Our hearts are filled with sadness as we announce the sudden passing of our fun-loving, talented and charismatic Dad, Pops and Pappy, Mel Gardner on Monday, June 7th, 2021 at the age of 88. Mel was married to his beloved wife, the late Irene Gardner (nee Stewart) on September 1st, 1952 and is survived by his three children, Murray (Debbie Mosher), Brian (Susan Gardner, (nee Lamarche)) and Scott (Lynda Larocque). Mel will also be forever loved and missed by his grandchildren: Jessica Gardner (Fernando Vera) of Toronto; Jamie Gardner-Chubak (Andrew Chubak), Lee Gardner (Nancy Sinclair), Troy Gardner (Brittany Stewart); Benjamin and Elliott Gardner, and Martine Larouche; and his great-grandchildren: Christian and Mia Vera; Charlie, Alice and Leo Chubak; Ella Grace, Alexander, Laleah, Annabel Gardner and predeceased by Maggie and Patrick Gardner. Melvin Arthur was born on August 23rd,1932 to the late Dora (nee Villeneuve) and David Gardner. He is predeceased by his nine siblings: Irene Bedard, Eugene, Violet, Nelson, Ronald, Ernest, Donald, Dorothy and John.
Mel was cherished in the Ottawa Valley as a dedicated musician and entertainer. His love of music began at a very young age as he was surrounded by many family members who played instruments. One day, Mel saw a Spanish guitar for sale in the window of a local store. He set out to work and earned money by piling wood for the mayor of Pembroke, buying his first guitar, an SS Stewart, for five dollars at the tender age of nine years old. Although the fingerboard was warped, young Mel was determined to learn. He would cross the street to visit his neighbour, who would teach him three chords at a time and send him home to practice. His fingers would bleed, but it would not be long before Mel would return to learn more. Eventually Mel was playing along with his siblings, and would often join in jam sessions at the Purvis family home down the road. It was there that he would learn to accompany fiddle music.
At the age of 14, Mel began to entertain with local bands. During this time Mel sang and played guitar on a weekly one hour radio show, filling in for his brother who was recovering from pneumonia. By the time his brother returned to the show, Mel had become well known by listeners. Much of his esteem in the Ottawa Valley was also gained from his long-time band, The Valley Rhythm Pals. Over the years, Mel worked alongside many accomplished musicians in the area. He continued to entertain and volunteer in his later years with the group, Mel Gardner and Friends. He became a staple in all of the seniors’ homes around Pembroke and would never turn down an opportunity to entertain and engage with his friends through music. Mel had a talent for knowing what songs would please the crowd and getting people in the mood to dance. No matter where he played, folks would get up and dance; even if there was no one to dance with or no dance floor, they would dance! Mel was an interactive entertainer with an incredible memory for lyrics and melodies. Upon request he could most often play, hum or sing any tune. He was also a phenomenal accompanist to hundreds of fiddle tunes with his strong and steady rhythm and gifted ear for keys. Mel was a mentor for many up and coming musicians. He enjoyed teaching others and his patience and knowledge of music was a most perfect combination for learners, both young and old. His granddaughter, Jamie, was no exception, and spent many years learning from and later, entertaining with her beloved ‘Pap’.
Irene and Mel loved and cherished the many years they spent caring for their grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and had a unique and special bond with each of them. The pair always made themselves available for babysitting, sleepovers, pick-ups, meals, lessons and practices. Their calming home, easy laughter and tender-heartedness made them the most natural caregivers. In their later years, they would treasure the visits with their family and happily catch-up over meals, ice cream, snacks or a cold drink.
Mel and Irene enjoyed doing many of the same activities, and together, they created a wonderful partnership of 65 years. They thoroughly enjoyed travelling with their young family and spent memorable seasons camping with their trailer at Bonnechere Park and later, Smith’s Bay campsite on Lake Dore. Mel and Irene also travelled to many of the fiddling and step dancing competitions around Ontario and Quebec and enjoyed numerous musical bus trips, making connections with people everywhere they went. Irene and Mel were craftspeople as well. Together, they ran a home-based ceramics business for more than 20 years and would take part in craft shows throughout the Valley. Both were also avid horseshoe players and for countless years, were executive members of the Pembroke Horseshoe Club at Riverside Park. From its start, Irene and Mel were great supporters and dedicated volunteers for the Pembroke Old Time Fiddling and Step Dancing Competition. They would often work together at the park – Irene at the front gate in registration and Mel parking and lining up trailers. Afterwards, they could be found enjoying music and socializing with the many groups of visitors into the wee hours of the morning.
On the Thursday evening before Fiddle weekend, Mel Gardner and Friends would entertain at the Pembroke Amphitheater. Many folks routinely came to enjoy the music on those late-summer evenings, and Mel would always dedicate a song to Irene, who would quietly sit and enjoy the music from the stands. Fiddle Mass was another tradition that came to life due to Mel and Irene’s commitment to their community and their love of music. Together with Our Lady of Lourdes church, they organized a mass that welcomed all denominations to attend and to listen to, or play some familiar fiddle tunes before and after the service.
In 1944, when he was only 12 years old, Mel started work at the Canadian Splint in order to help support his family. He later went to Eddy Match and continued his 42-year career as a lithographer. He retired in 1988, spending 33 years in retirement. Mel would often say how fortunate he was to have had so many wonderful and healthful years together with Irene, and was glad that he retired when he did. He loved Irene more than anything. He also loved the Toronto Blue Jays and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mel played hockey as a youngster and coached his boy’s baseball teams for many years. He thoroughly enjoyed watching sports on television and was known to get heated when things were not going well for his favourite teams. He would let them know firmly from his favourite chair in the front room and his passionate reactions to the television would often get Irene into the giggles,“Oh Mel!” she would say with a big grin.
Making others laugh and telling stories was another of Mel’s many talents. His memory, quick wit and sense of humor complimented his bubbly personality. Along with his lists of songs were a collection of jokes to tell audiences and visitors. Mel’s big smile, strong voice and playful laughter brought life to homes, parties, dance halls, bus trips, campsites, churches, seniors residences; to his family and the lives of all who knew him. From his humble beginnings, Mel lived life to its fullest. There is no doubt that he has now re-joined his beautiful wife, Irene, and has everyone up dancing in the stars above. In the words of Mel’s favourite closing song…
“May the good Lord bless and keep you whether near or far away
May you find that long awaited golden day today
May your troubles all be small ones and your fortunes ten times ten
May the good Lord bless and keep you till we meet again”
A Funeral Mass for Mel will be celebrated on Wednesday Morning July 7. 2021 at 10:30 a.m. in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, 280 Lourdesview Drive, Pembroke. Interment to follow in St. Columba’s Cemetery.
Please RSVP or Call the Funeral Home at 613-735-5711 if you wish to attend the Mass.
In memory of Mel, donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society would be greatly appreciated.
A Video Tribute to Mel can be viewed by clicking on PHOTOS & VIDEOS at the top of the page and the click on the View Video Tribute
Arrangements entrusted to the Murphy Funeral Home Pembroke
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Our most sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Melvin Arthur Mel Gardner Monday June 7th 2021..
Death notice for the town of: Pembroke, Province: Ontario