On July 4, 2007 the Ottawa area lost a well-known and renowned fiddle player with the death of Roma McMillan.
Born July 5, 1911 to Manx parents in Lachine, Que., she was the third child of Roger Clarke and Ann Jane Creetch. She attended schools in Lachine and NDG before moving with her parents to Montreal West where, starting at an early age, she studied classical violin under Professor Armand Leduc. After the death of her mother in1926 in a car accident in which she suffered a severe skull fracture, she learned to play Down East fiddle tunes from a nurse who attended her. From 1929 to 1935 she played with the Dominion Bridge Orchestra and the Montreal Philharmonic Orchestra with which she made 15 radio broadcasts.
On Sept., 21, 1935 she married Hugh A. McMillan and moved to a farm in Elma. They had four children, June (Rudy) Boulerice of Morrisburg, Joye (James) Oswald of Vankleek Hill, Roger McMillan (2000) of Elma, and infant Douglas (1941). She has eleven grandchildren and twenty great-grandchildren who adore their “Grandma Mac,” and also many nieces and nephews.
When the service men and women were leaving for overseas from 1939 to 1945, she and her husband formed a band to send them off. It eventually became The Elma Serenaders with Joye Loucks on piano, Eric Barclay on sax, Bill Becksted on guitar, and husband Hugh on drums. Over the years changes were made, Lorne Barkley on guitar, and daughter June or nephew John McMillan on piano.
Always community minded, she helped form the Elma Branch of the Women’s Institute where she was secretary and president. In 1962 she was president of the District and from 1967 to1970 she was a Provincial Board Director. She also held secretarial and presidential positions at the area level between 1971 and 1977.
With Hugh she joined the Eastern Star, Morrisburg Chapter, in 1947 where they eventually became Worthy Patron and Worthy Matron. She received the Rose Award for Outstanding Achievement in 1997,and for 40 years was their pianist.
After raising her family she worked at the Winchester and District Memorial Hospital as office manager until the death of her husband in October 1974. She moved to Ottawa and was National Secretary of the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada until 1980. At that point in time she began teaching violin at the Ottawa Folklore Centre.
She loved teaching youthful students and formed a group of them in 1981 called Roma and Friends, and then a group of her older students, Red Wing Fiddlers in 1982. In 1983 a junior group was formed called Junior Bow Benders and in 1987 the Mostly Bows, a senior group who played several times a week for square dancing, benefit events, nursing homes, hospitals, the Good Companions, and many other seniors clubs around Ottawa and environs.
The recipient of many awards and over two hundred trophies, she never lost her enthusiasm for competing and receiving the Most Entertaining Fiddler Award at Shelburne, Ont. in 1988 was a highlight in her career. She was inducted into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame in Osceola, NY, the first Canadian lady to receive that honour. Her induction into the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame in September 2003 was an awesome experience for her and her family and friends. She played on and produced six albums of fiddle tunes and recently a CD Seaway Valley Fiddle Tunes that included some of her own compositions namely “Lake St. Lawrence Waltz,” “Ault Island Clog,” and “Upper Canada Jig.” In 1983 and 1997 she published two books of fiddle music, Roma’s Favourite Valley Fiddle Waltzes and Roma McMillan and Mostly Bows Favourite Valley Fiddle Tunes.
In 197? when she had retired from the Institute, she organized fiddle contests for the Winter Fair and in 1989 she was a co-founder of the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Championships where she remained a director for several years. In 1992 she received their award for her life-time support and promotion of old-time fiddle music.
Another highlight of her career came in 2001 when she played at Adrienne Clarkson’s Governor General’s Garden Party at Rideau Hall, but international fame came one night in 2003 when a profile of her in a local weekly made it to the Jay Leno Show. Jay started by saying, “I love this woman. She’s a 90-year-old violinist from Ottawa who credits her good health and long life to having a bowl of porridge every morning for breakfast and then fiddling around with younger men the rest of the day!”
On Sun., July 8 at Greely Community Hall a tribute to her life was held with 500 family and friends attending. Rev. Bruce North officiated, and during the service various local musicians performed including the Mostly Bows, Celtic Canuck, and Barry and Brandon McMillan. Two solos were rendered by Ed Jessup, “How Great Thou Art” and “Who At My Door Is Standing.” She was eulogized by her granddaughter Cathy Bedore, great-granddaughters Bret Reynolds and Megan Boulerice, and her daughters June and Joye.
Following the service an open hour of fiddling took place with Roma’s friends participating.
Interment of cremated remains followed at South Gower Cemetery. The pallbearers were Sean Boulerice, Bobby Boulerice, Barry McMillan, and Vance Bedore.
Donations to the Winchester District Memorial Hospital would be appreciated by the family.
The funeral arrangements were entrusted to the Marsden and McLaughlin Funeral Home in Williamsburg.