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BILL and SUE-ON HILLMAN: A 50-YEAR MUSICAL ODYSSEY
HILLMAN TRAVEL ADVENTURES

ROAD TALES II
CANADA
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Text Supplement to our main Canada Section
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ROAD TALES II:  CANADA
Between music tours and teaching we have travelled extensively across Canada. Many of these travels are described in our Musical Odyssey memoirs. So many of our early travels across Canada are on album prints, slides, and in early digital formats.

Some of our Canadian destinations through the years include every province except PEI, most of Manitoba including the North, St. John's, Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal Expo 67, Ottawa, All of Southern Ontario, The Prairies: Diefenbaker home, PA Penitentiary, W. Edmonton Mall, Calgary Stampede, Military Bases, Banff, Vancouver, Victoria . . . and on and on.

Wartime Travels with the Royal Canadian Navy
I was conceived in Halifax where my dad was serving with the Royal Canadian Navy. As the time of my birth approached my mom returned to the Campbell farm in Strathclair to be home with her parents for my birth. Later, my mom and I returned to the East Coast to be with my dad who was now stationed in St. John's, Newfoundland. The ferry to Newfoundland had been recently torpedoed by a German U-boat so we had to take a TransCanada flight to the island. My parents boarded in a house overlooking the harbour and docks where dad worked on the RCN ships.

Forty years later Sue-On and I returned to St. John's and visited the home where my parents and I had lived. The landlady fondly remembered my dad and mom and young baby Billie. She also remembered how my parents loved music and had many jam sessions in their rooms.

After St. John's my dad was stationed at Esquimalt on Vancouver Island. We travelled across Canada by train. Some of my first memories are of the smell of smoke and cinders from the railway steam locomotives. There are many photos of me as a toddler playing with neighbour children and even climbing a ladder to fruit trees behind our house. Dad volunteered to serve on a joint Canada/England/Australia/USA convoy to the Pacific to free the POWs in Hong Kong and to accept the Jap surrender. Dad's ship, HMCS Prince Robert was chosen to be first to free the Canadian POWs since it was the ship that had transported these troops to Hong Kong before the Jap invasion. An early memory is sitting on his knee while he said his goodbyes.

Four decades later Sue-On and I returned to Vancouver Island, this time to visit my sister Bonnie and her husband Dr. Michael Schneider who worked for a time in Port Alberni before moving to Calgary Foothills Hospital and later to Saudi Arabi whre he spent 20 years as a surgeon and instructor on laser surgery. We enjoyed exploring many of the sites that my parents had mentioned from our WWII stay on the island. On a later visit to Victoria we visited former bandmate Alan Jones who had a physiotherapy practise. Alan had played organ with us for many of the gigs during our first two-month long music tour of England. He had also played on some of the tracks on our London recording session.

Teenage Travels with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets
After the war my parents had taken over the family farm at Strathclair - a great place to raise my sister Bonnie and me. Our family worked hard and didn't have an opportunity to travel during those farming years. The only exceptions were my trips as a cadet during my eight years as a Royal Canadian Air Cadet. Our 317 Strathclair Squadron was picked up by a military bus many times for day-long sessions at CJATC Rivers -- an RCAF military base. These visits involved classes, games in the gym, drill, weapons firing at the shooting range -- and the more exciting flights in a DC3 Dakota and a Bell Helicopter. Seated on the side "benches" in the rough-flying Dakota wasn't much fun for a kid proned to air sickness but the helicopter ride over Manitoba farmland south of home was a great thrill. We even landed on a steep hill near the Rivers Golf Course - I was constantly reminded to duck when exiting the chopper. A warning that the pilot himself unfortunately didn't heed. A few years later he left the air force to work for a BC logging company and was beheaded while exiting the craft that had landed on some rough ground.

My first Cadet Camp experience was at St. Jean, Quebec near Montreal. I left from Strathclair CPR station in a passenger train driven by one of the last steam locomotives in service. We then left from CF Base Winnipeg on a Flying Boxcar - C-119. A plane that was often used in parachute drops - I wasn't given a chance to jump out of the plane en route but we did have a bit of excitement. The plane lost one engine and had to make an unscheduled landing at Toronto. While at the camp we had many bus trips around the country and into Montreal. We even visted St. Helen's Island which a few years later would be the site of Expo 67 which Sue-On and I would have a chance to visit. One standout memory was of guitar jam sessions with another budding guitar player.

