Letter from Mary Mackie, May, 1960

If you have time, more wild west stories from the Mackie family, this time from a letter that Mary Mackie wrote to her beloved parents-in-law. Context: my folks left behind a secure position with the BC Forestry Service and headed to a totally off-the-grid mountain ranch that was about 28 miles from Houston, BC in front of Nadina Mountain, building their own house (first a cottage, then the ranch house), fences etc. Though they had a garden, milk cow and beef, they raised necessary cash for other things with my mother’s freelance writing for the Family Herald (Montreal Gazette), CBC and sportsman magazines. Any technical or adventure articles were signed with my father’s name so that they would sell as women weren’t yet allowed to write on such topics. They started with 34 head of cattle and built to around 120 head before everything blew apart and the next adventure started.

I am lovingly revealed as a bit of a pain-in-the-neck handful in this episode… I was 17 months old and my brother Keith was almost 5 months old. I really don’t know how my parents did it, especially my mother. And the Allan she refers to is my father, and Roy Munger was a senior rancher neighbour, one of many who helped and stood by us. Dick was our English ranch hand.

My mother speaks of a slow healing injury that my father had… this was from his gigantic old Pioneer chainsaw bucking and landing between the toes of his right foot when it hit a knot in a log… this is an amazing story for another time involving a lot of blood and my father trying to drive himself the 78 miles to the nearest hospital.


Nadina on a tractor - age 3
The photo shows Nadina Mountain in the background, with Roy Munger on horseback and my Dad branding a steer with our Diamond/M brand.

The photo shows Nadina Mountain in the background, with Roy Munger on horseback and my Dad branding a steer with our Diamond/M brand.

mary mackie

Mary Mackie: May 1, Sunday Evening (1960)

Dear Mother and Pop,

I’ve a feeling that somebody may be going out for the mail soon, so this won’t be too ancient when it’s mailed. This knowledge is based not so much upon intuition or foresight as upon the observation that we have only 1/2 lb. of coffee left.

The mitts came up in most colourful fashion, on a real cattle drive, when Allan brought all our beef home. He gathered up the Owen Lake in 1 day. Dick camped there with them overnight.

Then, next day, they cut our 20-odd head out of the Owen Lake bunch and brought them all the last 12 miles home. Allan had borrowed a buckskin horse for the drive; somebody else had put a fringed, beaded jacket on him to keep out the raw wind; this his weather-worn cowboy hat he was a real picture when he drove the herd in. Especially with old Roy on hand, every inch the cowboy though he approaches the age where he is supposed to sit easier in the rocking chair than in the

Anyway, all the cattle are home now except for the 1 young bull whose presence will not be welcome for another couple of months. All 34 of them are in the yard here. I was afraid to go outdoors the first day. But I find that they are extremely calm creatures and have never seen the slightest orneriness in any of them.

It was real suspense when Allan and Dick when down to the silo, and uncovered the contents. Without a plastic top, about half the silage had spoiled – assisted by a few moose-tracks. Then, more suspense as a load of the good stuff was brought up to the cattle. They didn’t seem to know what to do with it at first. Within a day, however, they all began to bellow and roar as soon as the cat engine started. They started eating about a ton a day, getting fatter before our eyes.

One old cow had her calf a few days ago. We all had to stand guard to keep the others away, even Nadina was there. The calf was born in the heat of the afternoon. He was on his feet at 7 min., he was galloping around his mother by sundown, and the next morning he was playing tag with the other calves. He’s the goofiest calf on the claim. We attribute a lot of this good health and high spirits to the silage. The same cows – i.e. cows that wintered on this same feed – over at Owen Lake, are extremely weak. Some of them could barely get out of the chute after they’d been branded last week.

Anyway… thank you for the mitts! I’m happy to say that the weather has been so hot lately that they’ve not been needed yet. But they will be.

We are so delighted to hear that you have definite plans made to come up this year. I hope you can stay long enough for the kids to really get to know you. We’ve wished so often that they could grow up a little closer to you. At the rate Nadina is coming along lately, she’ll be ready to really soak up a lot of stories and visiting. I hope your shoulder is better by then, as these two don’t know much about sitting quietly.

