He was born in Charlottetown, a fishing and logging community in Bonavista Bay. Like most youngsters who grew up in such outports, his childhood was filled with the exploration and enjoyment of the place itself, and its people. Catching conners off the wharf, copying pans out in the cove. Going trouting with Dad. Watching Uncle Elias Penney crack up a packed Orange Hall.
After saving for and buying a $35 Roy Smeck guitar, and teaching himself C,F,and G, Wayne fulfilled the dream of every teenage boy: playing in a band. Throughout high school, Wayne and various members of numerous bands rocked the Saturday night dances in towns all around Bonavista Bay.
It wasn’t by accident that he showed up at Memorial University’s student residences in 1967 with the battered black Roy Smeck guitar among the luggage. Through the five years that he toiled at getting two degrees, complaining all the while about the scarceness of partridgeberry jam in St. John’s, at least there was the odd strum on the guitar to keep up the connection to music.
A qualified (and married) teacher by 1972, Wayne returned to his beloved Bonavista Bay to teach, hunt moose, build a cabin up Terra Nova Road with his father, Hector, and Grandfather Dwight. And play in bands some more.
For the next fifteen years, he devoted himself to his teaching career. When it came to building a house, he picked
a spot high on a hillside overlooking Clode Sound right there in Charlottetown. Platters Island off in the distance. Family and friends began to see a pattern emerging: while many contemporaries would leave to ‘make it’ in St. John’s or on the mainland, Wayne would return to the bay, the only place he felt at home.
By the mid-80’s, the rigours of Special Ed teaching were beginning to take their toll on Wayne. But it wasn’t just that. He had always chafed at the notion of working indoors all day every day. The skidoo and canoe had no place in the
hallways and staff rooms; you couldn’t catch a salmon at the water fountain. He’d always had to be careful of looking out the classroom window, lest he lose himself in the shimmer of the sun on the snow or the sight of a soaring eagle.
When Ray Johnson came to teach art at Wayne’s school in Glovertown, an interest in music and all things traditional led to friendship, jamming, rehearsal, and finally performance. When Kevin Blackmore moved to Glovertown, the die was cast.
It wasn’t long before Wayne and Ray applied for a leave of absence from their teaching positions. The boys wanted to bring the act to stages all over, see what happens.
Some said, “They’ll be back.” They couldn’t have been more wrong.
In the twenty years since then, the act has prospered, in large measure because Wayne turned his affe
ction for rural Newfoundland and its people to the craft of song writing. As many have observed, he has the knack, and the result has been a collection of lyrical gems, many of which seem destined to join the handful of best-loved songs of Newfoundland.
They’re not all serious songs. ‘The Pits’ has become the theme song for that great Newfoundland tradition: the May 24th weekend camping trip. ‘The Chocolate Song’, ‘Mr. Home Hardware’, ‘Thank God For Drugs’, and ‘Chain Saw Earl’, to name just a few, have come from the same fertile mind that brought you ‘Saltwater Joys’ and ‘Song for Newfoundland’.
Written by Bruce Bourque
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