Researching Young Neil (Scott Young fonds)
NOTE: This article was originally intended for publication in Broken Arrow, the quarterly magazine of the Neil Young Appreciation Society. The last issue was published in June 2014, before there was time for this article to be included.
I spent a significant amount of time doing research for Young Neil at the Trent University Archives in Peterborough, Ontario, where the Scott Young fonds are held. During his lifetime, Scott Young had close connections with Trent University. He had lived in the nearby countryside for many years -- first in Omemee in the 1950s, and then in Cavan Township (on "The Farm") in later years. He was awarded a Doctorate of Letters from Trent University in 1990, when he made the initial donation of his papers to the Archives. His widow, Margaret Hogan Young, made additional donations after his passing in 2005.
I had my first inkling of the existence of the Scott Young fonds sometime in 2003. There had been some earlier discussion about the Trent University Archives, and the Scott Young fonds in particular, on the Yahoo Group's Rust list. (For those who haven't encountered the word before, a fonds -- singular, not plural -- is the aggregation of documents that originate from the same source, unlike a collection where items come from various sources.) This piqued my interest and I did some further investigating, resulting in a post I made to the Rust list in early December 2004 that detailed a particular item held in the Scott Young fonds.
Scott Sandie, editor of Broken Arrow, the quarterly magazine of the Neil Young Appreciation Society, included an article about the Trent University Archives in Broken Arrow #97 (February 2005). I immediately latched on to one of his comments: "It would be fascinating for a Canadian NYAS member to visit Trent and carry out some research and analysis on this Archive." I took this as a personal challenge. I live just north of Toronto, approximately a 1-1/2 hour drive from Peterborough and the Trent University Archives, so I was ideally situated to take advantage of its proximity.
The main stumbling block was the opearting hours of the Archives -- Monday to Friday during regular daytime hours. (Summer hours proved even more restrictive.) Nevertheless, I expressed my interest in making a research trip to Trent University in a post to the Rust list in March 2005. A few other Rusties expressed interest in planning an expedition, but nothing came of it. Scheduling presented too much of a challenge.
The trip finally became a reality in October 2009. Over the previous nine months I had done some preliminary research for an article I had proposed to Scott Sandie about Neil's early school days in Ontario, Florida and Manitoba. I knew that an exploratory journey to the Scott Young fonds was in order, and I mentioned to Scott that I planned to make my first visit there soon. Scott remarked that he and Jo [Scott's wife] had always planned to visit Canada and that he'd like to join me on my trip to the Archives if possible. Plans were quickly made and dates were pinned down. I arranged for a few days off from work.
Scott and Jo began their five-week visit in September, starting in the western provinces with a scheduled stop in Winnipeg on their way to Toronto. I knew in advance that my husband and I would also be in Winnipeg during this time and we made plans to rendezvous. This is when Scott and I met in person for the first time. We were both excited about our upcoming trip to the Trent University Archives in early October: it was possible that a treasure trove of undiscovered material awaited us. I managed to get some research and interviewing done while in Winnipeg and both Scott and I were escorted on separate Neil tours of the city. My husband and I flew back to Toronto while Scott and Jo continued their journey. We made plans to meet again in Toronto and then proceed to Peterborough.
I discovered that five separate sub-fonds comprise the Scott Young fonds -- 06-002, 90-003, 92-103, 95-001 and 96-002 -- all donated to the Trent University Archives between 1990 and 2006 by either Scott or Margaret Hogan Young. (A smaller collection of donated materials, also part of the broader Scott Young fonds, is held in the Archives of Ontario at York University in Toronto. I did some additional research there at a later date.) I had discussed with Scott Sandie in advance which boxes we should request to be pulled for our visit. We zeroed in quickly on the material listed in other fonds that seemed like good prospects. I sent the archivist a lenghty list of our requests.
Scott and Jo arrived in Toronto and we departed for Peterborough on the morning of October 5th, making it to the Archives in time for an afternoon visit. We had familiarized ourselves with the rules and regulations posted online, but the archivist on duty reacquainted us with procedures. (This included the wearing of thin white cotton gloves while handling any material in the boxes.) The archivist was extremely helpful, showing us the ropes and answering any questions we had.
