Barb is one of the founding members of FullCircle. Between 1999 and 2002, she contributed expert accordion, autoharp and vocals for the group and participated in the completion of FullCircle's first CD, "No Straight Lines". Many of the group's early harmonies were born of Barb's sound musical knowledge and classical training.
Barb was born and raised in the community of Lorne Park in what is now known as Mississauga. As a child growing up on her pioneer family's fruit farm, she learned the art of apple picking, asparagus cutting, tree pruning, tractor driving, and, oh yes, Accordion playing. It had to be the Accordion, she says, because her hands were found to be too small for the piano and if she ever wished to further her classical training, she would find that not being able to span an octave with ease would be a serious handicap. So, Accordion it was! Fortunately, for FullCircle, she learned it well. As more and more awards and medals began showing up in her collections, her love for and skill with the instrument were being publicly acknowledged. By the age of fourteen, she was performing professionally and teaching her own eager coterie of students, both children and adults. By sixteen, she was managing her own musical instrument and teaching business.
As a classically trained musician and Grand Opera lover (her favourite pastime) she could spend hours on end wrestling with the complexities of a Bach fugue, or enjoying a long soak in the tub on a Saturday afternoon, listening to the broadcast from the Met. It wasn't until she met Don in 1954 at a local church dance that she was introduced to the fine art of "jamming". The two of them spent hours playing, singing and arranging anything from evangelical hymns through to Newfoundland folk songs, to "My Cheatin' Heart", to "A Shanty In Old Shanty Town". (Just to even the score, Don now loves anything by Puccini, but seems to think that there is more than a passing resemblance between the intricacies of Bach and a good Bluegrass breakdown!)
As Barb settled down to marriage and family life, there was not much time or money for anything but homemade music. By now, thanks to the Mariposa Folk Festivals, she was a confirmed 'folkie', learning to play the Autoharp just like Sylvia Tyson and Mother Maybelle Carter, and she frequently joined Don on stage. In addition to the aforementioned, her musical influences included such greats as Rosalie Sorrels, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, as well as Buffy Ste. Marie, Ola Belle Reid and Melvina Reynolds. When Barb and her daughter, Donann, heard the McGarrigle sisters at their first Mariposa appearance, the die was cast. Strong messages, dynamic performances, and passionate lyrics and themes became, for Barb, the criteria by which she would judge and be judged in the realm of musical performance. Barb "performs" her songs as much as she sings them and involves the audience in so doing. She keeps reminding her singing companions that she plays the Autoharp, the Accordion...and the audience!
Concurrent with her growing love of folk music, Barb's commitment to social justice also found its voice in the 1960s. Whether it was demonstrating in front of the U.S. Consulate with her Quaker friends or praying over grapes from California at a vigil in a supermarket, her social activism became a dominant theme, not only in her music, but also in her everyday life. In the mid 60s, she, along with other women in the local Voice of Women chapter, were instrumental in getting the number of pages of war toys in the Eaton's catalogue reduced from thirty to three! She was there when the Karma Food Co-op came into existence in Toronto. As a key member of the staff at Woodgreen Community Centre, she led the establishment of a community-based nutrition education program and diners' club for seniors, and started a breakfast program for children, as well as overseeing the food co-op.
In the early 1970s, Barb's focus on music and community activism was somewhat diverted when she and Don fell in love with and purchased a 150 year old farmhouse outside of Fenelon Falls which eventually became their home. It was she who first found the derelict house and it was she who first persuaded Don to "lay down his old guitar" and pick up a hammer and begin to acquire some new, decidedly unmusical skills. Upon purchasing the old homestead in the spring of 1972, they realized that the project was going to be a long-term commitment. A restoration of this magnitude was going to require determination, enthusiasm, organization and a special vision, and it goes without saying that Barb had all these qualities. The first task was a re-roofing of the old house in order to preserve what was left of it. Not being too adept at high wire work, she declined to join Don on the roof and instead, they enlisted the help of a young musician friend who was a budding songwriter and guitar picker at the time … William Patrick Bennett. Willie P", as he is known today, is now a singer-songwriter of significant repute on the Canadian folk scene, and he still drops by for the occasional chat and strum when he's not on tour.
Throughout her life's journey, whether as a solo performer in her youth, as a duo with Don, at song circles or family gatherings, with the group Townline in the 70s and 80s, or with FullCircle in the 1990s, music has remained an integral part of Barb's experience. Although she enjoys musical performance most of all, the ebbs and flows of life's demands and the pull of other callings have influenced its place in her life over the years.
Today, Barb's pleasure in performance is taking a new turn. As a child growing up on an Ontario farm, Barb was a voracious reader who immersed herself in books. Those early preoccupations are now paying dividends. Although she may be in her "retirement years", Barb is just now beginning to truly discover her voice and style as a writer and poet of growing depth and reputation. She reads at public poetry sessions and attends several local writers' groups near her home in Sutton. Barb's writing is tough, uncompromising and forceful, yet can be full of compassion and at times, a warm sensuality. It has been said already that she doesn't just write poetry, she performs it! Some of her poems even sound as though they could be songs. (There is an obvious connection here!) In 2002, Barb decided to focus her energies on writing, and she and Don formally left FullCircle to pursue new directions.