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Hiebert on Heritage: Jon Sloan and friends

Jon and I go back a long way – 47 years and some months to be exact when we began our teaching careers at Cairns Junior High School in 1970. I remember Jon playing guitar for his Grade 7 class.

Jon and I go back a long way – 47 years and some months to be exact when we began our teaching careers at Cairns Junior High School in 1970. I remember Jon playing guitar for his Grade 7 class. He was good but I didn’t realize until recently that he is really good and can really sing (strange as that may sound). I guess it’s because after five years at Cairns, we went our separate ways and lost touch.


I interviewed Jon at his home in Wilkie (412 First Street East) on Friday, Jan. 27.


Jon Elmer Sloan was born to Ted and Evelyn (nee Andrew) Sloan on Jan. 19, 1949 at Campbell River, B.C. He took his Grades 1 to 4 at Keystone School (a rural school). It was the first school north of the Saskatchewan River. The school was built in 1904. It was a small school with a new teacher every year. There were only 12 students who were all related and friends with each other. Jon took his Grades 5 through 12 at Maymont Central School and graduated in 1967. Jon’s favourite subjects were sports and history. He had no interest in school. He definitely was not an academic. Despite his disinterest in education, he enrolled in the University of Saskatchewan Avenue A campus for one year and then one year at the College of Education main campus. This was sufficient for Jon to qualify for a Standard A teaching certificate (he got his B.ed and Professional A teaching certificate in 1975 by taking night and summer school classes).


During his first year of university in 1969, Jon met Marilyn Hollowell. They married the next year. Of this union were born two boys, Curtis (born in 1975) and Devon (born in 1977). Curtis specializes in cyber security and works for a big energy company. Devon is an accountant in Kelowna.


As mentioned, Jon began his teaching career at Cairns Junior High School (Walter Kostyna, principal) and logged five years (1970-1975). Shortly after coming on board, he teamed up with Vice-Principal Keith Rogers to teach outdoor education. The course was integrated with academic subjects. Both students and teachers loved it. I remember Jon was always there for his students. He created a highly innovative classroom that the kids truly appreciated. On one occasion, he designed and built a stage (complete with a backdrop and stairs for a Colour Night celebration outside); 150 students walked across the stage to receive their certificates.


During the 1976-77 school year, Jon taught science and library at McKitrick School (Principal Don Stynsky). From there he moved to Alexander School to take the vice-principalship (Paul Nichol, principal). When Alexander closed in 1980, Jon took a break and then moved to Lawrence School. He subsequently quit teaching in 1984 and went farming at Maymont. Jon worked on the family farm for 20 years and then went to work in Brian and Shirley Ducharme’s garage in Maymont. He also worked for Bill Schmidt and Brian McNaughten, two of the finest men to ever walk the earth He also did carpentry for folks around Maymont. He was completely self-taught and had honed his skills on the farm.


Jon built their first home on Foley Drive in 1976. In 1982, Jon was remarried to Connie Brown. The family – Jon, the boys and Connie – had already moved into the house on Foley Drive.


Jon’s musical career:


When Jon was 10 years old, his dad gave him a mandolin. It was 100 years old and a family heirloom. Jon’s dad taught young Jon how to pick and chord in the keys of G, C and D. Jon’s dad also played fiddle so he and Jon with his sisters played together most evenings.


At age 12, Jon bought a second hand guitar for $2 from Jim Beaudoin. It was a ”cowboy guitar” with a covered wagon embossed on the front. When he was 15, Jon bought a Saturn electric guitar from Eaton’s for $35. Jon was steadily improving the quality of his instruments. Jon also bought an old Eaton’s amplifier from a local farmer for $15.


The next phase in Jon’s musical career was to play in a high school band. But first he had to teach his brother, Leroy, to play guitar. The band had a catchy name – The Perfect Solution. Band members included Jon on guitar, Leroy on guitar and vocals, Elwin Parker on guitar and vocals and Harvey Rogers who sang. The foursome played in Fielding and Maymont and were in demand for community shows. Beatle songs were big favourites.


When Jon attended university, he played in a folk group with Leroy and Vivian Fontaine. They were quite a hit with the early 70s hip crowd. Those were the days of hair, beads and bellbottoms. Jon and his band played at the Shadrack (a coffee house) on Second Avenue. They played 40-minute sets which got them in for free. They also got to meet Humphrey and the Dumptrucks. Jon recalled that the band was getting good. On one occasion, the College of Education hired them to play at a banquet. They got food but no money.


