Bernie Finkelstein urges grads to fight for Canadian culture and music

Bernie Finkelstein

Canadian music impresario Bernie Finkelstein challenged graduating students to take up and continue the fight for Canadian music and culture, “because like democracy, it must be attended to every day or we will lose it,” he said.

“I spent my whole life promoting Canadian music for both fun and profit and along the way I had to fight not just to get people to listen, but in general , to get them to care about Canadian music and more broadly, Canadian culture,” said Finkelstein, who was at convocation ceremonies Wednesday to receive an honorary doctor of letters degree from York University.

Bernie Finkelstein Bernie Finkelstein

He told grads that he spent his life moving forward on a dream that was at times supported by just a wing and a prayer. “That’s about all I could rely on when I got started in 1964 in what we now call the Canadian music business,” he said.

Through hard work and vision, that dream became a reality for Finkelstein, who for more than 45 years, has been one of the leading figures in both the Canadian and worldwide music industry. In the 1960s, he began his career managing two of Canada’s earliest internationally known groups, The Paupers and Kensington Market, and later handled such stars as Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLauchlan, Dan Hill, Barney Bentall, Stephen Fearing and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings. In 1969, he founded True North Records, Canada’s oldest and one of the country’s largest independent record companies. To date, True North has more than 500 releases, 40 Juno Awards and 40 gold and platinum records to its credit.

He recounted to graduands of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Fine Arts, Glendon College, and the Faculty of Science & Engineering, how despite dropping out of high school while in Grade 10, he had continued to be a lifelong learner. He spoke about learning to type in high school and how that skill had come in handy years later as he mastered the computer and the Internet.  “The point is that you never know when something you’ve learned will come in handy,” he said. “Keep on learning when you leave here because you are at the beginning of a very exciting adventure. Please make a contribution, but also be committed.”

After leaving high school, Finkelstein headed for Yorkville, which in the 1960s was a mecca for musicians, Bohemia and beatniks. “It was soon to be the home of rock and roll and it was there that I fell into my future,” he said. “However I never stopped thinking about my education and my hat goes off to you for continuing your education and reaching this exciting new juncture in your lives.”

York University’s convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Finkelstein’s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.