Several years ago Maria Dunn caught my attention with her wonderful voice and songwriting. We were fortunate to see her as well at a showcase at one of the Canadian hosted Folk Alliance Conferences.
A couple of months later we were hosting April Verch, a fantastic Canadian fiddler/step dancer in concert. As our custom we had a catered dinner after the concert with April, her husband and her band. I spoke of my Grandmother who had been a British Home Child at the turn of the 20th century in Canada. April was well familiar with these Home Children who were indentured for six years of service. Some were fortunate many others were not, my grandmother was one who was not.
April mentioned that Maria had written and recorded a song about Home Children titled. “Orphaned Hand”. This made me more interested in Maria and that led Cindy and I to connect with her and help with a tour into our local area.
Born in Scotland and raised in Ontario and Alberta, Maria is a storyteller in song. Living presently in Alberta she writes many of her songs about historical and contemporary people and events. This was the traditional way that history was often passed down a couple of centuries ago when most people were illiterate.
The CD “We Were Good People” features songs of miners, ordinary labors, people who were dirt poor but proud during the depression years. The title track is inspired by a letter in the Edmonton Journal regarding The Edmonton Hunger March which took place on Tuesday, December 20, 1932. The protesters planned to walk in an orderly and peaceful manner from Market Square to the Legislature to ask for government assistance for farmers and the unemployed in the midst of the Depression. Wielding billy clubs, police on horseback broke up the march. As Maria wrote on her web site she was inspired by a letter written by William Dolinsky in 1999, in which he described the events he had witnessed. He wrote: "I remember well this Bloody Tuesday" and asserted, so eloquently and simply: "We were good people".
I have enclosed two videos of Maria. The first, “Shoes of a Man” Maria wrote, "This song was inspired by the life of Michael George Arbuckle (1898-1988), a Glasgow man. Like many of his generation, he fought in WWI. In the thirties and forties, he took part in labour and social justice demonstrations on Glasgow Green, a popular place for both political and social gatherings. He opposed the means test, a degradingly invasive way for authorities to decide how much social assistance poor families would receive."
The second is a song about miners and again in Marias words, “In the summer of 2002, I visited the Bellevue Mine in the Crow's Nest Pass. Emerging from the cold, black tunnel into a beautiful summer day in the mountains was a powerful experience, indeed. The nearby remains of the Frank Slide of 1903 must have testified daily to miners of the dangers in the area, particularly in the early 1900s. In 1914, the Hillcrest Mine explosion left 189 men dead and buried in a graveyard across the valley from Bellevue. Those thoughts, along with the knowledge of a thriving illegal liquor trade during Alberta's prohibition years (1916-1922), sparked this song.”
Nearly two years ago Cindy’s father died, a remarkable man to be sure. Maria sent Cindy a song which had not as yet been recorded but is now featured in her most recent CD, “The Peddler”. It is about her uncle, the song is “William McIlroy's”. It is a wonderful song and very touching gift from Maria. But then this is who Maria is, a wonderful storyteller, a songwriter, a beautiful singer who will touch your heart. Who believes those stories of those who struggled to give many of us a better life need to be honored and remembered for what they did. They are in many ways some of our greatest heroes, for the most part unsung and often they are our great grandmothers and great grandfathers who many now have forgotten.