Doug MacLean, 68, musician, teacher and friend to everyone of all ages is departing Vanderhoof to pursue more opportunities in his field of teaching.
He is taking his instruments and knowledge to the Nisga’a in school district 92. A little known fact about the Nisga’a is that they, along with Fort Simpson, hold one of the oldest traditions of an Aboriginal brass band. Brass bands have been popular with First Nations people for well over a hundred years according to MacLean.
“They didn’t have any way to express themselves at the residential schools,” said MacLean. “So they did what they could through music. They don’t talk about that. The only thing you see in the news is about the horrors of the residential schools but they don’t talk about the music.”
Then he brought a couple binders full of ancient photographs of Aboriginal men with trumpets wearing parade uniforms in the middle of a village in 1910. A shocking sight.
Several of MacLean’s friends made during his time in Vanderhoof stop by and chat during the course of the interview. One of these individuals is James “Jimmy” Duncan, a former student in a residential school.
Duncan said that music changed his life. He was taken away from his family and thrown into a residential school at a young age. But when he plays music, he can take himself far away and he can find peace.
In the list of the top three greatest things in his life, Duncan said that music is one of them.
“When I’m lonely, I miss my grandmother, I miss my family. When I’ve got nothing, I take that guitar and I’m just… I can put all the sadness away,” Duncan said.
And this is the love for music that MacLean tries to foster in every person he meets, every student he teaches and in every community that he lives in.
“I honestly think I wouldn’t have become the person I am without the music,” said MacLean. “Music is the the thread that holds everything together.”
MacLean got into music at a young age, not unlike most musicians. His stepmom promised him, when he moved in, that he would get accordion lessons. Accordions were big back then, there weren’t electric guitars yet so accordions were the cool thing to play.
After an unusual childhood being relocated all over the United States by his birth parents and taken to all sorts of events well beyond his age, this was a welcome and stable home. His birth mom was a fashion model and “incredibly beautiful” according to MacLean.
He pulled out his phone and brought up black and white photos of his mother as a Coca-cola girl and even photos of Marilyn Monroe who was a roommate of his mother’s at college.
So MacLean learned all about life from having his own adventures as a young child exploring Calgary, one of the many stops, on his own. Calgary wasn’t intimidating at all for him even though he saw the gangs and learned so many practical life lessons at a young age. His home life was so unstable from having to travel all the time that when he finally found a home with step-parents on Vancouver Island he was grateful for the stability.
When kids around him were beginning to rebel against their parents and question their authority, MacLean was appreciating his all the more. The music lessons helped him cope with anything that life could throw at him.
MacLean has always wanted to teach and he’s always wanted to teach music, all his life. Even when he was in his teens he knew that was what he wanted to do. But first he joined the Navy and played in the military band for many years.
The pictures set up in MacLean’s tiny music shop show him at the head of marching bands leading large crowds forward in parades.
“But this isn’t about me,” he said. “This is about getting everyone to work together, building everyone up to achieve something.”
He describes it as a need of his to lift others up.
Every time that he leaves a place to move on and teach elsewhere, MacLean makes sure that the music programs he created and nourished continue and if not thrive then at least go on.
During his time here in Vanderhoof, MacLean faced a lot of hardship. After spending so much of his own money to relocate here to Vanderhoof with the promise of a teaching job at the school, the province began its series of budget cuts.
“Before I was 30 I had 11 years of teaching experience,” he said. Though certified to teach in 1970s, MacLean had to volunteer often and then play music every night just because that was his passion.
MacLean has taught music in many communities, and now he has over 50 years of teaching experience and has taught about 600 kids in Vanderhoof alone. But since he couldn’t work at NVSS, his financial and personal situation has changed. MacLean doesn’t want to leave this community that has treated him, he said, with love and respect.
Even so, he wants to return to one of the last traditional Aboriginal music bands and try to bring music back to the Nisga’a in a big way.
So he is also trying to set up a couple of teachers he knows to take on a few more students and also trying to get others to sell musical instruments and accessories.
MacLean would like to thank the school district and the community for their support and kindness.