by Julie Schryer & Pat O’Gorman
AlgomaTrad (the Algoma Traditional Music and Dance organization) was founded by volunteer Artistic Directors Julie Schryer and Pat O’Gorman, with the support of a wonderful community of parents of local learners. The organization was incorporated in 2004 as a not-for-profit arts organization operating in the rural Algoma region of Northeastern Ontario, along the North Shore of Lake Huron. Julie and Pat are life-long musicians steeped in the traditional music of their youth, with over 40 years of experience each in learning, performing, recording, teaching, and organizing.
AlgomaTrad first formed to present an annual one-week immersive summer camp with a philosophy of inter- and multigenerational learning and celebration. The AlgomaTrad Family Camp brings together experienced and renowned traditional musicians, dancers, callers, and artists to provide living traditions mentorship to local and non-local learners through workshops, performances, community dances, and tune and song creation. The camp grew quickly to capacity by its second year and continues to operate annually with over 100 campers, 20-25 staff, and 30 -40 volunteers.
Over 16 years, AlgomaTrad has supported approximately 250 musicians, dancers, and artists as performers/teachers for the camp. With a few exceptions, these musicians and artists are representatives of Canadian cultural traditions. Michigan dance caller and potter Dan Gorno was also an important member of the organization, as an artist and a soulful champion, until his untimely death in 2015.
Since 2004, AlgomaTrad has also organized over 300 events, concert series, workshops, in- and after-school programs, dances, and fundraisers. In 2018, an annual Fall Heritage Arts Festival was created, which, while including traditional music and dance workshops and performances, focuses on heritage craft workshops, including blacksmithing, weaving, fiber arts, green wood carving (Sloyd), wool skirting and needle felting, bookbinding, basketmaking, knitting, natural dyes, and pyrography.
AlgomaTrad hosts four well-attended multigenerational, contra/square/ceili community dances annually and organizes workshops by traditional artists from inside and outside the region, to inspire local learners/celebrators of traditional arts throughout the year. Over the last 16 years approximately 20,000 learners, audience members, and artists have participated in AlgomaTrad’s programs and events. Public support for all events and local awareness of the AlgomaTrad as an important local cultural organization continues to grow. In 2019, the organization had over 130 volunteers help with infrastructure building and upkeep, planting, cleaning, administration, accounting--the list is endless. AlgomaTrad events and programs are both empowering and community-building in nature, and attract families and individuals of all ages through their joyful and inclusive nature.
AlgomaTrad has accomplished this while maintaining a philosophy of economic accessibility through the needs-based Nicholas Missere Bursary Fund, which has enabled over 150 people, including entire families, to attend the camp, as well as helping to provide workshop opportunities throughout the year. AlgomaTrad fundraises through various events including a live and silent auction during the camp and a trivia night fundraiser in the spring.
AlgomaTrad has also created partnerships with over 25 arts, cultural, service, educational, and environmental organizations, municipalities and First Nations, and industry partners. These collaborations not only allow AlgomaTrad to expand its programming, but they bring more awareness of the organization to the region while helping local community groups to host their own successful events. For several of these collaborations AlgomaTrad was able to share artist appearances at the camp or concert series’ with local events, which increased artist earnings while providing high-caliber artists from outside the Algoma region at an affordable price for local organizations.
One of AlgomaTrad’s most memorable collaborations occurred with Thinking Rock Community Arts (TRCA). Partially under the auspices of a Canada Council collaborative grant, the organization offered musical advice and direction for TRCA’S community arts play “The Rivers Speak,” an intercultural work that blended local First Nation and settler stories and music into a fabulous community theatre experience. A work-in-progress production of this work was workshopped at the AlgomaTrad Family Camp in 2015 and performed as part of the Folk in the Landing Festival the same year. Music for the play was developed by AlgomaTrad Camp staff and learners in 2016 and 2017. “The Rivers Speak” was performed for two magical weeks at the Mississagi First Nations Pow Wow grounds in September 2017. A recording of this project is due out in 2020.
