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Passing of Michael Bridgeman leaves a sad note

In this Journeys article, we look at the life well lived by Michael Bridgeman, a musician, farmer and family man

Michael Bridgeman struck a chord within the community: a beloved musician and farmer with a booming voice and silly sense of humour who was never short of friends. 

On Aug. 15., Michael passed away at the age of 89 after being diagnosed with dementia.

Oldest son Troy Bridgeman said it was hard to witness his father go through that experience and it has been a complicated week since his death.

"My dad was such a big presence in our lives," said Troy, noting his father valued honesty and authenticity. 

"It's interesting, since he's died, I've had all these people coming forward, and talking to me and telling me these stories, and I've realized he was friends with our friends as much as we were. He would be out places, going to places, and people would be like, 'Oh, I used to go here with your dad.'"

Michael was born March 2, 1933 in South Walsingham in Norfolk County. His father, a school teacher, passed away when he was four. As the 14th of 18 kids, Michael dropped out of school after Grade 7 to help out on the family farm. In South Walsingham, Michael was introduced to his future wife, Joan George.

"My mom, her best friend was her cousin, and her cousin was dating my dad's brother," said Troy, "and so then she met my dad, and I guess they fell in love, like how the stories go."

The couple was still dating when Michael moved to Guelph in 1955 to find work. Joan joined him about a year later and they married on July 21, 1956. During their 66 years of marriage, the family lived on Hearn Avenue before relocating to a farm in Puslinch.

Troy notes his father used to make up silly songs and stories which he would share with his five children. In one story, Michael referred to himself by the nickname 'Big Toe.' 

"They were ridiculous, most of the time, but they were entertaining to us because of his character," said Troy. 

While living in Guelph, Troy recalls his father and mother were very social and involved in activities, like bowling and judo. Rich or poor, Troy said his father was friends with everyone.

"If he didn't like you, you knew it. He didn't judge you because of your religion or your political views, he didn't judge you on whatever else, it was whether or not he got along with you," he said about Michael.

Michael and Joan shared a passion for music and were both known as talented singers. The couple formed a family band called 'The Bridgeman Family,' or 'The Fearless Five' after an announcer made a mistake. For several years, the family travelled across Canada and the United States, performing in country and bluegrass music festivals.

“He (Michael) kind of saw himself as Joe Jackson, the father of the Jackson Five, he kind of had to promote us, although he wanted us to be country music stars and we played with all kinds of famous people," said Troy about the band. 

Despite being known as 'comically' frugal, Troy said he always had enough money to pay for musical instruments or lessons for his children.

"No price was too high when it came to helping us with that," said Troy.

Besides their love of music, Troy notes family was also important to Michael and Joan. Prior to his passing, his father was also a grandfather and great-grandfather. 

"We're all stubborn and bullheaded, which is something we've all learned from my dad, but then it comes down to the crunch, we get together and hold together and that's definitely something we've learned from him," said Troy.

"He was very supportive and I can't think of anything he wouldn't do for us."