PO Box 523, Station B, Ottawa, ON, K1P 5P6
Monday, 15 January 2024 06:53

Songs & Stories of Ottawa Past

We started 2024 off in grand style with a Zoom concert from noted singer / songwriter Paul Weber, which took place on the evening of January 10, 2024. Paul, who was also part of our 125 th anniversary celebration last summer, is a storyteller, a “people’s poet”, who uses his music to make history more accessible to the general public. He shared six songs with us and the stories behind them.

“The Great Fire” is a fictional tale based on the all too real Great Fire of 1870 that Paul described to us. This was Paul’s first historically based song, which he wrote after reading a book about the fire written by a friend’s father. He mentioned that writing songs around historic events presents some challenges to the songwriter, with the need to find the balance between fact and telling a compelling story. It is clear that Paul is a master of this.

Paul next performed his new song “The Heron Road Bridge”, which relates the story of a young man who is caught up in the collapse of the east-bound span of the bridge on the afternoon of 10 August 1966, while it was under construction. Paul mentioned that the collapse took the lives of nine workers who fell approximately five storeys and that it is the largest construction related disaster in Ottawa’s history.

Paul, who is half Franco-Ontarian, followed with a song in French, “La bataille des épingles à chapeaux” (The Battle of the Hatpins), that tells the story of the fight to protect French language rights in education after Regulation 17 was enacted by the Government of Ontario in 1912 to severely restrict the use of French in schools. Paul explained how the local mothers surrounded École Guigues and used their hatpins to drive off the police who had been sent to arrest the teachers. The Historical Society of Ottawa had a speaker session on this very topic, which can be reviewed on the HSO website.

“Ode to Gerry Barber” was Paul’s next selection. Gerry was the bouncer at the Chaudière Hotel on the Aylmer Road and is both a local legend and the best known member of this long-time Ottawa family. As with many of Paul’s songs he finds that when he performs this one, audience members will come up to him after the show to relate their own experiences. When Paul first put this song online he was surprised to receive a call from Gerry Barber, long then dead. It turned out to be Gerry Barber Jr, who graciously shared a number of family photos that Paul used in the video which accompanied the song. The Historical Society of Ottawa also held a Speaker Series presentation on the Barber family, as told to us by Thomas Barber, which can be reviewed on the HSO website.

Paul followed this with his song, “Circus Parade” that recounts the wonderment of a small boy standing on Bank Street and watching as the Barnum & Bailey Circus Parade goes by enroute to Lansdowne Park while visiting Ottawa. The boy marvels at all the animals and the sound of the calliope. The song brings to life an event that though annual at that time, will never be seen again.

Paul’s final song for the evening was “Le Mille Carré”, that tells part of the story of Eastview (later Vanier) and the Order of Jacques Cartier (La Patente), a secret society formed in Eastview to promote Francophone causes within the area. This was the first song that Paul had written in French.

Paul’s concert really must be watched to be fully enjoyed, for apart from being a talented musician, Paul is also a skilled videographer. As such, he has produced a video combining photos, film segments, and acting that support each song and the stories behind them.

You can watch Paul's presentation on the HSO YouTube channel.

Paul has released one CD so far, “Ode to Gerry Barber” and will release a second CD later this year. Paul also has “Ode to Gerry Barber” T-Shirts available and sends out a newsletter.

You can purchase his CD, T-Shirt and/or sign up for Paul’s newsletter on the Paul Weber website.