Founder of Yukon's Blue Feather Music Festival wins GG award

People continue to return to the festival, saying 'hey, let's do this again,' according to Gary Bailie, who was presented with a Meritorious Service Award on Wednesday.

Gary Bailie was recognized with a Meritorious Service award for his work as a mentor to young people

Gary Bailie founded the Blue Feather Music Festival in Whitehorse. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Gary Bailie refers to an old proverb when he tries to sum up his journey with Whitehorse's Blue Feather Music Festival.

"If you want to go fast, then you travel alone. If you want to go far, then you travel together."

He founded the festival 18 years ago in memory of his late partner.

The festival, now held each fall, is a celebration of Indigenous music from across Canada. It's a substance-free, two-day event, which is largely run and organized by young people who are given the opportunity to learn new skills.

As the festival's lead organizer, Bailie has been awarded a Governor General's Meritorious Service award. It was presented to him by outgoing Yukon commissioner Doug Phillips at a ceremony in Whitehorse on Wednesday afternoon.

It was Phillips' last official function as commissioner before retiring.
Yukon commissioner Doug Phillips presenting a Governor General's Meritorious Service award to Gary Bailie, in Whitehorse. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"One of the things I focused on my term was the Commissioner's Awards in recognizing Yukoners for their good deeds," he said. 

"I think [Bailie] is just an example of what Yukoners do in this territory to make it such a great place. They don't just volunteer for one organization, they help out people wherever they can and Gary is a champion in that."

Three years ago, Bailie was also given a Governor General's Caring Canadian award for his work with the Kwanlin Koyotes Ski Club.

Mentoring young people

Bailie, a member of the the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, says the Blue Feather festival was initially intended to be a one-off event, but its success kept it going.

"Year after year, people everybody just kept coming back and saying, 'Hey, let's do this again,'" Bailie said. "The whole concept has been really embraced by a lot of people."

Gary Bailie at the Blue Feather Music Festival in Whitehorse in 2013. (Harry Kern/Blue Feather Music Festival)

At the festival, young people are mentored in various roles, from stage management to audio and lighting production.

"These skills are transferable — they can take them on and become professionals in the field if they like to," Bailie said. 

"For anybody who thinks the festival is just a bunch of kids fooling around, boy I'll tell you — they've got a surprise, because the festival production value is over the top!"

Bailie is well-known around Whitehorse not just for his work with Blue Feather, but also the Kwanlin Koyotes Ski Club. 

Bailie was once a National Junior ski team member, and now runs the club as a way to help young people stay healthy, active and on the land. He grooms and maintains a small network of public-use trails in Whitehorse's McIntyre subdivision.

The program has grown a lot over the years and he said it's a big undertaking. 

"When you have the kids going on a schedule, the last thing you want to do is disappoint them," he said. 

On top of all those commitments, Bailie's also raising his two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter. 

'One of the most selfless individuals'

Sean Sheardown, a long-time friend, said nobody deserves a Meritorious Service award more than Bailie. 

... at the end of the day it's the team that gets it done.- Gary Bailie

"The entire time I have known him, he is just one of the most selfless individuals you are ever going to meet, and is always looking to see how he can contribute to the community, and to help other people out, and give out his time to make other people's better," Sheardown said.

Sean Sheardwon and Gary Bailie in Whitehorse. (Sean Sheardown)

Bailie said he's honoured to receive the award, but insists the festival is always a team effort.

"I am dedicating this award to the Blue Feather team, because we are a team," he said.

"Although I am taking a leading role in it and producing it and everything, at the end of the day it's the team that gets it done."


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