When Jon was teaching at Cairns Junior High School, there was always a guitar in the back of his classroom. He also ran a guitar club and gave lessons. Keith Milnthorpe was a notable student. Billy Edlin could really play rock n’ roll. Pam Kelliher was a serious student. But regardless of how accomplished some of his students were, Jon had time for all of them.


In 1982, Jon moved to Alexander School. Sadly, there wasn’t much music. It wasn’t a priority. But there were still family get-togethers with lots of good food and good music.


In 2003, Jon renovated the Osborne house (at 1362-98th Street) and moved his family over. He started having music get-togethers and jam sessions with his friends. Musicians that come to mind included Bill Mazuka, Jack Alm, Albert Varga, Doreen Duchnitsky (professional experience), Pius Fritz, Don Heppner and Dave Hiebert. The pool of talent was awesome.


Despite his many friends and the bond of music among them, Jon faced hardship and tragedy. In 2006, his second wife died after a four-year battle with cancer. She was 52. In order to cope with this devastating loss, Jon’s strategy was to play music.


It is not common knowledge, but Jon has never formed his own band. Instead, he plays with his friends (ie., Jon Sloan and friends). He will play with friends in a certain location for a week and at a different venue with different friends the following week. It’s a novel idea. As far as I know, no other musician has copied this.


The number and diverse venues at which Jon has played is remarkable. He played at Grand Forks, B.C. for example. He also played at Spruce Grove, Alberta at the Horizon Theatre. Ian Tyson played there the week before Jon, Thelma and Doreen took the stage. Both sold the place out. And he’s played for the 10th anniversary at Basha, Alberta (north of Lacombe for the Festival of Stars. He is booked to play every year at Lea Park, Alberta (near Marwayne). In addition, Jon related that he’s played for so many fundraisers that he’s lost count.


Surprising perhaps, given that Jon has played some auspicious venues, his favourite is Independent Living at St. George’s School in Wilkie (where he’s tossed out a friendly challenge; it’s a riot; the people love the music). Second, is the Alex Dillabough Centre-Vida Mcdonald show in Battleford. And, Jon and friends play for the River Heights Lodge every month and have done so for more than 10 years.


As mentioned, community fundraising is a big part of Jon’s life. The list is not exhaustive – he has played at Glenburn Park, Borden, Radisson, Turtleford, Maidstone, Macklin, Unity and Biggar. No pay. It’s about giving and making friends. Jon has made many friends over the years,


In 2015, the Maymont Memorial Hall’s 60th anniversary committee asked the Sloan family to play for a fundraiser which was also a Sloan family reunion. It was a big success. Sharon and Bob Foreman and Erin came from Battleford, and Bob and Sharon’s son Kent and family came from Prince George. Leroy and his kids came from Calgary and Stoney Plain. Shelly Bloom (Jon’s sister) and her kids (Teddy, Josh and Beth) arrived, as did Trudy Ramsay (Jon’s sister) from North Battleford. And so did Coleen Hazlemire (Jon’s niece), as well as Darlene Wood and Elaine Currie (cousins). Jon and friends and the family gathered at the Maymont Memorial Hall. It was a great evening and successful fundraiser for the hall.


In 2016, the Maymont Hall Committee invited Jim Beaudoin, country singer extraordinaire from Spruce Grove, Alta, to headline that year’s fundraiser. Jim, in turn asked Jon, Leroy and Erin Foreman to provide back-up. Thelma did the sound for both years’ shows. The banquet and show were a huge success –a sold out crowd. The hall committee was extremely happy.


In the music business, playing for dances and other venues free are known as freebies. Jon noted that some musicians will not play unless they get paid. But, as mentioned, Jon is different. He will play for gas and expenses. On occasion, he will take cash if it is offered to him as a tip. But he doesn’t charge. Jon noted that it’s always nice to get fed. He also related that Pius Fritz has played for more freebies than anyone.


Jon and friends are busy, too busy in fact. They have had to limit their engagements to eight a month. Again, underlying all of this is the spirit of giving and community support.


On the personal side of Jon’s life, in 2009, he met Thelma Boychuk at a jam session at Jon’s house. Thelma loved music. There was an instant connection. A romance developed. They made a deal. Thelma would learn how to play the steel guitar if Jon would learn how to dance.


For the last seven years, Thelma has been a huge presence in Jon’s life and especially his musical life. Music is the centre of their relationship. Thelma also started singing. And, she does all of the sound on a mixing board.


In conclusion, it has been a pleasure to know Jon all these years. He is a consummate musician with a heart of gold as evidenced by his extensive community work. He has an engaging personality and he loves playing music. (You can reach Jon at 306-918-7505.)