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Photo courtesy of the Wooden Sky.

Sing in the holidays with The Wooden Sky

By Christine Seguin on December 9, 2016

The holiday season is the perfect time to explore that oft-repeated notion of being grateful for what we have.  

Though the idea does indeed seem overstated, it isn’t until we really reflect on the suffering and hardship others go through, even in our own community, that we can understand how lucky we are.  

Soon to be an Ottawa holiday staple, The Wooden Sky will be performing on December 12th at the St Alban’s church.  Ticket sales from the show will benefit Carty House, a charity which, since 2001 has provided housing and other services to single female refugees, and their families in the community.  The Wooden Sky have been performing holiday benefit shows in Toronto for seven years and this will be the second year in which the benefit is performed in Ottawa.

I spoke with Gavin Gardiner of The Wooden Sky while he walked his dog on a mild Toronto day, about the history of the holiday shows and his work with a similar organization, Romero House, in Toronto.

“It’s been interesting to see and meet the people that use the services and also the people that provide the services.” Gardiner’s partner, Sarah, works with Romero House and Gavin has been involved with them for several years. “It’s not like a set job title when you sign up to be an intern at one of these places.  You just help out with whatever people need, and that varies so much.  I see them doing anything from trying to find housing to driving them to the store to buy pillows.”

Carty House in Ottawa is unlike a typical shelter or rooming house in that it encourages its residents to fully participate in the operation of the home and its maintenance.  Residents share chores and prepare meals for the entire house.  Not only are they provided housing, they also benefit from a number of services such as counselling, cultural integration programs, language help, employment training, health and legal services.  The women benefit from these facilities and also form important social bonds which often stretch beyond their one-year stay.

“The residents, staff, and volunteers are so grateful that the Wooden Sky is holding a holiday concert fundraiser for us.” Says, Juliet Schimpf, executive director of Carty House.

What a difference every dollar makes! Just last week, a refugee from Burundi appeared at our door step with only the clothing on her back, and not a penny in her purse.  Donations from the community allowed us to purchase a warm hat and gloves, and to give her money for the bus and other necessities.  Another resident arrived a month ago–also from Africa–with shrapnel still lodged in her skin from a bomb that exploded near her home.  Carty House has lined her up with doctors to bring healing to both her mind and body from the trauma she experienced.

Carty House is in the midst of a Christmas appeal, hoping to raise $ 10,000 from its Ottawa neighbours. If you’d like more information or literature about Carty House, please visit their website or speak with one of their volunteers who will be present at the concert.

“Money from the Wooden Sky performances has helped Carty House to deliver medical services, eyeglasses, clothing, bedding/towels, shampoo and other body products, as well as school supplies to 10 refugee women who live with us for a year. Thanks so much to all Wooden Sky fans for supporting Carty House this year. We couldn’t do it without you!”

Speaking with Gavin, it was clear that the aim of helping women and their families was close to his heart. “We were driving some kids from Syria to school for a while and I was so taken by their fearlessness. The four kids, I think the oldest was like 12 and the youngest would have been just starting school, hardly spoke English and they just marched on in. They were just so brave, it was very inspiring to watch.”

The Wooden Sky are also wrapping up their fifth full length album which is due in early 2017.  Gardiner is looking forward to its release.  “We are aiming for some time in March.  It’s a really personal record for me and it explores a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about which is trying to figure out how to be a part of a society and be a contributing member while still working in the profession I’ve chosen.”  After speaking with Gavin and hearing his passion for the work of Romero House and Carty House, it is clear he is succeeding in finding that balance between artistic observer and active participant.

The Wooden Sky play St. Alban’s Church on Monday, December 12th. Tickets are $25 and are available at Vertigo Records, both Compact Music Inc. locations and online.

For more on the Wooden Sky, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.