A life filled with song
By Chad Ingram
Jan. 19, 2017
Local music mogul Bill Gliddon conducts his weekly Sunday night classical program The Concert Hall from Canoe FM studios in Haliburton Village.
The building that houses Canoe FM was the original Haliburton hospital.
“The room where I broadcast from, the broadcast studio, apparently was the birthing room at the old Haliburton hospital and that’s where I was born,” says Gliddon. “And my first program was on Mother’s Day.”
Gliddon was born in that building more than 77 years ago, in August of 1939.
“It was one month before Hitler invaded Poland and World War Two started and my mother said, ‘Well, now you’re here, and the world’s gone all to pieces,’” says Gliddon, displaying the quick wit and easy charm that endears him to so many in the community. “So, I hope I didn’t start World War Two.”
Gliddon is as “old Haliburton” as they come, the descendent of local pioneering families.
His mother, Gladys, was a Fearrey. Gliddon is the cousin of perennial Haliburton County political fixture Murray Fearrey. Gladys’s relatives were Brohms.
The Gliddons immigrated to Canada from England in the 1870s, settling along what is now the Harburn Road.
“And they, believe it or not, thought they could farm, like everybody else did, in rock piles,” Gliddon says, seated in the living room of his Cedar Avenue home. The home belonged to his parents, and was his grandfather’s before that.
When the railway was extended to Haliburton County, most of the Gliddon clan took off for better farming in Saskatchewan.
“They all left except my grandad, who stayed to help his mom and dad,” Gliddon explains.
Gliddon’s father, Oswald, was an only child and his birth would leave Gliddon’s paternal grandmother, whom he never knew, wheelchair-bound until her death.
“She had come out one day to give the guys lunch,” Gliddon says. “They were out threshing in the field and her long skirt got caught in the threshing machine and she was pregnant with dad at the time.
She’d already lost a little baby and the doctor said, ‘If you go through with this pregnancy, you’ll never walk again.’ And she didn’t. She was in a wheelchair and died early.”
His grandfather operated the Cedar Avenue home as a boarding house for a period, the house eventually becoming Gliddon’s parents’.
“We were poor,” Gliddon says, recalling his childhood. “We were really among the poorest people in Haliburton.”
Oswald drove trucks, first for the department of highways, and later for the township, a job that, in 2017, actually pays pretty well.
“Mother had not finished school,” Gliddon says, explaining Gladys had attended the one-room schoolhouse near Gould’s Crossing up until about Grade 4. After that, she’d stayed home to help look after her 11 siblings.
“That really bothered her that she didn’t have an education and I’m really sorry she didn’t because she would have been terrific,” Gliddon says. “She could have been a great artist.”
Art and music came naturally to Gladys, who was self-taught on a number of instruments.
“She could play the music by ear,” Gliddon says. “She could chord on the piano, she could play the guitar, the violin, the mouth organ . . . without any instruction.”
It seems certain he inherited his musical aptitude from his mother.
“My dear dad, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket,” Gliddon says, adding that didn’t stop Oswald from singing Frosty the Snowman with his son each Christmas.
Gliddon started playing music young.
“My grandmother apparently said to my mother when I was just a baby, ‘Look at his hands, his fingers, he’s got to play the piano,’” he says.
Gliddon started on a pump organ the family had in the home, that was later replaced by a piano.
“My mother said to me, ‘You’ve got to get lessons,’” he says. “The only teacher here at the time was the organist at the United Church. My music book was the United Church hymn book.”
At just 12 years old, Gliddon became the assistant organist at the church.
“I just had this love of music,” he says. “I just knew in my heart, music was going to be a big, big part of my life.”
His musical capabilities even helped Gliddon out of math class.
“When I went to high school and had a great deal of trouble with mathematics, I had read that if you took your Grade 7 piano and Grade 2 theory at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, it could count as either a language or a math in your high school Grade 11,” he says. “I needed that.”
So, Gliddon set out to get his Grade 7 piano accreditation.
“My teacher couldn’t do it, she said, ‘I just can’t,’” he says. “So I looked for another teacher and I found a lovely lady who came up from Minden one day a week.”
Gliddon would earn first class honours in Grade 7 piano on his first try and continued to study music through the Royal Conservatory.
“The rest of it, I did on my own,” he says. “I bought the books myself and went to Lindsay for the exams and got by Grade 10 before I went to university.”
After working at Black’s Hardware in Haliburton for a year and half to save up some money, Gliddon set off for Toronto at age 18. He studied music at the University of Toronto, with a specialization in composition.
