Musicians, entrepreneurs and philanthropists in Ottawa are banding together to send a planeload of donated musical instruments and other supplies to a northern Manitoba community coping with suicides.
Earlier this month, the Pimicikamak Cree Nation, also known as Cross Lake, declared a state of emergency after the deaths of six people by suicide since December.
"When I heard about this story, I just thought nobody should be able to just stand by and do nothing," said Heather Johnson, who's with the Ladies Who Lunch network of women in business. "So I wanted to help, and it's grown from there."
The group has spearheaded a drive to ask people in Ottawa to donate items including musical instruments and instructional materials, sports and recreational equipment, and arts and crafts supplies for the youth in the remote First Nation.
Organizers reached out to Ottawa musician Mason Quesnel to lead the call for instruments.
"It hit home for me, because I am from a small community where when I was growing up ... there wasn't a lot to do," said Quesnel, who's from Westmeath, Ont., near Pembroke.
Then when he was 16, his father gave him a guitar. "It changed my life," he said. "So if I can do something like that for a couple kids, there's nothing better than that."
Quesnel posted the call for instruments on Facebook, and within days had dozens of donations of guitars, keyboards, drums and more. He calls the response "unbelievable."
People interested in donating used instruments can drop them off until April 3 at Pub 101 in the ByWard Market, or contact Ladies Who Lunch on Facebook to arrange a pickup. An unnamed donor will cover the cost of a flight to ship the gear to Pimicikamak.
'We all need to help out'
"This is a movement from heart to heart, of compassion, just to make a difference in that way," said Johnson. "A Canadian's a Canadian's a Canadian. We all need to help out."
Shirley Robinson, vice-chief of Pimicikamak, calls the support from as far away as Ottawa "overwhelming." Once the donations arrive, a group of youth from the community will decide how to set up a program to use them, according to Robinson.
"It's heartwarming to know that our friends from all walks of life are sharing their love," she said.
'The goal isn't to turn any kid into a rock star. The goal is to give the kids something to do.' - Mason Quesnel
Ladies Who Lunch will host Robinson, Pimicikimak chief Cathy Merrick, the community's school principal and a youth representative at an event at the National Arts Centre on April 4.
Quesnel hopes efforts here will strike a chord in the First Nation and create a long-lasting, positive musical legacy.
"For me I think the ultimate outcome would be to see those numbers disappear on suicide attempts," said Quesnel. "The goal isn't to turn any kid into a rock star. The goal is to give the kids something to do."