Back in the 1980s, when Donna Hannah’s mother was living at Mt. Cartier Court, she used to come up and play music for her. She would bring up her guitar and accordion and use the piano at the residence and play songs that her own parents used to play for her as a kid.
When her mother passed away, the staff at Mt. Cartier Court asked her to come back. “They said it was so much easier with the patients after we played here,” Hannah told me before one of her weekly performances at Mt. Cartier with the Selkirk Ramblers.
Encouraged, Hannah kept coming up. Slowly, she started to grow a band. First, it was her friend Len Best who pushed her to start a jam session. They both liked country and western, so they started playing together – Hannah on piano and Best on guitar.
More people started showing up at her home for Sunday afternoon jam sessions and soon enough they had a full-fledged band going that would play weekly gigs at Mt. Cartier Court to entertain the residents there.
Players have come and gone but the Selkirk Ramblers have kept going.
For Hannah, the journey started as a kid growing up in Albert Canyon. She started playing music on the school piano and not long after her father gave her and her sister a guitar for Christmas.
“She didn’t like it too much so I got to use it most of the time,” she said.
The family moved to Revelstoke and there she started taking lessons with the music teacher in town. He pushed her to buy a new guitar.
“He said my talent was far better than what that guitar could do,” she said.
Hannah pointed over to her guitar. “That’s the same guitar right there. It’s 65 years old. It’s my pride and joy.”
She would play by herself or whoever was around, including the occasional all-night jam sessions with her neighbour.
The Selkirk Ramblers began in the ‘90s, first with Best, and then with more people joining up.
Hannah has an open door policy for her jam sessions. “If anyone arrives at my door and asks to join, we let them in,” she said. She told the story of one nervous kid who joined in one day, played for hours, but never returned.
Some people, like Best and Reg Lehman have gotten sick and can’t play anymore. Others like Neil Purchase, have moved away, so they can’t play as much.
I took in part of their performance at Mt. Cartier earlier this month. There were seven members there playing a mix of jaunty old-time country songs.
There was Bob and Melanie Melnyk – the former on bass and the latter on percussion. They joined up last year. There was Laura Stovel, who only recently joined the band on fiddle.
Lawrence Davis was playing guitar and singing. “Somebody said I should go to a jam session at your place about four or five years ago,” he said. “Next thing you know, I’m always there.”
Carol Silano joined about two years ago. “I just heard they were having some fun and thought I’d join in and find out,” she said. “I used to play with Donna and Len years ago.”
The songbook includes country songs, hymnal tunes and pop songs. The set I saw opened with Side by Side, a traditional song that Gus Kahn and Harry M. Woods wrote in 1927. They played Chattanooga Shone Shine Boy, a pop song performed by the likes of Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. They played Crazy Arms, a 1950s honky tonk number. The large song book also includes the likes of Amazing Grace and a tune by Elvis Presley.
Why does Hannah, who’s in her ‘80s, keep doing it? “I like music to start with,” she said. “I like it because it helps the patients, or people, that are here. It helps the people in Moberley as well. It’s a light they can look forward to.”
The Selkirk Ramblers play every Friday at Mt. Cartier Court and every Monday at Moberley Manor. They also play at special occasions when asked. If you want to join in, just knock on Hannah’s door on a Sunday afternoon.