Like many Niagara residents, the Mayor remembers passing contact with Rush drummer Neil Peart
The death of Neil Peart, Hall of Fame drummer for Rush, has brought an outpouring of tributes and reminiscences from around the world as fans and music lovers recall his genius. Peart’s Niagara roots were well established, as he grew up in Port Dalhousie and was a frequent visitor to the area even after Rush achieved international fame. He was known to drive his motorcycle to Keith’s Restaurant in Fonthill from time to time to meet old friends for lunch, and used to hang out at the Tim Horton’s in Beamsville.
One fan from “the old days” who has happy memories of Neil Peart is Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin. As a lifetime farmer, Marvin recalls meeting Peart in the showroom of Dalziel Equipment, the local International Harvester dealer on St. Paul Street West, in St. Catharines, which was managed by Neil’s father.
It was 1972, and Neil had just returned from England where he had been spectacularly unsuccessful in launching his professional drumming career and had returned to the family business. He was playing with St. Catharines band Hush while selling tractor parts, and Junkin recalls that his presence at the dealership was sometimes erratic.
Finally, one day in 1974, Junkin asked Neil’s father, Glen Peart, where Neil was, to learn that “a white Corvette came and took him to Toronto. We don’t know if he’s coming back.”
In July of 1974, Neil Peart auditioned for Toronto band Rush, and in mid July he was asked to join Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson as the new drummer for the band. His departure from Dalziel Equipment was, indeed, permanent.
A Rush fan in later years, Junkin recalls (somewhat hazily, he admits) attending a couple of Rush concerts, in Toronto (he believes). At one concert, his cheap-seat ticket placed him high above the stage and off to one side. Far from being disappointed, Junkin says he was perfectly placed to look down on Neil Peart and his drum kit, a memory that remains clear in his mind years later.
In reflecting on his brush with fame in the person of the young Neil Peart, Junkin asserts that, for him, Peart’s modesty and small-town, unspoiled simplicity, even as a rock ‘n roll mega-star, were rooted in his Niagara upbringing, and were quintessentially Canadian.
Many of Neil Peart’s lyrics recall events from his past in Niagara, both happy and painful, and he penned a memoir called Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, that chronicled his recovery from the tragedy of the deaths of his daughter (killed on Highway 401 at the age of 19) and his common-law wife only 10 months later.
In addition to the lyrics for most of Rush’s songs, Peart wrote fiction and non-fiction books, a graphic novel, and, in 1994, a reminiscence about life as a boy growing up in Port Dalhousie for The St. Catharines Standard. In it he concluded, “In any case, my childhood in Port Dalhousie was a good one, and all those later experiences certainly ‘built character.’ My life, then and now, might be summed up by Nietzsche’s motto: ‘That which does not kill me makes me stronger.’”
Neil Peart died after a three-year battle with brain cancer on January 7, in Santa Monica, California.
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