My son, Raymond Maybee Jr., like his father before him, started up his own band called The Remedies. It’s true that music always played a healing role in my family. I’d also say that fiddle music is what links the Quebec Cree to every other Canadian province in the happiest of ways.
My favourite tune is St. Ann’s Reel, composed by Ned Landry, a fiddler from St. John’s New Brunswick. I remember the wonderful summer day I first heard that melody. I was eight years old and our family lived in a large, oblong, tent-frame house in Old Factory. (The Cree didn’t use the typical circular teepees that you see around today. Historically, we used our own oblong house design.)
On that sunny afternoon, my dad brought home a surprise gift for our family and we all crowded around to open up the box that contained a wind-up 78-rpm record player. Because I had small fingers, Dad asked me to insert the little needle in the long arm of the player and oh my, when I heard that tune, I knew how to dance even though I’d never had a lesson. My feet flew as though I’d been dancing all my life, my arms and legs in perfect tune to the music. It felt exhilarating and wonderful, like entering a different world every single day of the week, except Sunday. We were taught that Sunday was a day of rest. My dad kept a fiddle of his own at home but I never heard him play it. He stopped playing when he got married.
Over my teen years, my cousin, Elizabeth Fairies, and I, danced away to that fiddle music to our hearts’ content. I’d invite her to my house and one time we laughed uncontrollably when she wore a hole out of her stocking from our afternoon of dancing. We loved fiddle music!
Up until I was 17 years old, my mother took me to square dances in Old Factory in the old Anglican Church Mission. We’d arrive at 9 pm and square danced until the wee hours of the morning!
One day my mom told me to cook a goose in our outdoor teepee and as I gathered wood for the fire I spotted Bobby F. Visitor and Bobby E. Georgekish coming down the dusty road with their fiddle and guitar. I invited them to serenade me in the teepee while I basted the goose for several hours – and they did.
Once I got a job, I bought my own tapes and listened to fiddle music all the time while washing the dishes and making the beds. I danced all over the house, all by myself. I also bought opera and classical music as well as country music so you could say that even though my father never played his own fiddle for us, his gift of music to our family kept on giving and giving.
I met my husband, a white man, at my residential school, Horden Hall, in Moose Factory. Raymond was a young assistant cook in the kitchen when I lived there, and I told him how much I loved my family. He wanted us to live close to them, so we left Horden Hall together and got married on a Wednesday. (In those days, Cree families reserved Sundays for visiting and got married on weekdays, not on weekends as happens now.)
We began our married life living with my parents. We hoped to build our own home but work was scarce in Wemindji. So in June 1963, when my husband was offered another job in the kitchen of the residential school, we moved back. It was grim for me to leave my family, but one of the first things Raymond did was start up a wonderful rock-and-roll band called The Zombies and, of course, I danced at all of their dances.
At that time, my husband met Clarence Loutitt, the maintenance man at the school, and an amazing fiddler. They became fast friends and when my husband and his band took rest breaks, Clarence would step up to the stage with his fiddle and bring the house down. There were five musicians in Raymond’s rock band: Raymond, singer, his brother Lloyd, (lead guitar), Fred Fonier (bass guitar), Barry Beales (rhythm guitar) and Burt Morrison (drums). It was so much fun. Music had saved the day for me, once again.
In 1966, my husband got a better job as a butcher with the Hudson’s Bay Co., and while I raised our six beautiful children at home, he worked at that profession for 35 years. One winter’s evening at home, after Raymond had retired and after he’d suffered a stroke, I put on the fiddle music in the kitchen after supper and started dancing away, my apron flying. Our little dog barked and twirled in a circle and Raymond laughed. He said the dog must think I was crazy!
When Raymond died in September 2004, he was only 61 years old. Together, we now have 25 grandchildren – and they are all musical. I love the name of our son’s band, The Remedies, because it explains what music does, and how it has enriched every decade of my life.
Extracts from these interviews will be appearing in the forthcoming book, “The Cree Fiddlers of James Bay” by Dr. Frances Wilkins