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Documenting the Sault's music history

Special event being held to launch the Soo Music Project's multi-media directory and present it to the Sault Ste. Marie Museum

Three years ago, when Shaun Antler was researching for the Rotaryfest Rewind Theme that was being developed to celebrate the Rotary Club’s 100th anniversary, she started gathering the names of local bands from years gone by.

Antler’s research included individual artists, names of local bands, band members and what instrument each member played, titles of recordings, accolades, dates they were active, current status and more.

She quickly realized their community was home to a wide musical landscape over the years with genres like doo-wop, classical, barbershop, electronic, musical theatre, comedic and world music rounding out the more common rock, blues, jazz, punk, ska, emo, indie, alternative, metal, bluegrass and country.

After spending hours scouring the Internet using local band and musician names and researching them, she began to hear back from the musicians themselves.

Antler said the response has been “phenomenal.”

Information that she gathered about the local musicians dates back as far as the early 1900s, including military marching bands and big band orchestras.

“I thought it was interesting and I love history and music,” she says.

“Then I thought what am I going to do with it? It had to have a purpose.”

Antler contacted Ric Datson, local musician and assistant curator and museum services at the Sault Ste. Marie Museum to see if he wanted the information to be featured in the music exhibit there.

Datsun, a local musician himself, had created a permanent exhibit for the museum in 2017 to preserve the history of local music.

The museum exhibit showcases music-related memorabilia, photos and original recordings that Datson collected over a 17-year period and that individuals had donated.

“The exhibit included many music-related items from the past but only a few that were post-1980s,” says Antler.

Antler’s collection of information turned out to be a perfect fit to complement the exhibit Datson created.

Originally, Antler hoped she would have a hard copy binder printed out with the information in it in plastic sleeves that would be set on a music stand in the exhibit room.

Due to the number of responses and the sheer quantity of information, she realized that she needed to think differently about it.

While collecting data, Antler was introduced to website developer Bill Cowen, a former Sault musician himself, who was working on a similar archival project for Borderline Radio in a digital format.

The two decided to join forces.

Cowen created an online interactive directory that lets artists update information themselves without contacting a site administrator.

“We give the resource back to the artist,” says Cowen.

“It dramatically increases the up-to-dateness of the resource and it keeps it going with much less administration.”

Cowen and Antler hope that this digital platform will become a reliable public resource, which not only provides information about this area’s current and past music scene but also encourages further research into the city’s local musical history.

“No one has to aggregate the data again,” says Cowen.

“The information can be found in one place for anyone who comes looking for it, now as well as in the future. The Soo Music Project is a living archive of Sault Ste. Marie’s musical history, organized and developed by artists for artists.”

At this stage, the directory has over 1800 entries features online artist profiles, bios, photos, videos, and articles and it continues to grow.

As it is an open format directory, the source of the content varies, from existing online profiles (Discogs, Facebook, Myspace, Spotify, YouTube, Reverbnation) to official band websites and independent news sources, or they have been submitted by the artists themselves.  

“We hope to provide an online space where anybody can explore the Sault’s ever-changing music and performing arts scene, past, present and future,” says Cowen

The multi-media site will be officially launched to the public on Friday, Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sault Ste. Marie Museum.

Computers will be available onsite, during and after the presentation, for anyone who wants a get a better understanding of how to set up artists' accounts, log in to the directory or update the archive.

Individuals are invited to bring photographs to the event. Scanners will be on hand to facilitate uploads of the photos to the archive.

Antler and Cowen, who both volunteered their time developing The Soo Music Project, would like to stress this project could not have been accomplished without contributions from local music aficionados, personal submissions from artists, and verbal conversations with a “whole host of intriguing personalities.”

“Special thanks to everyone who contributed to this project,” says Antler.

“From the artists themselves, individuals who reached out to fellow musicians from their eras, family members, journalists, teachers, organization directors, bloggers, and Facebook Group Administrators. Your input is truly appreciated and this could not have been accomplished without your input.”

Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Sault Ste. Marie Museum William Hollingshead sees the project as a positive addition to the museum.

“The addition of the Soo Music Project will further enrich the ‘Naturally Gifted’ Music Exhibit and shed new light on bands and artists that have performed locally,” he says.

Although it has taken almost four years to complete, the Soo Music Project will finally find its place of honour in the “Naturally Gifted” Music Exhibit at the Sault Ste. Marie Museum.

“I am very excited to think that my research will not only have a permanent location at the museum but also a place to share the information online with the public,” says Antler.

“I am thrilled!”

For further information about the Soo Music Project, email hello@soomusicproject.ca.

To donation of photos, posters, records/CDs or memorabilia to be featured in the “Naturally Gifted” Music Exhibit, please contact Ric Datson at ric@saultmuseum.ca

Event details

Where: The Sault Ste. Marie Museum
Date: Friday,  Aug. 27, 2021
Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Launch Program:

7:00 p.m.: A brief History of the Sault Ste. Marie Museum’s “Naturally Gifted” Music Exhibit: (Museum Staff)
7:05 p.m.: Presentation of the Soo Music Project Permanent Archive: (Shaun Antler)
7:15 p.m.: Launch of the Soo Music Project Digital Directory: (Bill Cowen)

There will be a short Q & A period following the program.

Free Admission or donation to the Museum by choice

Performances by local musicians: Nicholas Luck, Brendan Hodgson and Melody Moffatt.