Born in Vankleek Hill, Joan Patricia Barton was the middle child of a family of eleven. A family of minimal means, Joan began to develop her musical talents when her grandfather paid for her to take piano lessons with the Sisters of Mary at the convent.
In addition to her piano playing, Joan learned to sing traditional Gaelic songs and performed them well enough to win prizes at the local fair. In addition, Joan played the organ at church services and gladly played the piano at family functions and any time friends gathered. Needless to say, the Scottish music of her heritage played a prominent part in these sing-alongs. Her siblings marveled at how Joan could play the piano and sing harmony at the same time. As a high school student, Joan would rush home to eat and then rush back to school to entertain on the piano while her friends danced. Lunch was an hour and a half long then.
Joan attended the Ryerson Institute of Technology and in 1954 moved to Williamstown to start her teaching career. Soon after, she met her husband-to-be, Coleman MacDonald. They settled next to the MacDonald family farm on Loyalist and Joan P, as she was known, became an active part of the community.
As a teacher at Char-Lan High School, Joan P. put her musical talent to good use. She incorporated it into her English classes and produced and directed numerous musicals. She even organized the student to do a mass highland fling for Cadet Day and at home football games. Seeing all the students in their beautiful kilts and red tunics gave Joan P a great sense of accomplishment and pride.
When the Char-Lan Food Grains Bank needed to raise money, Joan pulled together a group of amateur community actors and founded the St. Brigit’s Amateur Theatre Society. The skits performed by this group reflected the life and times of Williamstown and the music and jokes always included references to the Celtic heritage of the area. In addition, for 52 years, she faithfully filled the role of organist at St. Mary’s Church. Her love of music was passed on to her family and her daughter, Greer Thornbury, is a piper.
Faith, Family and Friends was the motto Joan P lived by; however, she added to that her love of music and her obvious love of life.