“It was huge,” Gliddon says of the city. “I had not been, really, too much out of Haliburton.”
While he was offered a job in East York, upon graduation from U of T, Gliddon returned home, “penniless and started teaching piano lessons for 50 cents an hour,” he says.
He was then approached by a member of the school board since Ralph Hussey, the local music teacher, who’d also taught Gliddon, had suffered a heart attack and was out of commission.
It was August and with September quickly approaching, the school board wanted Gliddon to fill in for Hussey.
“I didn’t go into that branch of music, I cannot teach, I have no teaching certificate, I don’t have any material, I’m terrified to get in front of a class of kids unprepared, it can’t happen,” Gliddon says.
The school board member told him that if he was unable, it looked like the children in Haliburton, Eagle Lake and West Guilford wouldn’t have music lessons at school that year.
“I did it,” Gliddon says. “I can remember staying up all night to make copies of songs for them.”
When Hussey eventually returned, Gliddon went back to teaching piano lessons. However, he also started going to summer school to get his teaching certificate and would eventually be hired as Hussey’s replacement.
In the late 1960s, Gliddon started the music program at the secondary school.
“They had no music program,” he says. The glee club Gliddon started at the high school made a record – some 100 students were involved, he points out – and would put on a stage production each year. They did 13 in all, mostly Gilbert and Sullivan productions, some of which, such as HMS Pinafore, have recently been performed by the Highlands Little Theatre.
When a full instrumental program began at the high school, Gliddon moved back to elementary system, splitting his time between schools in Haliburton, Minden, Dorset, Gooderham, Wilberforce and Cardiff.
“I saw thousands of students between kindergarten and Grade 8 and I’ve got such good memories,” he said.
Gliddon would retire in the mid 1990s after a 35-year career, his last day in the Victoria Street School classroom where he attended his first day of Grade 1.
It was around this same time that Gliddon, an only child, had been caring for his ailing parents in the family home. Gladys was the latter to pass at age 92, Gliddon keeping a promise to his mother that she would not go to an old-age home.
Throughout the years, Gliddon did find a little bit of time to compose works of his own.
“I’ve written a series of pieces inspired by Haliburton and that came about because of the Haliburton centennial,” Gliddon says, adding he created centennial choir for the occasion that not only performed throughout the area, but also in Toronto. “We even sang at Ontario Place. We had our day there, we sang in the forum. It was a great experience.”
Gliddon also composed a piece for Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope.
“I suppose my other big composition was my requiem for Terry Fox, which I started right after he died in 1981,” he explains. “I contacted his mom and . . . and I still have their letters of encouragement.”
The piece was performed locally and raised a couple of thousand dollars for cancer research.
“Right now, I’d like to revise that piece, if I had time,” Gliddon says. It’s the way he feels about most of the music he’s written.
“Every time I write something, when it’s finished, I look at it and say no, I’ll have to revise that,” he says. “But there’s a thing called time. I never have the time.”
Gliddon is the organist at St. George’s Anglican Church, a position he’s held since 1962, when he returned to Haliburton from Toronto.
While the Gliddons had been members of the United Church, it had a number of people who could play the organ.
With longtime St. George’s organist Dorothy Clarke stepping aside, the Anglican church was going to be without an organist and Gliddon’s parents encouraged him to take the post.
“They said to me, ‘Go where you’re needed,’ and I said, ‘If I can help, we’re all different churches, but we’re all serving the same Lord.’”
Clarke had been the organist at St. George’s for 45 years and this year, Gliddon celebrates his 55th anniversary in the role.
“So, between the two us, it makes a century,” he says.
Over the years, Gliddon has provided music for literally all of the churches in Haliburton. In addition to preparing and hosting his weekly radio show, he’s involved in many of the community’s concerts and stage productions. In the summertime, he tends a large vegetable garden on this property, giving the produce away.
“There’s, I guess, three things in my life that I love so much, and they’ve motivated me and inspired me,” Gliddon says. “My Christian faith is the big thing and my love of music and my love of this community, this community where I was born and grew up and loved. I just thought, if the Lord has afforded me to live here and bring happiness and joy through music, that’s my dream come true.”
Senior Spotlight is brought to you by CARP Haliburton Highlands Chapter 54. CARP is a national association whose mission is to protect and advance the interests of Canadians as we age. Your Haliburton Highlands chapter is actively working to bring additional value to your membership at the local level.