Joan (Gormley) O’Hara

2011 Jun

Joan Gormley O’HaraJoan Gormley O’Hara started performing at an early age in her backyard, where, despite several falls, she was determined to conquer cartwheels first with two hands then with her right hand.

From the age of 6 – 12 years, she and her sister, Dorothy took dancing lessons from Carrie Biggers, a champion highland dancer who came up from Montreal to Alexandria on weekends to teach. Joan began dancing in earnest, competing and winning many competitions in Glengarry and throughout the Ottawa Valley, including the first Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville in 1947.

In 1938, attired in her Dress MacLeod kilt, Joan danced her famed Sword Dance for the annual reunion of Glengarry folks. Then at the age of 16 years, with hundreds of people attending, she danced the Highland Fling for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when the Royal train stopped at Alexandria station on the way to Montreal and New York City.

Joan was a very active participant with a talented group of girls who performed at concerts in The Alexander Hall and at many church activities and socials from Laggan to Lancaster. The girls were directed by Agnes (Sandy Ranald) McDonald with Joan as her assistant. Many people remember Joan dancing the sword dance in figure skates at a skaters’ carnival. She is quite proud of the fact that she never touched the sword.

In addition to dancing, Joan also sang. A singing teacher at Alexandria High School formed a choir to perform at the church socials, Alexander Hall concerts and special events at the high school. One very memorable concert was “The Waltz of the Flowers, ” a highly choreographed event in which Joan performed a solo.

At high school, Joan was very active in track and field and was senior girls’ champion for 1937, ’38 & ’39 and was team captain of the girls’ hockey team. Her athletic achievements were recognized in 2002 when she was inducted into the Glengarry Sports Hall of Fame.

After high school Joan first joined the Bank of Nova Scotia and then later, the Glengarry News where she stayed until 1952. Joan began teaching young girls from Alexandria and surrounding areas. One of her students was Jean McInnes Campbell. During this time, she would hurry to the high school at lunch time to teach dancing to girls from out of town; this saved their parents an extra trip. She also kept busy helping to arrange and participate in area events, volunteering her time as Chartered President of the Ladies’ Auxiliary of #423 Legion Branch in Alexandria, visiting and volunteering at the Hotel Dieu Hospital and the Maxville Manor.

Joan married Howard O’Hara in 1952 and moved to Cornwall; however, she kept in touch with her Glengarry roots and attended many events—especially those with a Celtic flair. Now a resident of Maxville Manor, Joan loves the Celtic music and joins in the singing whenever given an opportunity.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply