's been a few years since Gavan put out a record, although she's a familiar face at fairs and community events around the region.
Despite the demands of family and career, Gavan does a terrific job of keeping the music alive, and she's being recognized for it this weekend. Along with Charlie Kitts, Fred Ducharme and radio station CKBY, she's being inducted into the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame.
For Gavan, it's a thrill to join an honour roll that also includes her two biggest influences: her late father Lennox Gavan, and Beattie, who was a family friend.
"It's nice to be recognized by your peers," she says. "The community that exists among musicians and people who come out to country shows, there's such a spirit anywhere I go. I'll be nervous and thinking I don't know anyone in this town and then I arrive, and all of a sudden the music takes over. It's such a powerful language."
Gavan's roots in the West Quebec region run deep. The youngest of six children raised in the landmark Quyon watering hole, Gavan's Hotel, baby Gail was lulled to sleep by the musicians who performed downstairs. She started to walk in the Shamrock Lounge, learned French from her mom and heard her Irish-Canadian dad, who had worked in logging camps, share songs and stories with those who came to perform. Beattie was one of her dad's favourites.
As a teenager, however, none of it seemed special.
"I was surrounded by it but I didn't care about it, didn't like it," Gavan recalls. "Growing up, I saw it all but I did not think I was interested in it until I left the Valley."
Gavan moved to Montreal to attend McGill University, and loved the big city. A few years later, she moved back to "boring" Ottawa to be close to her aging father. The night of his funeral, Gavan experienced a strange sensation of joy when she put her hand over his before the casket was closed.
"I felt such an energy come from him. It was like he was smiling and I started giggling," she says, adopting her dad's Valley accent to express the advice she sensed from him.
"It was like he said, 'Now, Gail, go ahead and do something with all these songs. Keep this tradition going. I'm old and I'm done and I'm dead. It's your job now.'"
Gavan accepted the challenge and started working on getting the material together for her first CD. A couple of years later, in 1991, her first For the Love of the Valley disc came out. A second volume was released, and then a third, For the Love of the Valley Irish. Two years ago, she also recorded an album of Ray Griff songs in Nashville. In all, her albums have sold nearly 25,000 copies and earn airplay on Valley radio stations. Also contributing to Gavan's status as a local legend is a roadside sign in Quyon that proudly tells visitors the village is the "home of Gail Gavan."
Although she now lives in Ottawa, Gavan still visits her old stomping ground. "I think the surprise is when I go to Quyon for something and the little kids start singing the Log Drivers' Song," Gavan says. "That's so neat because I was doing it to preserve the songs for the older people. Now the younger generation is going to be able to keep these songs going."
Her father would be proud.