It is 8 am on Monday morning when I swing by the Greencorn household on the corner of Prince Street in Pictou. Troy has a cup of coffee in his hand and his wife Jennie comes down the stairs, hair still wet from an early morning swim. They both have to work today, at the same time trying to hang on to the last few weeks of summer before becoming empty nesters. Their youngest child, Brae, will leave soon to study nursing at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. Like many families on the East Coast, making a living meant living apart for many years but a change in fate brought the Greencorns to Pictou County and although they are not far from where they were born 40 or so years ago, some days they feel worlds apart from where their story began.
In the late 1980s when Troy and Jennie left for university in Halifax, Troy went to St. Mary’s for business and Jennie was enrolled in the nursing program at the Akerley Campus of the NSCC, their hometown of Canso was still a solid place to find good honest work. The fish plant was thriving and young people were being hired almost off the street before they had their high school diplomas in hand. But with the downturn in the fishing industry Canso’s fortunes sank quickly, and within a couple of years of university graduation, Troy and Jennie found themselves back in a community that was unraveling as fast as the fish were disappearing from Chedabucto Bay.
Despite the challenges to find work in a withering town, Troy and Jennie wanted to follow through on a promise they had made to their young selves: establish their own roots and raise a family in their hometown.
The day Troy received his university diploma he and Jennie went to city hall and bought their marriage licence. Jennie had already finished her nursing program at the Akerley Campus of NSCC and she waited a year in Halifax for Troy to wrap up his own studies. They were married in July and bought a house in August. Three children – Christopher, Connor and Brae – quickly filled the rooms of their big old house and the hard work of raising children and building careers was upon them.
Troy says that like a lot of young people he and Jennie had a dream to go back home and contribute to a community where their families had lived for generations. They idealized a “Huck Finn” childhood for their children, a line Troy says he borrows from his friend and musician Garnet Rogers who spent his summers in the modest fishing town and eventually moved back to make it his vacation roost.
“We wanted a simple, safe life for our family,” says Jennie.
While jobs were scarce, Troy was lucky and landed a position as a finance clerk for the town. Jennie had a tougher time: she eventually found work as a cashier that would keep her busy until a nursing job eventually became available.
“I was lucky to have work but it was also a tough position to be in,” says Troy. “Part of my job was collecting tax and utility bills and many people including friends and family were in financial crisis with the closure of the fishery. Our town was in economic turmoil.”
It would have been easy for the young couple to pull up stakes and follow the wagon train west like many of their friends and family. But Troy had what he thought would be a solution to his own growing weariness with his accounting job and asked the town to set him free to do some work in economic development. While there was no turning back the clock on the fishery Troy saw several new opportunities. There was some success with a small call centre that provided new employment for five years before it eventually ran out of available labour in the region. Then came a spark of innovation that would put Canso on the cultural map for years to come and be a defining moment in the life of the Greencorn family.
Troy and Jennie had little idea how the creation of the Stan Rogers Festival would eventually define who they were as a family or create other roads for them to follow. At the time Troy was feeling tremendous pressure to help the community adapt and survive. He was also an active musician.
“Having seen how other festivals drove economic activity and “lit up” their host communities, I and a group of friends decided we were going to create a major festival.
Ours would be bigger and bolder than those that had inspired us, a return to Woodstock, Canso style. The first festival attracted approximately 2,000 patrons a day. Today, 20 years later, the festival tops 5,000 patrons a day and has become one of Nova Scotia’s signature festivals,” says Troy.
Like most Maritimers and East Coast music lovers, Troy knew of the man who brought us Barrett’s Privateers, Fogarty’s Cove and dozens of other classics, but never knew Stan Rogers personally. When the folk musician died in a plane fire in 1983, Troy was only 13 years old. But he knew the excitement felt by the community when Stan and his brother Garnet were in town. Their mother was from Canso and they spent their summers there.
“I remember a famous story of Stan and Garnet opening for Ryan’s Fancy at the Canso High School for 12 people. I also remember being in junior high and hearing about the plane fire and his passing. It was a major tragedy for the community. He was an adopted son. It’s amazing to see the body of his music and the success he achieved in such a tragically short life.”
