John C. O’Donnell


In its inaugural year, the Katharine McLennan Award for exemplary volunteer and community contributions was awarded to John C. O’Donnell.

Jack, as he is well known, is Professor Emeritus and former chair of the Department of Music at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. He retired from active teaching in September 2000.

For most of the past forty-seven years « Jack » O’Donnell has been involved as musical director of Cape Breton’s acclaimed coal miners’ choir, The Men of the Deeps. Under his leadership the choir has produced nine commercial recordings. And Professor O’Donnell has published widely on the subject of coal mining songs ensuring continuing access to these melodies and lyrics.

The choir has performed live, and on television, throughout much of North America and in 1976 O’Donnell was responsible for arranging a concert tour of the People’s Republic of China. And in 1999, at the request of the Canadian Government, the choir performed in Kosovo the former republic of Yugoslavia where they along with other world renowned entertainers welcomed back displaced refugees. Throughout its long history, the choir has worked to preserve in song the rich folklore of the mining communities and culture of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia.

Jack has received numerous awards and commendations including:

  • the Order of Canada;
  • the « Commemorative Medal » marking the 125th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada;
  • an honorary degree Doctor of Letters from Cape Breton University
  • In 2012 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal; followed by the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
  • To read Jack’s acceptance speech, « The Women in my Professional Life, » click here.

    This year’s featured artist was Nancy Chiasson. To view Nancy’s work, visit her website or Facebook page.

    Media Coverage related to the award ceremony can be found below:

  • The Casket
  • The Cape Breton Post
  • St. Francis Xavier University