Pat Blythe – Christmas past, NYC, John Harris, N’we Jinan…and Music!

My house looks like Santa barfed up an entire Christmas store. Lights, decorations, bibs and bobs scattered about, the decorating a work in progress and I haven’t even purchased the tree yet! Chris use to chide me on the amount of Christmas paraphernalia I had accumulated over the years so I decided one year to use the minimalist approach. A week before Christmas day Chris asked me when I was going to decorate? Ya can’t win…. So, five containers, an extensive Santa Claus collection and a couple of supplementary boxes heaved up from the basement, I am now sussing and sorting, banging nails, climbing ladders, walking on the counter to get to the top of the cabinets….letting no space go “unChristmased”. Even my musical Charlie Brown Christmas Tree is back in its place of honour.

My first Christmas in Toronto was also my first with Chris. We moved in together December 1, 1979 and it’s that anniversary which meant the most to us. It was the one we celebrated even though we married on a different date six years later. Sherbourne and Shuter, two apartment buildings with bright orange balconies that looked like a six-pack and a twelve-pack. They were actually pretty swank back then. We resided in the twelve-pack, top floor….they called it a  penthouse apartment. We didn’t have much in the way of possessions those first few days. Much of my furniture had been absconded by someone who I had managed a house for in the Junction and the little I had left in London hadn’t arrived in Toronto yet. It would take Chris a few days to pack up his darkroom and move his belongings into our new home.

Nathan Philips Square

Riding the elevator up to inspect our new home Chris got to chatting with the other passenger. In that short run to the 18th floor we became lifelong friends. Martin lived down the hall from us and when he heard our story immediately offered his fold-down couch, all the bedding accoutrement, two champagne glasses and a bottle of orange juice. His extremely generous offer would allow us to spend our first night in our new home in relative comfort. Don’t, under any circumstances, end up with two of you on the fold-down back….there are no legs to support it….if you get my drift.

Christmas was only a few weeks away and I felt the rising panic of creating a happy, festive feeling in our first place together. In my mind, everything had to be, well, as close to perfect as possible. Most important was the tree, then my decorations and all my other froo froo….to make it a home. So, a week or so before Christmas, Chris went to work and I headed over to where Christmas trees were being sold at Church and Isabella. My bits and pieces of furniture had arrived and we had managed to transport the necessities over to the apartment. I was determined to have everything unpacked, sorted and put away and the tree up and decorated BEFORE Chris got home. Then it started to rain. Have you ever dragged a six foot Christmas tree 10 blocks through the streets of Toronto in the pouring rain. No? I don’t recommend it. After drying off and warming up I attacked the boxes. I let the tree drip dry in the bathtub. I can’t remember if we had a tree stand but I do remember somehow tying the tree with whatever I could find into a upright position in the corner of our living room.

The speaker, Chris and THE tree, Christmas 1979

Having an apartment on the top floor of the building meant we had the luxury of 12-foot ceilings. One entire wall in the living room had been papered with cats of the jungle…lions, tigers, leopards and panthers in silver, black and white in relief…..that velvety wallpaper that was so popular in the 70s. We had a mattress as our “couch”, huge pillows that acted as back rests, odd lamps, my antique rocking chair, a glass coffee table, a table and chairs for the raised dining area and of course, the “piece de resistance” and something no respectable apartment can go without…..a good (and powerful) stereo system. Chris brought his Yamaha amp (which I still have), turntable and specially designed, four-foot tall speakers. Having moved from the upstairs of recording studio Cottingham Sound, where he had been living and running his photography business for five years, Chris’s ears had become finely tuned to a good sound and both of us together had a sizeable album collection.

So…..Christmas….. I had the tree up, decorated, all the boxes unpacked and items safely stowed, bed properly made up (if you can make up a waterbed) and some nails pounded into the wall to hang stuff. When Chris walked in the door, the place looked like we had been living there for a while….a tidy, bedecked apartment. To do that in one day tells you how few possessions we had (and my energy levels have never changed). It would take me a month of Sundays to do that 39 years later. Both shocked and pleasantly surprised, he headed straight to the Christmas tree to check and see exactly how it was remaining in an upright position.  I can still hear his belly laugh when he realized how I had tied it up. My “make do” situations continued to feed his sense of humour throughout the ensuring years…..much to my chagrin!

Dave Beatty, Jessica, me, Marika, Tom Eakin, Christmas 1979

Dave with the “Let’s Party” sign, Chris, Tom

We entertained friends at the apartment, spent Christmas Eve with Chris’s dad and headed to London on Christmas day to spend time with my family. It wasn’t until months later I found out how much Christmas was way down on the list of holidays Chris like to celebrate. His childhood memories were not entirely pleasant ones and it was a holiday that he was more than happy to avoid. Living with me was going to make that impossible. He had an intense aversion to all the pomp and circumstance and the enormous, guilt-laden push to buy gifts. Too commercial and too crass! I love the holidays and all the colours and lights that go with it. I find it a warm and joyful time of year….time to spend with friends and family. It would take time to bring him over to bring him over to the  jolly holly side but I was up for the challenge……….

We moved from that first apartment to the Beach in 1981, taking over a very large flat above The Bank of Commerce (now Murphy’s Law) at Queen St E. and Kingston Rd. Gradually, over the years he grew to enjoy the season, especially the entertaining part. There are folks reading this column who will remember our annual Fonding (1982-1989). He was content to simply enjoy the company of close friends and family. Put an apron and chef’s hat on him and he was happiest in the kitchen. All my festive décor, the GingerPennies and Southern Comfort Christmas Cake became part of our own traditions as did his Christmas turkey. He loved it most when baking “season” started. With a bottle of his favourite scotch in hand relaxing on the couch he was my quality control.

