Tony de Boer, widely regarded as the Grandfather of Canadian bluegrass, passed away on May 20. He was 81 years of age.
According his family, Tony was walking out to his garden that day when he suffered a brain aneurysm, and died on the way to the hospital.
For the past 46 years Tony promoted bluegrass music in northern Ontario, starting with small local festivals and eventually a winter tour of the provinces by US artists. In 1984 he purchased a park in River Valley, ON, which came to be known as the River Valley Music Park. There he held the annual River Valley Bluegrass Jamboree starting in 1985, and another, the Country & Bluegrass Gathering at River Valley, which launched in 1988.
The goal was to create an atmosphere where everyone could come and enjoy bluegrass music. He built the park from a vacant property into a true destination point for bluegrass fans in Ontario. Both events, and others, are still held there to this day.
De Boer was actually born in Holland, where his father was stationed during WWII, though the family moved to Canada when he was 9 years old. As an adult, Tony traveled throughout Canada and the US to participate in bluegrass music events, so much so that his family referred to him as their Bluegrass Gypsy.
Tributes from bluegrass artists have come in since the 20th, like this one from Steve Gulley…
“I’m heartbroken to hear of the passing of my dear friend, and one of the greatest lovers and promoters of bluegrass, Tony de Boer. He always believed in me and my music and even more importantly, was a true friend, musically and otherwise. He always greeted me with a smile, a ‘How’s it goin’ Stevie!’ and an outstretched hand. I was a part of the winter Canadian tours he put together multiple times and played numerous festivals, concerts, and shows that he and his wonderful family organized and promoted. I was always treated like family. He was the reason so many of us were able to come to Canada and perform. The bluegrass community both here and in his native Canada have lost a fine man and good friend. Prayers for the family. RIP Tony. I’ll miss you.”
Alex Leach, who was very helpful in assembling information for this article, shared this story that came from Tony.
“He has told me this story several times when we’ve been together… ‘It was 1986 and I had always wanted to book Mac Wiseman. I booked him that year and I’ll never forget about mid ways through his set, he started singing Wabash Cannonball, and right about that time… the train came through River Valley and the whistle was blowing. What a great feeling that was.’”
For the last 16 years, he and his wife, Tessie, ran the River Valley Restaurant at the park.
Many thanks to Tony’s daughter, Cindy, for sharing information about her dad. She asked us to pass along thanks from the entire family for all the kind messages and well wishes they have received since his passing.
R.I.P., Tony de Boer.