SAULT STE. MARIE—Northern Ontario has an immense cadre of talented country musicians who often don’t get the kind of recognition they deserve, that’s what makes the 33rd Northern Ontario Country Music Association’s (NOCMA) annual awards night such an important event on the country music calendar.
The event returned this year following a two-year hiatus, with a packed busload of Island country music fans and musicians making the pilgrimage to the Quattro Hotel and Conference Centre in Sault Ste. Marie this past weekend.
“Everybody had a great time,” shared Grand Northern Opry inductee and longtime supporter of the event Robbie Shawana of Wiikwemkoong. He noted that the trip to and from the event from Manitoulin on the bus is almost as entertaining as the event itself. “The awards night was really well organized,” said Mr. Shawana, who credited district rep Ben Lentir with making the event such a success.“Things did go really well,” admitted Mr. Lentir, who along with his wife Crystal are the NOCMA representatives for Manitoulin. Mr. Lentir has organized the last three events. “It was a great weekend and a great success. We had great attendance and had a lot of great country music take place onstage. Everybody said they were looking forward to next year.”
Mr. Lentir thanked the volunteers who help make the event a success. “We all do it for the love of the music,” he said. “Everything we do is for the music and to recognize those incredibly talented people we have here in the North who don’t always get the recognition they deserve.”
NOCMA has representatives all across Northern Ontario, noted Mr. Lentir, who added that this year’s awards night held some bittersweet memories due to missing faces.
“There were a couple of people who passed within a few days of each other who were very instrumental in NOCMA,” he said. Those included NOCMA founder Dave Patterson, whose efforts 33 years ago led to the founding of NOCMA, the Great Northern Opry and the Northern Ontario Country Music Hall of Fame and Ivan Nadeau of Timmins, an inductee who played a big role throughout the years.
This year’s inductees into the Great Northern Opry included Urban Mejaki of Wiikwemkoong, whose presence has graced Island stages for decades, most often in the background as a bass player. Mr. Mejaki was honoured with a couple of well-attended events at the Tehkummah Seniors Hall leading up to his induction. Other Great Northern Opry inductees this year were: Dan Champagne, Timmins District; Claude Rocheleau, Timmins District; Lois Jones, Algoma District (representing Blind River); Kevin Meisenheimer, North Bay District; Claude Lecuyer, North Bay District (representing Sturgeon Falls); the aforementioned Mr. Mejaki, Manitoulin District (Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory); and Rolly Lafantaisie, Sudbury District.
In addition to the Grand Northern Opry, the NOCMA Hall of Fame saw new inductees as well, Ron Schryer, Algoma District (representing Sault Ste. Marie) and Scott Infanti, Sudbury District (representing Sault Ste Marie and Britt).