The other day I was out bonfiring some old willows. Allan brought Nadina out to watch. She studied this tremendous blaze, choked on the smoke, and cried out, “Toast?” She knows such a lot of words and can state her wishes fairly well. She demands from morning till night but if we survive without repressing her too much, she should have terrific drive and spunk. Keith is a marvel. This morning we noticed that Nadina woke up peacefully and did not scream at us to rush in with clean diapers, breakfast, rides, warm-ups in our bed etc. Then we also noticed that she was grinning something fierce – face all screwed up and all her teeth showing. Dawned on us – she was imitating Keith! He’s like an angel in the morning – wakes us with soft cooing and efforts to talk. When we shuffle in to him, he smiles fit to burst, and usually waits cheerfully until his breakfast is ready. We’ve NEVER told Nadina that she had to be like Keith or anybody else except herself – but I guess his behaviour is plain even to another baby.

Recently when Dick and Allan came in for morning coffee, Nadina picked up Dick’s hat where he’d tossed it. She put it on her head, then searched around until she found a long grouse feather, which she clamped between her teeth. Then, hands behind her back, she stomped up and down the room puffing on her pipe doing such a good imitation of him that we were momentarily rendered helpless. I don’t really know what Dick, a middle-aged English bachelor, thinks of all this. Especially when she shrieks, “Hi, Dickeeeeeee?” every time he enters the house.

This fellow has been a terrific help to us. Two men working quite vigorously accomplish as much as 4 men working alone. It is very noticeable, though I think all that we did last year makes progress all that much easier every succeeding year. Dick supplies us with many laughs both consciously and otherwise. He reduced us to hysteria one evening by talking of English fashion in hats, and how he used to like wearing a proper bowler. Like them, that is, until one episode on a London bus when, playing the gentleman, he gave up his seat to a woman passenger. As he was the only person then standing, he went forward to converse with the driver. As they went along the bus hit a tremendous hole in the pavement. Dick rocketed skyward, came in sudden contact with the bus roof, and had his bowler hat hammered down over his eyes. As he fought with one hand to raise it, laughter filled the bus to overflowing and thus they sped merrily through the London night…. Then, UN-consciously, there is his unfortunate speech impediment which causes him, an extremely large and brawny fellow, to turn all his R’s into W’s. It nearly dwives us cwazy at times, twying to keep faces stwaight. It took us days to reach any sensible conclusions following a conversation on Rotary Mower down at Brewer’s.

Allan’s foot has finally healed (touch wood). So many times it seemed all right, and next day it would be open and weeping again. Then a piece of splintered bone came out and it has stayed healed ever since. He had another week’s trouble with his ankle – trying to throw his weight off the ball of the foot caused so much irritation against his boot that an infection started there. He was laid up several days with that. But the past week he’s been fine, thank goodness, and has had the dressings off for the first time in 2 months.

The two of us had a Day Off, just before leaving Paradise Lodge. A neighbour who is extremelygood with kids, stayed the night with Nadina and Keith. We had to get the jeep fixed, buy supplies and whatnot before leaving civilization. We stayed at The Hotel overnight, ate in the dining room,and had what would have been a routine trip to town some years ago, but what we now consider A Time. We visited friends, and also made a tape recording of the script I did for CBC. We both thought the latter turned out very well, so I was terribly disappointed when they labelled it “Not up to broadcast standards” and returned it. So Eileen Laurie will be reading it (next Sept.) on Trans Canada Matinee…meantime I sent it off to BBC. I sent off a set of photos to Alaska Sportsman and they were snapped up like mad. The photographer’s field is a far broader one than the writer’s, I can see that – but their pay is correspondingly lower.

Well, yesterday (Sunday) has evolved into today (Washday) and we’ve had company already this morning amid all the litter of baby bottles and power saws and whatnot. A little Dutch man is preparing to go logging behind our place and he is here with a very polite Young Dutch Man, looking things over. Their manners are a pleasant surprise in this day and age.

