Cultural artist and educator Pat “Panman Pat” McNeilly got more than he bargained for when he visited the optometrist three years ago to be outfitted with eyeglasses. He learned that he was suffering from open angle or chronic glaucoma which is the leading cause of blindness among adults in Canada and is particularly dangerous because it can progress gradually and go unnoticed for many years.
The 66-year-old McNeilly, who holds a Diploma in Education from Queen’s University and is a member of the Ontario College of Teachers, has 20 per cent vision in his left eye and just 10 per cent through the right and carries a Canadian National Institute For The Blind (CNIB) identification card instituted last June for Ontarians who are blind or partially sighted.
“To be pronounced legally blind was difficult,” McNeilly told Share last Friday night where he was recognized for his promotion of the carnival arts in Canada.
Twenty five years ago, McNeilly introduced steelband as a formal high school music credit course in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). He has also adjudicated several Toronto Catholic School Board music festivals.
The two-time Calypso Monarch and Juno award winner made a strong return to the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) competition in 2007 after a 10-year absence, finishing second behind Structure. He was the oldest participant in that year’s event.
McNeilly, who published Hands on Steelpan: Teachers Guide and Student Companion to the Art of Playing Steelpan, was the only pan player at the inaugural 1967 Caribana.
“I have been in the entertainment business for 50 years and I have enjoyed every moment,” said McNeilly who taught for eight years in Trinidad & Tobago before returning to Canada in 2005. “There have been bumps along the way, but it feels good to be recognized and to be able to at least see the award and the many people with whom I have enjoyed great relationships over the years. This is a signal moment in my life.”
Frances Lochan, who played mas’ in T & T with late legend George Bailey, was ecstatic to learn that there was a carnival in Toronto when she moved here in 1970.
“My father (Ulric Phillips) was a big mas’ player and we all took part in the festivities back home, so I was so glad to know there was something like this in Canada,” said the Kathy Searles Memorial Award winner.
Lochan, who has been an Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities employment training consultant for 35 years, co-founded the Professionals calypso tent, volunteered with Pan Alive for four years and has been the King & Queen of the Bands event manager for the past five years.
She and her husband – calypsonian/folklorist Dick Lochan – have been married for 36 years.
Searles, who died in December 2008, made an extensive and continuous contribution to Toronto’s Caribana from its inception in 1967 when she served on the Caribbean Centennial Committee board up until three years ago when she last attended the parade.
Glenda Bostic turned down the opportunity to be recognized last year, insisting instead that her daughter, Natasha, be honoured. Last Friday, it was the mother’s turn to be celebrated for nearly three decades of volunteerism, mainly with the OCPA.
“This is a passion for me,” said the retired registered nurse and former Trinidad & Tobago Foreign Service employee.
Pan pioneer and cultural ambassador Elton “Smokey” John, who passed away last month, was posthumously honoured. He was a member of the T & T Steelband Orchestra which participated in Montreal’s Expo ’67 and the founder of the Mississauga Academy of Steelpan Music.
“That academy is his legacy,” said veteran steelpan player/arranger Ian Jones. “That was his life.”
Three-time King of the Bands winner and carnival administrator John Kam was also honoured at the event.
Proceeds from the gala will go to the Rita Cox Endowment Fund which supports the Toronto Public Library’s Black & Caribbean Heritage Collection.
Cox joined the library in 1960 and was promoted to head librarian 12 years later at the Parkdale branch where she pioneered the library’s Black Heritage & West Indian Resource Collection, renamed the Black & Caribbean Heritage Collection.
In 2006, the collection, which features nearly 16,000 print and audio visual materials on the Black and Caribbean historical and cultural experience, was renamed after Cox.
“Currently, the endowment is valued at about $32,000 and tonight, with your generosity, we have a chance to double that amount,” said Toronto Public Library Foundation president and director of development, Heather Turnbull. “This is a chance for you to contribute to a very good cause.”
This year’s Junior King and Queen of the Bands – Demeko Minott of Carnival Nationz and Celena Seusahai of Tribal Knights – greeted patrons in their colorful winning costumes outside the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex.
“This is fun,” said Seusahai, the daughter of bandleader Dexter Seusahai who has been playing mas’ since she was six years old.