Neil Young and The Kawartha Lakes

Neil Young, Omemee, Ontario,
Screengrab from the Neil Young Home Town TV special in 2017

Neil Young, one of Canada’s most treasured musicians, has also been a great rebel of his time. His unconventionality and musical mastery is undeniable. He has certainly made his mark, and is widely revered among musicians for his rustic authenticity and use of his platform for activism. His songs are beautifully poetic, and have resonance in every walk of life. Growing up in the cottage country of Eastern Ontario, it is evident that his songs have a special place in the hearts of rural Canadians. Songs like "Helpless" are directly inspired by his upbringing in Omemee, Ontario along Pigeon River in the Kawartha Lakes region. This is all before he moved to Los Angeles and formed Buffalo Springfield in 1966 and embarked on a lifelong career. There is a culture in the Kawartha Lakes all in its own, one that Neil Young encompasses in his being and one that he is self-aware of. Despite Young having moved away from the region for most of his life, the social culture in the area has a lasting impact, hence his return to his hometown for the TV concert special he did in December 2017. He performed an intimate concert at Coronation Hall in Omemee, in which one could only attend if they were invited. The love and support he was shown in the town is indicative of not only the kind of person he is, but the kind of place Omemee is.

The people of the Kawartha Lakes have an of-the-earth type country lifestyle and energy. The culture itself is rich for a rural area. Although First-Nations people are now a visible minority in the county, their presence and claim to the land is powerful. The spirit of the people blankets the area, and while there, feeling the elements, you cannot help but become filled with an existential sense of calm. It is a feeling that penetrates so deep to the very molecules of being. It is easy for the location to be meditative. I have never been anywhere that is quite like that region. It is for these reasons that I believe it is understandable that Neil Young’s long-lasting music career would bring him back to Omemee. Realistically, Young did not live there long. He moved a lot in his childhood due to parental issues and divorce, and he swayed between certain areas in Southern Ontario as well as having a brief stay in Florida. It seems Neil Young absorbs the places he lived, and he cites that all of the places he’s lived are hometowns to him. Despite this, his formative years were in Omemee and he has a special bond with the town.

The area is picturesque, and is a rich agricultural plane. I remember vast Bison farms and hills with winding roads serving as lookouts to the vast water systems that gave the region its name. The love that the people there have for their stretch of earth is incredible. It is certain that days lounging on the beaches, fishing on the docks, and sitting around fires are spent with a Neil Young album or two on. The children grow up and learn to play the chords to "Helpless" and try to remember all the words. The folk stories of Neil Young are literal in his songs. Upon listening to songs like "Don’t Be Denied" and "One of These Days" among many others, you get to know the man, and feel out his story. Wherever he’s been, he is a product of Omemee and the Kawartha Region. Among his titles such as "Godfather of Grunge," he speaks to the sensibilities of the authentic rural Canadian. Neil Young is a generation transcender, a harmonica tooter, a man of the Earth, and a rounded multi-faceted poet.