From Todmorden Mills to Flanders Fields, in song

Mike Ford wants local kids to draw on local landscape and history to write songs

East York-based singer–songwriter Mike Ford wants your kids to get to know, love and write songs about some of the former borough’s more bucolic retreats.

Since going solo in 2004 following his time with college band staple Moxy Fruvous, Mike Ford has recorded a succession of Canadian-themed CDs that sing out our history and geography, following the tradition of Allan Mills, Stompin’ Tom Connors and Gord Downie.

Ford has released four discs of songs about Canadian history, including two volumes called Canada Needs You.  Some of the songs are period-style compositions, such as Let’s Mobilize, a song about the lead-up to the Second World War. Others, such as Tea Party, feature guest vocalists and a modern club sound.

One disc is about travelling on a working vessel across the Great Lakes. There are French songs as well, as Ford, who is Franco-Ontarian, has performed in French, but mostly records and teaches in English.

Currently, Ford runs a songwriter program at Todmorden Mills through the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils. Nestled in the Don Valley, Todmorden Mills is one of 10 historic sites owned by the city, and the Upper Beaches/East York-based artist is delighted to be at this particular site.

The smokestack is visible from afar, but the mill is still one of the city’s lesser-used facilities, “a real hidden treasure,” Ford said.

“It is really under-known, underused, but there’s a nice side to that, too… every time I come here I get to walk down that hill and walk into this oasis here, of trees.”

The song-writing program is aimed at school-aged children.

“I mentor them in creating songs about right here – about the valley, environmentally (and) historically,” Ford said.

Drawing on the immediate area for inspiration, it is easy to forget this place was, for many years, a hub for dirty, heavy industries.

With this in mind, Ford sees music as the next step for the area – a post- industrial product that could flow out of this now serene little spot. Through the mentorship program, students can work on and record songs that are kept online for future accessibility. Ford hopes to “mimic the creation that’s gone on here for a couple of hundred years – whether it’s paper, bricks, beer, honey or lumber, of course. I said ‘what if songs come out of here?’”

Ford will be leaving Todmorden Mills in the spring. Ever the history buff on a mission, he has a scheduled a tour of Europe that will include Flanders Fields. The tour will commemorate Canada’s involvement in World War One, and will feature dramatizations as well as singing. East York’s nature will continue to inspire Ford, particularly its surrounding waterways.

“You’ve got Taylor Creek coming right through, and the ravines… East York is surrounded,” he said. “So I think it’s an essential character of East York – the creek and the ravines.”