I will never have time to write all this down again in my journal, so would you save this from the flames where it probably belongs, and return it with your next letter? It’s a weird plan, but helps me in writing. I whomped up a story in 2 evenings last week from just such oddments – and with Allan’s photographs, have a strong hunch it will bring in another month’s groceries. Oddly enough, it’s the small, tedious details that make the story – if you have only the broad outline and can’t fill in the meat on the bird’s skeleton, you have no story that anybody cares to read.

Now I must get this washload out before it shreds. thanks for your letters…hope you have a splendid tour this summer.

(signature written in pen, using her first name (Mary) with a handwritten postscript)

Father’s Day – Sol Schoenbach, teacher

Father’s Day… Though our own father’s come first, our professional mentor fathers are very important.

I’ve had great bassoon teachers, including Bernard Garfield, Sol Schoenbach, Christopher Millard and Gerald Corey. All of them were hugely successful and gifted performers. And fathers. And as teachers, they all gave their best and remained friends with me.

Yesterday, for the first time in years, I pulled out a letter that I have kept in my bassoon case since early in my career.  Every time I buy a new bassoon, this old letter comes with me. I have included both the original and a typewritten version for those who can’t easily read Sol’s rapid cursive. I have tried to maintain his poetic capitalizations of certain nouns.

Back in the days of pen-and-paper, I wrote regularly to all my teachers and while I have kept all of their replies, this missive from Sol is the only letter that has traveled with me.  Seeing it in my case grounds me and makes me feel at home wherever I am in the world.  He opens with a review of a recital recording that I had sent him (cassette tape) and adds a suggestion for how to plan my career in Canada, and ends with a glimpse into his own busy life with career and family. I went on to make commercial recordings of all the works that were on that long-ago recital.  And I did my best to follow his career recommendations in the shallow soil of the Canadian garden. He wasn’t right about everything, but he kept me moving forward.

As a teacher, Sol was always utterly candid. He even let me drag a giant cassette recorder into a lesson at a time when that was not common. Though I needed his insight and support, I felt like an equal.  He and his beloved wife (a visual artist) Bertha welcomed me into their home though Bertha would always leave us to have our intense bassoon-rich conversations that would turn into duets and dinner.  Luckily for them, I lived far away, so these were annual or semi-annual events.


This kind of support and comraderie lasted for Sol’s full lifetime and I see now that it helps me even now that he is gone.  Sol launched many great bassoonists and also worked throughout his life to better the lives of all other musicians.  This is so far beyond the current cult of brand-name bassoon teachers and institutions but don’t get me started. Anyway, google his name: Sol Schoenbach.  And here is the video of his life story… raw footage filmed by me at Domain Forget.

Be good to your teachers if they have been good to you. Mine were all good to me and celebrated both bassoon and the joys of being alive.  Happy Father’s Day.




Sol’s letter to Nadina Mackie – June 15, 1989
Chere Nadina:  Bravissimo! I’m in shock from such a great tape.  Can’t find any fault and wanted more.  Your Telemann was a tour de force, your Boismortier was in style and taste. Your harpsichord resonated beautifully + the player was superb (Why not give it to the country that nurtured you. CIM has lots of worldly possessions) [reference to an earlier letter where I thought of donating my little  harpsichord to Curtis]. The Hétu fascinated me. Your ascending legatos were as Shakespeare writes in his sonnet — “Like as the waves make to the pebbled shore, Each giving way to the one that went before!” But it was the Bitsch that took me over completely.  Beginning with a sensuous, almost erotic sound and climaxing on the thrilling “E’s”.  The last mv’t. with an inevitability that swept me along to a breathless ending.  Never heard anything to equal that.  Thanks + send more.
            Your tone is much better and smooth and round as a baby’s Backside.  Tone, Tongue, Technique, Phrasing all super. 
            So what happened in Toronto on June 9?? [reference to whichever principal bassoon audition happened on June 9, 1989] Hopefully they were as impressed as I was.  Returned from hot Sarasota June 13th. Great class of 10 Bassoonists and chamber music.  Very pleasant to renew old friendships.  The Festival is most successful.
            You are heavily recorded and must make lots of $$$’s. Save them for the big escape: Hoenich [principal bassoon of MSO at the time] is promoted up [to assistant conductor] and you have a great garden to cultivate right there.  All our loving best and thanks for thrilling an “old man.”

