Educator and cultural artist, Patrick “Panman Pat” McNeilly, was honoured by his former high school last weekend.
Hillview College in Trinidad, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month, recognized McNeilly for his educational and cultural contributions at an awards dinner.
He went to Hillview – formerly Naparima College, which was a Canadian missionary secondary boys school – after leaving Curepe Canadian Indian Mission School, now Curepe Presbyterian School.
“Attending Hillview prepared me for life when I came to Canada,” said McNeilly, who started the first Trinidad & Tobago school steelband in his second year in high school. “Most of the subjects were taught by Canadian teachers and locals with university training in Canada.”
McNeilly dedicated Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, which he played on pan at last Saturday’s awards ceremony – to close friend, Dennis Renwick, who died two weeks ago.
Migrating to Canada in 1966 after teaching geography for a month and playing bass for nearly a year at a popular Port-of-Spain nightclub, McNeilly spent four years with Toronto Police Service as a constable assigned to 14 Division. He resigned in 1972 to pursue a cultural career.
McNeilly played an integral part in helping the Naparima Alumni Association of Canada (NAAC) establish a steelband, Panache.
The only steelpan player at the inaugural Caribbean Carnival in the city five years earlier, McNeilly introduced the musical instrument as a formal high school music credit in the Toronto District School Board, published Hands on Steelpan: Teachers Guide and Student Companion to the Art of Playing Steelpan and adjudicated several Toronto District Catholic School Board music festivals.
The holder of a Diploma in Education from Queen’s University and an Ontario College of Teachers member, McNeilly is a two-time Calypso Monarch winner and 1991 Juno award recipient who returned to the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) in 2007 after a 10-year absence. He was the oldest participant that year.
He spent nine years in T & T promoting steelpan music in school and singing in calypso tents before returning to Toronto in 2004. Nine years ago, he was diagnosed with chronic glaucoma, which is the leading cause of blindness among adults in Canada and is particularly dangerous because it can gradually progress and go unnoticed for many years.
Though he carries a Canadian National Institute for the Blind identification card instituted in June 2011 for Ontarians who are blind or partially sighted, McNeilly has not slowed down.
He performs regularly at community events and finished fourth in last year’s OCPA competition even though he walked off the stage midway through his second presentation, Get off the Fence. He claims an audible feedback from the drum machine was too distracting for him to continue.