(Photo: Standing in front of the entranceway to the back storage area at the Trent University Archives with Scott Sandie.)
Scott and I were overwhelmed at first. It was hard to know where to begin. Scott Young had had the good foresight to save everything, including old phone messages, correspondence, Christmas cards, address books, photographs, memorabilia, news clippings, manuscripts, tapes and much more.
One of the first boxes we investigated held Scott's personal collection of Broken Arrow issues dating from 1982 to 1999. A surreal moment occurred when I saw issue 16 (August 1984) and realized this was the same issue I had received from Scott Young when he kindly responded to a letter I sent in care of his publisher. In addition to expressing my thanks to him for writing Neil and Me, I had asked him for the mailing address of the NYAS so I could become a member. (I returned issue 16 to Scott after reading it.) Scott's collection of Wooden Nickel issues was stored in the same box. Another box was filled to brimming with correspondence from Neil's fans, including many NYAS members. (I recognized name after name, including my own letters to Scott from 1984.)
We came across hundreds and hundreds of news clippings related to Neil, copies of Scott's columns from the Globe and Mail, reviews of Neil's shows and interviews in various magazines. One of the clippings was a copy of my letter to the editor in the March 1979 issue of Rolling Stone in response to Cameron Crowe's interview with Neil in the February issue -- yet another surreal moment.
Scott Sandie was a model of efficiency and organization. He came across a folder of correspondence relating to Neil's school days, pulled all the relevant material, and put everything in order by date for photocopying. The Archives allowed digital copies of the material to be taken for personal research purposes, but we had to meticulously list everything we photocopied or photographed. All the material had to be returned to the folders in the same order it was taken. I was delighted to find folders full of early family photos, including snapshots of Neil as a child. I was able to readily identify a number of them, but there were others I had never seen before. This made me wonder what else might be hiding in these boxes. A folder containing childhood memorabilia was also jam-packed with relevant material, including Neil's handwritten financial records for Neil Eggs, hand-drawn birthday cards, artwork and homework assignments.
The afternoon passed too quickly and we had barely scratched the surface. We spend the next day sightseeing in Omemee and Peterborough and returned to the Archives for a full day of research on October 7th. We were famliar with the routine this time and got right down to work. inspecting box after box of material and marvelling at the contents. We were allowed to take a more detailed tour of the research room and storage area and were shown exactly where the Scott Young fonds were ordinarily stored. I soon realized that I would need to make a number of repeat visits to the Archives. There was simply too much material to absorb in such a short time. We stayed unitl the building closed, then departed for Toronto. Our short visit to the Trent University Archives had proved extraordinarily fruitful.
"A Shakey Education," my lengthy two-part article about Neil's school days in Ontario, Florida and Manitoba, was published in issues 117 and 118 of Broken Arrow. I was encouraged by the response and decided to expand the article into a book-length work. I felt there was more to be unearthed and discovered, and I was able to arrange some time off from my day job to make repeated visits to the Archives over the next few years. Each visit seemed to reveal a wealth of wondrous new material.
I was thrilled when ECW Press in Toronto offered me a contract for my manuscript in February 2013. (The original title was Neil Young: A Canadian Childhood.) One of the first areas I worked on was securing permissions to publish a selection of photos of memorabilia from the Trent University Archives. This required a high degree of careful organization, including another trip to the Archives. It was a complex process, with different stages that had to be taken along the way, but I managed to meet all of the requirements and was thrilled when I was given the green light to proceed.
Some of the photos selected for Young Neil had previously been used in Neil and Me or had been included in the Archives Book of The Neil Young Archives (Volume 1). Other photos and items of childhood memorabilia have never been seen before. The material in the Scott Young fonds proved essential to the work of unravelling and making sense of Neil's complicated childhood history. I would have been lost without it.
(Photo: In the back storage area of the Trent University Archives with archivist Jodi Aoki.)