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CANADA: Harry Hibbs' niece trying to get Newfoundland musician onto Walk of Fame

Barrie resident, who is Harry Hibbs' niece, is trying to get her famous uncle recognized: 'He has been overlooked, which is a shame'

BARRIE - For Newfoundlanders, the name Harry Hibbs is as synonymous with music as Gordon Lightfoot is locally: a musician whose songs are woven with stories of the land he loved. 

Hibbs' family members are trying to get the folk musician's name onto Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto. 

"He was just Uncle Harry to us," local resident Kerri-ann Tucker-Brown told BarrieToday. "But to me, he brought Newfoundland to Ontario. No one knew what Newfoundland was."

Hibbs went on to record several albums, owned a few nightclubs and even had his own television show. 

"It made people realize what Newfoundlanders were like and their music," Tucker-Brown said. "It made the Newfies here feel a little more at home, especially when you come from a large family and are so used to the music and the way things are. And then you come up here (to Ontario), and things are so much different."

Hibbs was her mother's brother. Both of Tucker-Brown's parents hail from Bell Island, and she grew up in the same Toronto-area house as Hibbs until she was around eight years old. 

"I can remember many a Saturday night kitchen party or listening to him practise in the dining room," said Tucker-Brown, who has lived in Barrie for more than a decade. "Memories are so precious."

Hibbs died from bone cancer on Dec. 21, 1989. He was 47.

"Within days, he was gone. It was very quick. Unfortunately, he passed too soon," said Tucker-Brown, who added his favourite time of year was Christmas, "so it was ironic that is when he passed."

His wake was held Christmas Eve. 

She recalled several fond memories of earlier family gatherings, but also the void his death left. 

"Every Christmas, it would be at his apartment," she said. "Christmas Eve, the whole family would get together, with sing-alongs. Once he passed, all of that sort of stopped. He was amazing, he was generous, he loved everybody and everyone was his friend. You couldn't have asked for a better person.

"There was always something going on," Tucker-Brown added. "I can remember being four or five years old, standing on the stairway to the house and they'd have what they called kitchen parties on Friday or Saturday nights. My grandmother would always have a pot of soup on the stove and he'd have all the guys from the band. There would just be people in and out.

"It would be music until the next morning."

Tucker-Brown says her uncle went to church every Sunday and would always stop by their Mimico apartment, which was on the way. 

"We'd make him breakfast and then he'd go to church," she said. "I can remember friends in the building coming and getting his autograph and thinking, 'Why do you want his autograph?' It was Uncle Harry.

"My husband always jokes that he married into Newfoundland royalty."

Hibbs, who was the second-youngest of 14 kids, moved to Ontario in the early 1960s following the death of his father.

The talented musician — who Tucker-Brown calls Newfoundland's "favourite son" — was born in 1942 on Bell Island, and relocated to Ontario where he worked at a factory and suffered a leg injury on the job. 

"He was hospitalized for weeks. (After he got out of the hospital), one of the guys knew he played the accordion and told him to just go up and play (at a tavern)," she said. "He played and that was it."

It wasn't long before Hibbs became more widely known, eventually opening Newfoundland-centric clubs in Toronto.

Hibbs was drawn to music from a very young age. 

"His mom used to send him out to the henhouse to practise the accordion," said Brown-Tucker, adding "those chickens knew how to jig!"

Tucker-Brown says she and her family members are working "feverishly" to get their uncle onto the Canada's Walk of Fame, a string of maple-leaf emblems stretching some 13 blocks in Toronto to honour Canadians who have excelled in their field.  

"He has been overlooked, which is a shame," she said. "We're just trying to get the star that he rightfully deserves. It's long overdue."

They've started a Facebook page devoted to their cause "to help this man get what he deserves," she added. 

So far, the group has more than 5,000 members. 

"It's been growing very fast," Tucker-Brown said.

There's also a museum on Bell Island which will include an exhibit this summer dedicated to Hibbs.