ANOTHER sad farewell this week, with the news that ‘Chopper’ McKinnon of CKCU in Ottawa has passed away. I made a new friend of Chopper - and Chris White, who co-hosted his radio show Canadian Spaces - during my visit to Canada last summer, and made a memorable appearance on his Saturday morning broadcast.
To be fair, Chopper had no idea who I was and he had been recommended to invite me on the show by some mutual friends. The programme has been broadcasting for 35 years, the longest running roots radio show in Canada.
Marilyn and Warren Major fortified me with fine coffee up in Chelsea and Warren drove me down into the city and out to Carleton University, where the radio station is situated, and we made our way through the quiet Saturday morning campus and up in the lift to a maze of rooms, many of them packed floor to ceiling with vinyl.
Chopper had seen it all, and as I tuned up he seemed at best ambivalent, but almost immediately on playing a few songs live in the studio, he seemed to brighten, and the banter began back and forth between he and I and fellow presenter Chris, and before I realised, it had become a 40-minute slot and a new connection, with people calling the station to say they had just bought tickets for that night’s show at the Black Sheep in Wakefield, after hearing the first few songs.
Warren and Marilyn told me that Chopper and Chris continued to play my songs in the weeks after I left, and I was looking forward to hooking up with them again on my next trip to Ottawa this summer.
Sadly, Chopper passed away on Thursday after a long battle with heart disease. He was 66. Those involved in Ottawa’s folk music scene are devastated to lose him.
Chopper’s life was one of those uniquely Canadian experiences - as the child of a member of the Canadian armed forces, he was born in Manitoba, but grew up in Germany, Ireland, England and El Paso, Texas, with the family finally settling in Ottawa in 1962. After spending some time in Winnipeg and in the Maritimes, he moved to Toronto and became involved in the city’s folk scene just as the legends of Canadian folk music – Joni Mitchell, Neil Young et al – were passing through the coffee houses of Yorkville.
Chopper started the Canadian Spaces show as a volunteer, and it became a firm Saturday morning fixture for thousands of Canadians listening in the Ottawa region and all over the country online. During the CKCU FM’s annual fundraising drive, Canadian Spaces consistently brought in the most money of all the shows on the station.
In 2000, to mark the 20th anniversary of the show, the City of Ottawa declared a Chopper McKinnon Day. He would open the programme every Saturday by urging his listeners – who he called Space Cadets – to make a pot of their ‘favourite hot brown drink’ and enjoy some uninterrupted folk music.
The show focussed on Canadian music, so I was honoured to be included as an outsider in the programme schedule, and the broadcasts that followed. For that reason, I was awarded an honorary title, one which I’m very proud to maintain. He called me... a ‘Space Invader’.
(If you’d like to know more about CKCU FM, or read the tribute to Chopper from the station president,, visit http://www.ckcufm.com/
The station also has its own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CKCUFM )