This short but emboldened life now celebrated by Stanfest is something that the Greencorns cherish. Those three days the first weekend in July are like Christmas for the entire community. In the weeks leading up to the Festival hundreds of volunteers, roll up their sleeves and do their part to make Stanfest the world-class festival that it has become. For Troy, Stanfest became a part-time job but not one that would sustain his family. He would keep the festival rolling but he needed something more. His growing connections in the music industry created another opportunity and one that again would bring about change for his family when he became Event Manager of the East Coast Music Awards. For the better part of nine years Troy was on the road building event hosting teams, working with musicians and producing eight events throughout Atlantic Canada. It was an exciting time and Troy continued to earn a reputation of respect in the music industry, but it was not without a cost. He would spend more than 200 hundred days a year away from his young family and the community that he so desperately wanted to be part of.
“And I was home raising his babies,” says Jennie, who by then had decided to take a break from nursing to run the Eastern Communities Youth Association and participating on many initiatives and committees in town.
Jennie’s roots in Canso run even deeper than Troy’s. She is a seventh generation Canso citizen. Her father was a teacher and her grandfather was involved in the oil business, a rarity in a town where the majority of the population was somehow tied to the fishery. Like her father, who could see opportunity in transformational projects (he was the mastermind behind an engineering project that demolished a dam to drain land for the town recreation centre and eventually the festival), Jennie herself is an innovator.
Her job with the Youth Association involved taking on management of the Canso arena which was facing fiscal strain. A failure of the rink’s physical plant closed the facility for months, forcing hockey teams and figure skaters to travel for an hour or more just to get ice time for practice. The closure of the arena would have been one more blow to the community. With Jennie’s leadership the community rallied and raised the funds needed not only to get the physical plant replaced but to upgrade the facility as well. During this time Jennie learned her way around a rink, a skill that would open another door for her when opportunity came knocking again. Once again, the Greencorns found themselves making a life-changing decision.
In the years that Troy was on the road promoting and building the ECMA program, the two older children finished high school in Canso and began following their own dreams. Brae was still at home and loving life with a circle of friends that she knew from the time that she started school. Jennie, however, was beginning to tire from the stress of her community responsibilities that she shouldered passionately. Troy had been keeping an eye out for something different, that would bring him closer to his family and facilitate a healthier, better balanced lifestyle, but still keep him in the world of entertainment that had become part of his identity.
The timing was perfect. John Meir, the long-time Artistic Director of the deCoste Entertainment Centre was retiring and the Greencorns turned the page on another chapter in their lives.
The move to Pictou wasn’t easy. Troy and Jennie had to take stock what they had accomplished so far. Even though Troy had spent years travelling, the decision to leave Canso weighed heavy on their hearts. They had to consider Brae’s last couple of years of high school and what that meant to her. They had lived in the same house for 21 years, and the community for over 40 years. They wondered if they were deserting a town they fought so hard to protect.
Three years later Troy, Jennie and Brae agree that the soul searching was an exercise that helped them land in a good place when they all needed it the most. Troy is now into his third year as Creative Director at the rebranded deCoste Performing Arts Centre. Jennie’s expertise in arena management and community development and sustainability inspired the management of the Pictou County Wellness Centre to select her for a newly created Special Events Manager position. In June, Brae donned her cap and gown and walked across the stage at the deCoste Centre, the very venue that brought her family to Pictou as part of the 200th graduating class from Pictou Academy.
The Greencorns are little more than two hours away from the place that was first to shape the people they are today. They maintain a strong connection to Canso and for as long as Stanfest continues to make music the Greencorns will stay at the helm. While Troy and Jennie say they are enjoying a little anonymity and are more guarded with their time they are embracing their new community and enjoying its avails.
“We see loads of potential here,” says Troy. “Rural areas clear across North America are struggling, but Pictou County seems to be fairing out better than most. In Pictou we see a great spirit amongst the business community to try new things and grow their businesses. There is a vibrancy here.”
It’s quiet in the Greencorn house the morning that I visit. In a family that is so entrenched in the entertainment industry one would expect a household of performers. But Troy and Jennie are not about being centre stage. They are the strength behind the scenes that quietly get things done. Although there is no music playing that morning I leave their home smiling and in my head I hear the words of someone who continues to inspire much of that they do. Troy and Jennie Greencorn…
I hope to see your smiling faces 45 years from now.