Heart much improved.  Preparing for our 50th on July 2ndsponsored by our son Peter + Anne


Family Day 2015

I visited my Dad on Family Day.

I left Toronto with a truck full of groceries from the Korean supermarket next to my Toronto apartment and drove north in record cold temperatures (not really that cold) and the blazing sun that slowly morphed into a magenta and golden sunset as I neared Parry Sound.

After getting a few more supplies, I arrived at Dad’s house after dark, a gazillion stars vibrating in the northern sky, snow crunching loud under my four wheel drive tires.

Packed the groceries into the house and hugged my Dad and Janice, then headed to the basement to practise.  I know that Dad never minds hearing me play, and I blast unreservedly through scales and music, still feeling the rush of the happiness that I had from playing the Colgrass house concert the previous night.

Family Day dawned even brighter and colder.  Dad now struggles with daily tasks because of Parkinson’s, but he NEVER gives up, even though it exhausts him.  Janice said that he is always alive, always interested, always wanting to work even though he is 89 years old and tired as hell.

I get to wake up in the last house that Dad will build with his own strong hands.  I put my stuff onto tables that he has built for me though maybe now he doesn’t quite remember doing the work. I get to see him continue to deal with life on his own terms.  It is not easy, but the house is real and beautiful, just like my Dad.  I always say I am sorry that I have to go back to the city, sometimes just for one rehearsal or one student, but Dad always says, “it’s all important” and he means it.

Thanks, Dad.  For all that you have done and continue to do.  You inspire me.

One of two folding reed tables that Dad built for me in 2006 when I was teaching at four universities in three cities and two countries plus starting my serious solo touring career…
all I had to do was remove the two small wooden wedges in the cross bar and I could fold the legs and carry the table under one arm, fling in the back of my truck and drive to the next school.
Now, I am based at U of T and there are 3 custom reed desks built by my Dad, so I can keep the tables in the northern house.


Here’s the view to the northern metropolis of trees, birds and creatures.
Gets noisy sometimes.


Thinking a lot about my dear parents… Dad recovering from surgery and still ready to take on the world at the age of 88… my Mom so strong in my memory.

They love/d me so much!

Christmas makes me remember their fiery spirits and how they tried to make it a wonderful time for me and my brother Keith even as it brought to the fore all of the anomalies of our family… too bad they didn’t know they did not have to be the “perfect” family, but that their fierce love and spiky spirits were beyond perfect.

I’ll try to tell them.  Again.

Nadina with B. Allan Mackie (a.k.a. Slim) at Silloep Hills Ranch, B.C. 1959

Nadina with Mary Mackie (a.k.a. B.C. Mary) at Silloep Hills Ranch,  B.C., 1959



Conceptually Possible – Christmas and reeds

Christmas day and very nice to be up north with Dad and Jake and even the stupid cat, Diva.  She is happy to be with all of us, very interested in all the new smells and makes the weird, jaw-vibrato-cat-must-kill-bird sounds when she spots the many blue jays on Dad’s balcony feeder.

Last year Mom was still with us.  Jake was with his Dad.  Linda Harriman was still looking after my parents (she is now back in Alberta). I made a prime rib roast for my folks last year, but really Dad is the one who likes it most, so I made it again this year.  This is my third roast and I am getting almost casually competent.  My son said it was delicious.  I do not take these compliments lightly.  Dad is always appreciative, but tonight he was actually beaming.  With more bad health news on the horizon for him, and increasing weakness, I am thrilled when anything lifts his spirits.  The other thing that actually made him laugh out loud was a Banksy image of a chicken glaring at a fried egg in a black pan… somehow it just struck him right.  I enjoy cooking for him though I have a pathological dread being cast in the role of constant cook… I am not domestic but I love food. And love seeing Dad eat.