My second major trip via Air Cadets was to the RCAF base on Sea Island near Vancouver. We made this on a commercial airliner. While there I was taken for a flight over Vancouver Island in an RCAF Beechcraft Expeditor aircraft. I was thrilled when the pilot allowed me to take the controls for a while. Another unforgettable experience was taking part in the colour party on the airport tarmac to greet Princess Margaret when her Royal aircraft landed at the base to begin a tour of Canada. Following this we were bussed to Empire Stadium where I was thrilled to see my first football game under lights -- made even more memorable because I had volunteered to be an usher while wearing my cadet uniform. In the years since, the Vancouver International Airport has been moved to the Sea Island location and we've flown in and out of there numerous times on our trips to Asia and Southern California.


Sue-On's early travel experiences were very different. Her mom had smuggled her as a toddler out of Red China to Hong Kong with a neighbour woman's family. Years later when Canadian Immigration laws relented the ten-year-old and her mom flew by airliner from Hong Kong to Canada, followed by a long ride from Winnipeg to Newdale where her grandfather and father had run a restaurant for many decades. When we met we both dreamed of the time when we could be together, make music together and see the world. When she turned 18 and we married we were at last able to make these dreams come true.

EXPO 67 ~ MONTREAL
Our first vehicle was a used Rambler station wagon in which we drove to Banff for our honeymoon. Next year we drove this faithfull sputtering vehicle to Ottawa and then on to Montreal for Expo 67. Coincidentally we stayed with my dad's sister Myrna and her husband Lt. Col. Jim Grant who was a helicopter pilot stationed at St. Jean. I had vivid memories of when Uncle Jim was taking helicopter training in nearby CJATC Rivers and landed his chopper out on our farm's pasture a few times. This huge celebration of Canada's 100th birthday ran from April 27 to October 29 and was considered to be the most successful World's Fair of the 20th century -- an unforgettable experience. The highlight for us was probably the Labyrinth Pavilion which featured National Film Board of Canada film and music from a show we had done at the Austin's Threshermen's Reunion two years before. The show ran non-stop all day, every day of the Exposition. The film was projected on a wrap-around split screen -- quite revolutionary for its time. It was a very popular pavilion and we had to wait in a long queue before entry.

NEWFOUNDLAND
After Expo we bravely carried on to the maritimes and eventually took the ferry across to Newfoundland. We had slept in the station wagon during most of the trip. After docking at Corner Brook we found a quiet spot to park for the night in school yard. We had settled in nicely for the night when a police officer rapped on our car window. There had been a series of break-ins and vandalism at the school and he thought we looked rather suspicious. We innocently convinced him that we were just weary travellers from the prairies and he gave us permission to stay.

We eventually made our way to St. John's where we explored all the usual tourist sites including locations that my parents had described from our WWII stay there. We drove up Signal Hill where fortifications had protected the harbour below for centuries, right up to World War II. The view of the harbour from the famous Cabot Tower was certainly worth the visit. This is the tower from which Marconi made the first Trans-Atlantic radio broadcast in 1901. It was also an excellent place to park for the night. We remember being kept awake for much of the night by the sound of a dog lapping water. By the light of day, however, we found that the lapping sound was caused by waves from the nearby reservoir - George's Pond - breaking on the shore.

When I reformed our band so that Sue-On could join me, we began six years of summer tours of Exhibitions for the Federal Grain Company who provided a portable stage and coach. During those years we usually lived in our main tour bus but we also travelled in our station wagon with a tent trailer, then a Volkswagan Westfalia camper and eventually in a Ford Econoline Motor Home. Following those exhibition tours, Sue-On and I and Barry Forman performed as a featured trio on USA Grandstand Shows. Around that time we also did countless one-nighters, TV shows, and even flew in to do shows at the Island Lake Indian Reserve in Northern Manitoba. Upon landing, we and all our heavy music equipment were transported across the lakes to the gig site on two canoes. The long speaker columns were placed precariously across the gunwales of the canoes. Many of these experiences are described in the Gig Notes section of this book.

Although I worked full time as a high school teacher and then as a University professor for 40 years, our weekends and summers were spent performing -- either one-nighters or summer tours. Following each summer's tours we almost always hit the road to explore every Canadian province and American state.


TO BE CONTINUED . . . MUCH MORE
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