AlgomaTrad has been supported by numerous grants from various organizations, among them the Ontario Arts Council (OAC), Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), Heritage Canada, and the Canada Council for the Arts. AlgomaTrad is currently developing a year round traditional arts centre on St. Joseph Island and recently completed a new timberframe dance pavilion with funding from an OTF Capital grant. The organization is planning to launch a major crowdsourcing campaign this spring to support the traditional art centre infrastructure project.
Two years ago AlgomaTrad and its supporters secured a 50-acre, former Music Camp property on St. Joseph Island to develop the AlgomaTrad Centre. Since then, AlgomaTrad has:
- created an in-depth business plan and produced designs for upgrading the infrastructure on the site, which will include winterizing the main building containing the dining hall, dorm rooms, and washrooms; upgrading the septic system; adding an up-to-date kitchen facility; building a new concert hall and studio spaces; and upgrading the grounds for accessibility;
- secured a significant funding commitment from the provincial government;
- built a magical dance pavilion and cleaned up the site enough to hold camp there in 2019;
- partnered with local schools and volunteers to revitalize the Two Tree River that flows through the property by planting over 1700 native trees and shrubs thanks to a grant from the Ontario Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund.
Besides being a beautiful and environmentally-sustainable centre where both local people and visitors to St. Joseph Island can immerse themselves in hands-on learning, the Centre will benefit the Island and Algoma Region through tourism, local employment, support for local farms and businesses, and as a catalyst for new arts entrepreneurship on the Island.
When finished the Centre will be a cultural legacy for the Island, the Algoma Region, and the North. If you are interested in helping to support this project, please subscribe to the AlgomaTrad Newsletter at algomatrad.ca or find us on Facebook. Think about attending an AlgomaTrad event—we’d love to see you!
About AlgomaTrad’s Artistic Directors
Julie Schryer’s Franco-Ontarian home in Sault Ste. Marie, ON was filled with traditional music and song. She studied piano throughout her youth but really loved playing traditional music with four of her brothers, all award-winning fiddlers, including playing for local Irish Dancers and at numerous fiddle contests throughout the ‘70s. She was also a sought-after accompanist in the Canadian old-time fiddle scene during this time. Starting in 1987, Julie focused on farming and raising her family of five children. Julie recorded and toured with her brother Pierre Schryer in the late ‘90s and has taught at the Goderich Celtic College, the Valley of the Moon Fiddle Camp in California, and the Northwest Fiddle Fest in Smithers, BC. For the last 18 years, Julie has played with the Brian Pickell Band. Julie’s five grown children are fine artists, musicians, dancers, makers, and gardeners. As a family, Julie, her partner Pat O’Gorman, their daughter Áine, and Julie’s sons Zach and Benoit play concerts, dances and events throughout Ontario and the U.S. as The O’Schraves.
Pat O’Gorman began playing bagpipes 53 years ago in the Ontario Highland Piping world and has studied traditional music in Ireland, Brittany, and Cape Breton. He has been playing traditional music on wooden concert (Irish) flute for 40 years and plays Uilleann pipes and tin whistle as well. Pat has been part of the Canadian trad/Celtic music scene for 40 years with Na Cabarfeidh, Rare Air, Morgaine Le Fay, The Windbags, and most recently with The Brian Pickell Band and Pat and Julie’s family group, The O’Schraves. He has toured throughout North America and Europe, has appeared on over 30 recordings, and has been recorded for numerous television and radio programs and for several films including Canadian features “Men with Brooms” and the 2009 release “One Week.” Pat has taught at the Goderich Celtic College, the North American Comhaltas Conference, the Boston College Gaelic Roots Week, Chris Norman’s Boxwood Flute Week in Lunenburg, NS, and the Northwest Fiddle Fest in Smithers, BC. He acted both as Chair and instructor for many years at the Chris Langan Irish Traditional Music Weekend in Toronto. Pat has played countless ceili and contra dances throughout Ontario and the U.S.