J. Chalmers DoaneJames HillRalph ShawNorthern ukulelesIan at the Corktown jam, July 2010

The Canadian connection

According to Wikipedia, Canada, while seemingly a latecomer to the uke frenzy, quietly, but enthusiastically joined the wave in the 1960s and 70s.

Teachers brought ukes into Canadian schools for educational purposes and the program swept across the nation as more schools signed on: "In the 1960s, educator J. Chalmers Doane dramatically changed school music programs across Canada, using the ukulele as an inexpensive and practical teaching instrument to foster musical literacy in the classroom. There were 50,000 schoolchildren and adults learning ukulele through the Doane program at its peak."

That legacy has left its mark and many Canadians affectionately remember being taught ukulele in school as the first musical instrument they encountered. For schools and parents, the ukulele is a much more economical instrument than most others. A whole classroom can be supplied with ukes for the price of a single saxophone. And the small uke is easy to hold and less intimidating than a larger instrument for young children.

Most of those ukes were Doane's own design the Northern ukulele. Even today these ukes pop up in attics, yard sales or in second-hand stores. And of course, they sometimes appear on eBay. I managed to obtain three with little effort.

His Ukuleles in the Classroom program is still ongoing, promoted by ukulele master James Hill and other dedicated teachers. It's been updated for the new millennium. Information about it, including educational resources, are also available on Doanes' Web site.

Today, you can find renowned ukulele players like Ralph Shaw and James Hill playing and teaching ukulele in Canada. Shaw offers a weekly uke newsletter on his Web site, as well as several downloadable song sheets.

There's a Ukulele Ceilidh on Canada's east coast and British Columbia has its own group of ukulele enthusiasts as well as the Langley Ukulele Ensemble and Vancouver Ukulele Circle.

There's a Canadian film maker - Tony Coleman - who made a full-length documentary called The Might Uke, released in early 2009. More about that film here.

Here's a radio show about the Ukuleles of Halifax, from WFMU. You can listen to it in MP3 format. Followers of CBC's wonderful, entertaining Vinyl Cafe radio show know Stuart Mclean as an avid ukulele player and sometimes features a uke in his weekly show.

Corktown ukulele jam nightToronto has a uke club in the Dominion Pub, 500 Queen Street East, with weekly lessons and jam sessions, plus special events. It's a very popular event, and is usually packed by 8 p.m., so arrive a little early if you want to participate. Great people, too. See the Corktown ukes site for more.

And also see Ukulele North, a Canadian uke forum. There's also a uke club in Montreal (Web site in French).

The Public Library in my hometown, Collingwood, bought three ukuleles (with tuners, and cases) to lend to members. Since this program was launched, in mid-2009, the ukes have been in constant circulation. Story in the Collingwood Connection.

Flea Market Music lists quite a number of Canadian uke players it its online database.

Email me if you have a ukulele club, group or want a Canadian performer listed here.

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