My great-uncle Bart was briefly a Gong Renter in Winnipeg in the 60s. He rented gongs at affordable prices to local high school concert bands and hippy musicians looking to diversify their sound with some Oriental punch. He claimed to have smoked up with Joni Mitchell.
For about 3 years, he ran a little outfit called “The Gong Shoppe” a few blocks from the corner of Portage and Main. He also sold Kosher salami out of the back of his van. Izzy Asper was a regular salami-hound, and he and Bart used to gamble on horse races together. While not the most sensual of the salted cured-meats, salami is perhaps the most versatile, the most durable, among the most phallic, and the most fun to pronounce.
The Gong Shoppe attracted a rag-tag band of local curiosities and Blue Bombers. It was a very exciting time to be in Winnipeg, to be sure. Bart’s gongs were occasionally featured in local amateur theatre. For a time, he acquired the services of a young half-Cree runaway as a gong-runner or as a salami-taster. For his services, the boy was paid in salami and k’nishes. That young boy grew up to be the acclaimed television actor Tom Jackson, notable for his work on North of 60 and for a guest appearance on the seventh season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is also Chancellor of Trent University. To this day, Jackson claims to be the first Cree man to work as a Kosher salami-taster.
Every year, during the second weekend of May, Bart would donate all of his surplus salami to local vagrants to clear room for the gongs. He would load his finest gongs into the van and drive north to Thompson for the Annual Gong Show. Northern Manitoba has always been renowned for its gong shows and the Thompson of the 1960s was no exception. Gong dealers (renters and retailers) came from across central Canada to measure each other’s gongs and compare hardness and reverberative qualities. Bart was never able to submit a prize-winning gong, but this was not surprising given that most of the gongmen had been in the gong business for well over 20 years. Some were 3rd or 4th generation gongers.
Bart got out of the gong business in 1967. He was concerned about the permanent ringing in his ears, and he also repeatedly stated that he was “tired of competing with the verkakte Chinamen.” He moved east to Montreal, where he took up residence near the Cavendish Mall and began selling jumpsuits. But that is a story for another time.