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by Isabel Mosseler

If bluegrass thrives at all in northern Ontario, much of that is due to the efforts of Tony DeBoer, owner of River Valley Bluegrass Park. He’s helped and encouraged so many people to explore the genre, and is referred to fondly by many bluegrass musicians as the ‘Grandfather of Bluegrass in Canada.’

This soft-spoken man with crinkly blue eyes will be 80 next year, and he still advances his love of bluegrass, not only as a promoter, but as a family-friendly community-oriented lifestyle built around the sounds of traditional country and bluegrass. This coming weekend, the park is hosting its annual Wind-Up Weekend, and DeBoer is in top spirits as he wraps up a busy season of festivals – something he’s been doing for well over 30 years.

Indeed, DeBoer has put River Valley on the international bluegrass map, he’s encouraged numerous local musicians to get on stage, he’s brought in the best American bluegrass musicians to entertain and share their skills. He is so well respected, he has been named a ‘Kentucky Colonel’ (and not because of his chicken), the highest title of honour bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, given by the Governor and the Secretary of State in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service.

“I go that award twice,” he relates, the first time at the instigation of a musician who used to play at the park. “A few years later, I was a member of the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) and I was selected to the board of the IBMA for three years; the first foreigner on the board. That was a good learning 3 years. …When my three years were up they presented me with another award, in Owensboro, Kentucky.” 

If you’re a stamp collector, drive up to River Valley and mail yourself a letter. On the 25th anniversary of the park, the local post office registered a cancellation stamp of Bucky Beaver, the park’s mascot, which still continues. The point is, Tony DeBoer has influenced a lot of lives, and in a good way. He operates three festivals a season, and even if bluegrass isn’t your cuppa, the spin-off has been helping fill a few cups in the River Valley area.

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Bluegrass keeps Tony DeBoer young in his 80th year

Below, Cindy DeBoer (daughter) and Tony DeBoer are looking forward to hosting the Country & Bluegrass Wind Up Weekend. Tony has devoted 45 of his 80 years to promoting bluegrass, and has helped put River Valley on the map.

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