Now, five years after his passing, the faux fire is lit and the house is once again adorned with all the lights, bells and shiny things that give Christmas its sparkle, welcoming all who enter. Time to get the tree…..

NYC and Rockefeller Centre…..

Our view of the tree while standing in front of Saks Fifth Avenue

One item on my so-called “bucket list” was to attend the Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Centre in New York City. So, in 2014 I, along with the Merry Widows (that’s another story but suffice to say we had all lost our husbands and formed our own support group), traveled  to NYC for just such an adventure. We booked into the Holiday Inn Express in Hell’s Kitchen and for four days we shopped, rode in the carriage through Central Park, shopped some more, enjoyed some excellent food, continued shopping and attended the lighting of the Christmas tree. The picture above was precisely our view of the tree as the lights were turned on. Was it worth it? After freezing our asses off as well as other parts of our bodies for six hours, the answer is a resounding yes. Why? Three reasons…..first, to see over 50,000 tiny points of light illuminate all at once on a 94 foot tree is truly an eyegasm; second, I got to spend four wonderful days with three beautiful ladies who were and remain a very important part of my life and third, it still gives them something to joke (and groan) about four years later. A very memorable trip indeed.

Man of the hour and a fitting tribute…..

A toast….John Harris

I was fortunate enough to attend a special event at the Harris Institute last week honouring the man himself, John Harris, as he was presented with the Cashbox Canada Legacy Award. Organized by Cashbox Canada Magazine owner Sandy Graham, it was an intimate and very special gathering of friends and family who braved the miserable weather to pay tribute to a man who both professionally (as a manager) and as an educator has been instrumental in the success of so many. Bands and artists such as Lisa Hartt (who performed that evening), Ocean, Tranquility Base, Magic Circus and his record label Rising Records. According to FYI Music News, “in 2017 Harris alumni won 94 award including 10 Junos and faculty members“…..including Martin Pilchner, Bill King, Patrick Duffy, Sam Weller and others….“were nominated for eights others.” I learned so much that evening about a man who has impacted many lives around the world, who is highly respected and admired by his peers, who has survived this business we call music and remains a true gentleman. Very glad to make your acquaintance John Harris. To find out more about the Harris Institute click here

A few snaps of the event…..

l-r – Sandy Graham, Michael Watson, Jane Harbury

Lisa Hartt

l-r – John Rowlands, Don Graham

Jim Norris of Canadian Musician enjoying a laugh

John Harris, ‘Back In The Day’ – Cashbox Legacy Award

If You’re Lookin’ – Tranquility Base

Fun – Tranquility Base

Starwatcher – Lisa Hartt Band (full album)

Give Tomorrow’s Children One More Chance – Ocean

Funnier Man – Ocean

Hampton Avenue….

l-r – Tom Lillington, Dylan Bell, Suba Sankaran, Debbie Fleming

Friend and SING! Toronto founder Pat Silver and I headed out on a rainy Saturday night to see jazz vocal group Hampton Avenue perform at 120 Diner. A fabulous Christmas show I could just sit with my eyes closed and listen to their harmonies ad infinitum. Original material combined with their take on traditional Christmas songs including one from A Charlie Brown Christmas (traditional to me), the evening was filled with huge smiles and melodious voices that have been harmonizing together for 23 years. Original members include founder Debbie Fleming (she of the crystal clear highs), Suba Sankaran, Dylan Bell and Tom Lillington. The group continue to win accolades and share their joy with audiences here and across the pond in the U.K. I didn’t take my camera with me this time (quelle horror!!) as I wanted to simply sit, relax and enjoy the music. The photo Above was taken at a recent private event in the Distillery District.

After the show the two Pats continued on to The Danforth to celebrate the season with a large gathering of friends at restaurant Louis Cifer hosted by Mary Ann Farrell. Plates of food and a couple of libations later we made our way into the night and home. I love this season and closing of another year. It gives us all pause to reflect and reconnect.

Side trip……

l have written about N’we Jinan a few times and these kids still continue to impress me. I was first introduced to them three years ago when Roxanne Tellier sent me a link to one of their videos. I’ve been following them ever since. The music these kids make and lyrics they write are deeply personal, uplifting, strong and truth-telling in their stories. They share their hopes, their beliefs, their dreams and their reality. My heart bleeds for what we have lost, what has been destroyed and washed away. My heart sings for the future and the hope these kids will hold true to their heritage and their futures. There is so much we can learn. I’m not sure who’s listening but we need to sit up and pay attention to what they are sharing with us.

Young and Happy – Onion Creek Cree Nation

Firemakers – Lac La Croix First Nation, Ontario.

Home To Me – Grassy Narrows First Nation

SKICIN IN YOU – Indian Island Penobscot Nation


That’s it for now. One more column before Christmas. So much to do, so little time……I need more batteries!


All photographs ©2018 A Girl With A Camera “The Picture Taker” except the photographs of  Nathan Philips Square and The Rockefeller Christmas Tree


Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Please scroll down and leave a comment. Thank you.

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

One Response to “Pat Blythe – Christmas past, NYC, John Harris, N’we Jinan…and Music!”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    What a beautiful column, so personal and full of the joy of Life. Thank you (for raising the bar yet again 😉 ).

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