Postcard perfect day outside… jewel-blue sky, luminous sun, sparkling snow, elegant trees both near and far.  Did not leave the house, and finished 9 more freehand shaped and profiled blanks, bringing my total to 100 this year.

I am fixated on numbers when it comes to reeds.  First of all, I like new reeds, and need a minimum of 10 per month to actually have newish reeds for each concert.  This year, I fell behind and actually did a recital on an ancient reed, an experience that I never want to repeat, hence the current push to get the numbers up for the coming season.

I quickly googled to see if other people are doing the freehand approach.  I am sure that I am not the only one, but if there are others, they are staying quiet for the time being.  Or perhaps they use different terminology.

I have now been making reeds this way for 18 months, producing 173 reeds thus far.  I these reeds have been heard on all my recitals, concerti, chamber music and orchestral playing (first, second and third bassoon).  I have released one recording that I made two months after starting in this style (Vivaldi Volume I) and am about to release my second album (Canadian Concerto Project I).

This method takes very little equipment…. xacto knife, pencil, ruler, easel, sandpaper, file and nail file.  It is cheap and all of the extra practise of looking and assessing can be easily applied to the mechanized processes of shaping and profiling.  My good old Dad has made 4 new maple easels despite how hard it is for him to stand and see.

Each time I start one of these reeds from a piece of gouged and profiled cane, it feels like it is a conceptual impossibility.  I suppose that is from years of training in the use of mechanized tools.  And yet, 173 reeds have emerged from the mountains of sawdust on my various reed tables and have gone on to concert halls across the continent.  Conceptually possible.

Merry Christmas and Joy to all of you who take the time to read my thoughts, thank you.
And thanks to Nic McGegan for sending this absolutely heavenly image.


Grace – Return from Japan with Dad, Dec 17, 2012

I haven’t written since our return from Japan.  Using the unusual gift of some free time to finally organize my office.  And to woodshed the Berio Sequenza XII, coming up soon.  And visiting with Nic McGegan, here to conduct 5 concerts of Messiah with the Toronto Symphony.  And trying to make a nod towards Christmas…

Almost a week has passed since our return and I am left with an amazing sense of gratitude from the time in Japan… even including the plane ride home. I sat with a young American who was returning home via Tokyo after her first year of teaching English in Korea.  My armchair receptacle for my headset was not accepting the plug in… I despaired, thinking of the 12 hour plane ride and my thwarted plan to indulge in as many movies as possible.  She calmly suggested that it might work anyway.  When I checked, it did!  So I held it in place, then half an hour later, asked the steward for an elastic band.  While he hesitated (why did I think he would have one??) my seat mate whipped off one of her hair elastics and handed it to me.  I put it around the armrest, and the sideways pressure pushed the plug into contact, relieving me of the duty of holding it in place.  The easy generosity of my seat mate, from her basic pragmatic optimism to her responsiveness, extended the sensation of grace that lingers from my time in Japan.

My Dad was very very very tired on the return trip and only rose from his seat once.  The effort was so great for him that I spent the rest of the trip hopping over him by stepping on the armrests… he didn’t mind.  Watching him struggle, his unresponsive legs so heavy, his limbs so tired, but never giving up, made me realize anew how deeply he needed to make this trip.  If he only did what was easy for him, he would not have gone.  But his heart called to these people and they responded.  Dai told me that they did not spread the word of Dad’s visit too much because  many more people would have come and the event would have been unmanageable given our last-minute preparations.  Yet it all felt like it had been planned for months and that it went off without a hitch.  Our Japanese friends have all written to ask after Dad… he went back up north the day after our return, eager to be back in his own house but, as always, missing me and his friends.  He calls to thank me for the journey when it was he who made it possible… his grace is beyond conscious thought.

To be around people who have allowed themselves to be inspired by my father was a privilege that goes beyond words.  He never accepts personal credit for the work and motivation of others, but he feels so happy in the company of those who have worked side-by-side with him.  It will take me years to understand more, but I feel there is a chance.  For now, I know that I want to return to Japan to experience more of this incredible culture and to see my new friends again.