Impromptu fiddle jam sessions held for Fort Good Hope evacuees

Linda Duford was about to end her fiddle tour across the Sahtu in Fort Good Hope with a big jam session and fiddle dance on Saturday.

Those plans took a swift turn as a wildfire approached the Northwest Territories community and forced an evacuation on Saturday night.

"By noon they were talking about evacuation," said Duford, a fiddle teacher from Hay River with the Kole Crook Fiddle Association. "When we finally got to Norman Wells that evening, we realized that a lot of our students – a lot of our fiddlers – were there."

In the middle of the night, Duford began planning a fiddle jam session for youth the next day. On Sunday, young fiddlers between the ages of eight and 10 from both towns met in Mackenzie Mountain School's library to play fiddle together.

"Everybody was so supportive – something for the kids to do," said Duford. "Our jam session we were supposed to have in Fort Good Hope in the afternoon? We had it in Norman Wells."

Later that day, local musicians and evacuees came together again for an impromptu jam and dance at the town gym, which had been set up for evacuees to congregate, drink coffee and talk.

"One thing led to another. When you've got a few musicians in a room, we thought: Gee, wouldn't it be nice to get together and do a little jam, play some music for everyone?" Duford said. "That's how it started."

Along with Duford, musicians Stan Champagne, Elizabeth Ewen and George Grandjambe brought their guitars and fiddles and played old-time music on Sunday evening.

Volunteers from Norman Wells were there, as well as Elders, evacuees and some local families. Duford called it "really positive" to see Elders and youth together, and says she hopes to promote more occasions where multiple generations get together through music.

"That's always a highlight of every jam," said Duford.

"We had children as young as three years old that were dancing. They were running around and visiting with Elders in their 80s that were sitting on the sidelines. That's really what it's all about – getting everybody together."

The gang played northern favourites like Big John McNeil, Crooked Stovepipe and Faded Love.

Musicians performing at an impromptu fiddle dance for Fort Good Hope evacuees in Norman Wells. Photo: Linda Duford

"Music is such a common denominator. Especially in the North, everybody loves the fiddle music and the old-time music," Duford continued.

"We try to tailor the tunes to ones that we know the Elders will recognize ... you see the Elders start tapping their feet."

On Monday, Duford says she organized a fiddle lesson at the Norman Wells school that students from Norman Wells and Fort Good Hope were welcome to join.

"They were just loving it. Big smiles on their faces," said Duford.

"It's just one of those magical moments. I know it sounds cliché but to me, it's always the cloud has a silver lining. No matter what bad happens, there's always good that comes out of it."

Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio