Back in 1980 or 1981, a group of Maritimers in Calgary created a thriving group called the Maritime Reunion Association. This purpose of the association was to provide social and recreational opportunities for Maritimers who were arriving in Calgary and lacked the support systems they had back home. We organized baseball and football leagues but, let’s face it, Maritimers also love to party and have fun.
At its height in the early 1980s the MRA as it was known had over 600 members, it’s own clubhouse and a paid recreation director who tended to the day-to-day business and organized monthly dances. We’d rent a community centre and hire Maritime musicians to play for us. We’d try to tie into the touring schedules of Maritime bands and there was usually a bagpiper or two to start us off. These events became very popular and lots on non-Maritime Calgarians showed up, too.
We also had a Grand Reunion each summer. The year I was president of the MRA, that reunion took place at Rafter Six Ranch in Kananaskis County. We had 3,500 people show up for a weekend in the sun, a lobster dinner – and lots of good music. We flew in our crowd favourite, the Minglewood Band to close the show. By then the crowd had been listening to groups such as the Powder Blues Band and Doug and the Slugs and other popular groups of the day since early afternoon.
Our budget for that one event was somewhere in the vicinity of $135,000 – for a weather-dependent event! And the weather had to be good in various part of the country. We had lobster suppliers in the Maritimes building our supply of lobster in lobster pounds on the East Coast. Air Canada then had to fly it to Calgary on the day of the event. We had ordered about 10,000 pounds of lobster.
The day of the concert the lobster landed in Toronto and Air Canada called us to tell us that they couldn’t get it to Calgary due to the weather situation in Toronto. All we could think of was 3,500 people sitting in a sunny alpine meadow, drinking beer all afternoon, and we were going to have to tell them they weren’t going to get the lobster they had paid for! Finally, after many phone calls, Air Canada said they could break the shipment down and sent it out on two planes.
I loved being part of the MRA; I met a lot of wonderful people; we even managed to get on national television a couple of times. That year I was president, we had a cash flow of around $250,000 all managed by a small but dedicated Board of Directors.
So are you wondering what triggered this trip down memory lane? Two things actually.
It was July 4th this year before the fog lifted enough for Saint John to stage its July 1st fireworks. July 4th was a lovely summer evening and my friend Sandra and I headed down to the Market Square Boardwalk in the inner harbour to see the show. As we walked past the stage where performers entertain the patrons on the patios of the various restaurants and bars that line the Boardwalk, I was catapulted back in time to an early 1980’s MRA event at Calgary’s Hungarian Centre. We had brought Matt Minglewood and his band in for a show. Near the end of the evening a very pregnant young woman was invited up on stage with the band. She sang with an unbelievable style and a voice I could never forget. I even remember that she sang Caledonia. Her name was Theresa Malenfant and over the years I would occassionally hear her on the radio when I was back home.
On July 4th, as Sandra and walked in front on the little stage on the Boardwalk, Theresa walked out on the stage and began to sing. The moment was pure serendipity. After Theresa’s set was over, I waited to speak to her and tell her how she had blown me away all those years ago. She remembered the evening and told me that son she was carrying is now 27 years old! This wonderful encounter was followed by fireworks over the harbour. Another perfect summer evening in Saint John.
The second event is the current leadership race for the leader of the Progressive Conservative party in New Brunswick. One of the candidates for leader is Rob McLeod, who was a hardworking member of the MRA Board the year I was president. I have been reading Rob’s regular commentaries in the local newspaper since I arrived. The little bio clip at the end said he was president of the PC party, a fact that I didn’t find surprising as his father had been a Cabinet Minister in Richard Hatfield’s government. But last week Rob resigned as party president and two days ago he announced his candidacy for party leader. Way to go Rob! Who knows maybe a former MRA colleague will end up as Premier of the New Brunswick one day.