The town of Fergus has lost
a piece of its heart with the death of Cape Breton musician John Allan
Cameron, who served as honorary chieftain of the Fergus Scottish Festival
and Highland Games for more than 20 years.
Cameron, 67, died November 22, 2006 at Scarborough's Centenary Hospital
after battling bone marrow cancer and leukemia for more than a year.
"He was Cape Breton born and raised and he was
loved by the entire country," said Deb Dalziel, who is general manager of
the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce and music co-ordinator for the
were so privileged to borrow him for one weekend a year."
Great Big Sea played a tribute concert to the
musical giant -- known as the Godfather of Celtic music -- at the Fergus
festival in 2005. But he was too ill to attend the festival this past
summer. His son Stuart Cameron assumed the role in his place.
"Everything I learned about Celtic music, I
learned from John Allan," Dalziel said. "He was such a mentor to us at the
Scottish Festival and he believed wholeheartedly in what we were doing.
"He had a wonderful soft spot in his heart for all of us in Fergus."
"He was a great, strong presence within our
festival and whenever he travelled, he'd figure out a way to mention
Fergus when speaking to his audience," added Caroline Laing, past
president of the Fergus games. "He was a real spokesperson for our
festival and our town."
Cameron was born in 1938 in Cape Breton to a
family with strong musical genes. His mother, Katie Ann, and brother, John
Donald, were avid fiddlers and his uncle, Dan Rory MacDonald, was a
renowned fiddler and composer. Cameron started to play guitar as a teen
and in the 1960s he began picking traditional Scottish pipe tunes on his
switched career paths in 1957 and moved to Ottawa to become a priest. He
spent seven years with the Order of the Oblate Fathers, taking his final
vows in 1964. But just six months later he received a papal dispensation
to return to performing.
In 1968 he played traditional Irish and
Scottish music at the Newport and Mariposa folk festivals and soon after
signed a recording contract with Apex Records. His debut album, "Here
Comes John Allan Cameron," would later become a seminal Celtic folk album.
Cameron became a well-recognized fixture on
CBC Television's "Singalong Jubilee" in the 1970s, sporting his trademark
kilt, which he also wore while playing at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry.
"He told me about that performance," Dalziel
said. "Some people wondered if he should wear a kilt in Nashville.
'They'll either love me or hate me,' John Allan told me. Needless to say,
they loved him."
Cameron played on CBC's "The Irish Rovers" before getting his own variety
show in 1979. "The John Allan Cameron Show" featured such guests as Roger
Whittaker, Ian Tyson and Bruce Cockburn.
He recorded 10 albums over his 40-year career
and paved the way for such musicians as Rita MacNeil, Jimmy Rankin,
Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac and the Barra MacNeils.
Becoming a member of the Order of Canada in
2003 was recognition of his role in bringing Celtic music to the
part of the fabric of the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland games,"
so full of life and full of malarkey. I know I'm a better person for
having known him."
Craig MacGregor, president of the Fergus games, considered Cameron a
personal friend, so the loss is deeply-felt.
He said during the 2003 and 2004 games it was
apparent Cameron was struggling with some kind of health issue and to
outside audiences he may have appeared intoxicated because his memory and
speech were particularly affected.
"The cancer affected his brain first,"
MacGregor said. "In hindsight it all makes sense."
On a lighter note, MacGregor recalled an
incident about eight years ago when Cameron was still in the peak of
health. It was the Sunday night after the games were over and a few
organizers and Cameron got into the scotch.
Cameron's wife Angela was the designated
driver and she stopped at MacGregor's home, where his dog North came out
to say hello.
leaned over and said, 'I'll offer straight trade Craig. John for the dog,'
" MacGregor said with a laugh.
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