||September/October 2005 issue||
FEATURE - THE OTTAWA VALLEY
Just up the river from the nation’s capital is a world of loggers, farmers and fiddlers. G’day, g’day and welcome to the Valley.
Excerpt of story by James Raffan
While log trucks roll to and from lumber mills in Renfrew,
Ont., a town of 8,000 on the Ottawa River some 95 kilometres west of
Canada’s capital, a paving crew is hard at work outside a new Wal-Mart store.
Across town, the parking lot of St. Joseph’s High School is filling. Families
head in to a hushed gymnasium, soles squeaking across the polished floor.
Red stage curtains are drawn, but through a gap between the stage and the
heavy drapes, the audience can see scuffed brown brogues and low-heeled
blue pumps practising a waltz to a faint fiddle, far away in the wings.
Then the dancing stops. The house lights dim. It’s showtime in the Ottawa
Lights rise on a lanky character in string tie and shiny black pants. This
is Ish Theilheimer, producer of Stone Fence Theatre, who explains that the
evening will begin with a play called Salary Capped, written and performed
by students from St. Joseph’s. The main event will be a musical comedy called
Looking Back at Mac, a nostalgic account of the life and times of Mac Beattie,
who, from the 1930s until his death in 1982, was one of the Valley’s most
loved musicians. But there’s more to it than entertainment.
"This tour is all about promoting and perpetuating Ottawa Valley culture
and heritage and transmitting our love of all that to new generations," Theilheimer
announces to the audience.
And that’s why I’m here, to search for the Ottawa Valley, in a Wal-Mart world.
Not the Ottawa River watershed, which is twice the size of New Brunswick and
sprawls across western Quebec and eastern Ontario, but a smaller culturally
constructed idea of valley. The place of log booms and fist fights, of rock
farms and raconteurs, of deep forests and clean water, of tall tales and short
wages for swinging double-bitted axes into pines the size of cathedral pillars,
of the nation’s first water-borne trans-Canada highway west of Ottawa on the
way to Thunder Bay or Tuktoyaktuk.
Living in or near that valley for most of my adult life, I’ve heard — heck,
I’ve routinely said — "G’day, g’day," and "How’s she goin’,
lad?" I’ve heard carp (fish or town) pronounced "cairp." I’ve
had more green beer than necessary at the Douglas Tavern and seen Delmer McGregor
throw cow flops at the Perth Fair. I’ve "worshed" up before "sitting
in" with friends for dinner. I’ve square danced to scratchy fiddle tunes,
and like most Canadians, I’ve hummed along with Stompin’ Tom Connors’ annoyingly
singable Ottawa Valley anthem: "Heave hi, heave hi-ho, the best man in
Ottawa was Mufferaw Joe, Mufferaw Joe." That valley. What is it? Where
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