Michael Bleakney

Friends remember Michael Bleakney as "a strong presence" who always had "a big smile on his face." (Ottawa Police Service)

Ottawa’s Gaelic community hosted a special tribute concert on Saturday night to honour the memory of Michael Bleakney, one of the six people who died in the crash between an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail train this past September.

Bleakney was also a well-known member of the Ar n-Oran Gaelic choir.

Saturday’s event was the 12th annual Scotland Tonight concert, featuring performances by a pipe band, two dance schools and the Ar n-Oran choir, which included Bleakney’s wife and daughter for the first time.

Scotland Tonight organizers decided to organize a tribute for Bleakney on the day of his funeral.

“When you play the pipes, you get to go to a lot of funerals, sadly,” said Beth Bisaillion in an interview on CBC Radio’s All In A Day.

“Sitting at Mike’s funeral, I couldn’t help but think that there should be something positive that we do to honour him, to keep his name going.”  

Organizers plan to dedicate a trophy — the Bleakney Cup — to be awarded annually. It was presented to Kathy Bleakney, his wife, on Saturday and given out as a prize for the first time next year.

The choir is also setting up a bursary in Bleakney’s name that will encourage people to learn Gaelic arts and language, which Bleakney had a passion for.

Bleakney was the ‘lifeblood of the choir’

Members of Ottawa’s Gaelic community remember Bleakney fondly.

Randy Waugh, leader of the Ar n-Oran choir, said Bleakney was in many ways, “the lifeblood of the choir.” During tense national competitions, Waugh said Bleakney kept things light with his humour, silly comments and faces.

“It was hard to conduct at times because I was cracked up and laughing,” Waugh said.

Bisaillion, who is also a pipe major for the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, agreed.

“He was one of those people you look forward to seeing and when you did, you just smile.”

But Bleakney was not without faults, Waugh added. Bleakney sometimes had trouble remembering the Gaelic words in choir songs.

“So he’d write them on his hand or on the back of his hand,” said Waugh. “On one occasion in particular, I said, ‘Wow, you, like, nailed that!’”