Simon C. St. Pierre, 86, passed away on July 7, 2016 in Houlton, Maine. He was born February 26, 1930, in Packington, Quebec, the son of George and Lucille (Paradis) St. Pierre.
Simon was a lumberjack and an accomplished fiddler.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Simone (Fradette) and his three children, Suzanne Philibert and her husband Alain, from Oakfield, Daniel and his wife Anne, and Liza Leavitt of Merrill. He is also survived by nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his parents and eight siblings.
Simon St. Pierre was born in Quebec on February 26, 1930. As a child, he liked to listen to his father and brother play the fiddle. “My father loved music with all his heart,” he said, “but he never put much time to it. My father was not a great fiddler. He play a few tunes, but my older brother was real good. And I learn a lot from him. My older brother used to play a lot for square dances, weddings, and he play at home a lot. He was the oldest one, and I was the last one in the family. And he work outside in the woods, and he come every weekend, and when he play that fiddle, it make me so happy. I love it so much. I said to myself, I can’t wait to get old enough, and when I got old enough I try it.”
When he was about 15 years old, he started to play the fiddle, around the time he began working in the lumber camps and living in the bunkhouses in the northern woods. Music was a favorite pastime for the lumberjacks during the long winter nights, and every bunkhouse usually had at least one fiddler with a good repertoire. In the logging camps St. Pierre traded tunes with musicians from across eastern Canada. “A lot of them (tunes) have been passed on,” he said, “some I learned from different parts of the country. Like people from Ontario, they play a little different music than Quebec, and Nova Scotia. And I got it all mixed together. I’d like to be able to sing, but I can’t.”
St. Pierre married his wife, Liza, in 1952, and together they have worked as independent sawmill operators. He moved to Maine in 1957, “for the reason,” he said, “there was no work up in Canada. I stayed in a lumber camp, and after a couple of years, I moved my family. I got a little portable sawmill. I cut some cedar fencing and stuff. I do custom sawing for a company. I make me living with that little sawmill.”
In Maine, he continued to play the fiddle, performing sometimes at square dances and weddings, but also at festivals, where he was introduced to Irish music and bluegrass. He became particularly skilled in rendering old waltzes, reels, and two-step dance melodies, accompanying many of his tunes with the intricate foot clogging, frapper du pied, commonly practiced by French Canadian fiddlers.
St. Pierre taught himself to make violins out of necessity. “I made my fiddle last winter (1990). I had a good fiddle. I had a good violin somebody gave me quite a while ago, and somebody took it from me. It was in my pickup truck, and somebody took it. I not see it, but my fiddle went somewhere, anyway. So, I make me one last winter. I made with curly maple — the back and the sides, spruce for the top. I like to make fiddles. That’s interesting. And it come out fairly decent, not like the one I had, but good enough.”
Once St. Pierre gained a reputation at festivals in northern Maine, he was invited to tour, but he soon tired of the hard pace of traveling, and for several years he refused to play much in public. “I’m a working man,” he said. “I work every day and when I come home, I’m tired. I don’t like playing my fiddle. Sometimes on the weekend I play a little music. It’s no fun to just play by yourself. You got to have somebody to play with you. Once in a while I play my tunes on the weekend. I’m really a happy man down here in that little corner of the wilderness. I love it.” bio from NEA NATIONAL HERITAGE FELLOWSHIPS. Simon recorded four projects listed below:
Simon has many followers and admirers, but what really tells the character of a person is how his neighbors feel about him and his family. While researching for this site, I spoke with Alberta McDonald from his home town who allowed me to quote her here: “It’s nice to see Simon as a younger man. He is very polite and friendly. He still treats women like a lady, which is rare these days. I also went to Youtube and listened to him play. I didn’t realize he was a Youtube celeb. Awesome! The whole St. Pierre family is very nice. I see more of Daniel than Simon and he’s always as polite as his father. Very nice people. I don’t mind if you quote me. I’d be honored. Thank you.”
This is a quote from The Field Recorder’s Collective: “Smon St. Pierre is a fascinating and elusive Maine lumberjack and fiddler skilled in an array of music. He came to the 1977 Brandywine festival with Fred Pike, a stunning guitarist from Maine. They made a huge impression upon Dewey Balfa who called Simon “a brother I met today”. Reared in a logging community in Quebec, Simon told of long winters in the logging bunkhouses of the northern region of the province. Simon’s eclectic repertoire began with fiddlers employed there from many parts of Canada. He heard radio fiddlers and recorded ones such as Isadore Soucy, but his favorites were men he had met and learned from, such as his favorite, Claire Lake, a neighbor in the Smyrna Mills area of northeast Maine’s Aroostook County. Simon had been in the U.S. for about twenty years at the time of the festival, and still earned his living operating a one-man sawmill, sawing white swamp cedar into logs to create insect-proof cabins. In 1983, Simon was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the Folk Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts and performed at the White House with his friend Joe Pomerleau. He is living in retirement in Maine.”