Joey O'Neil '07

Joey O’Neil ‘07 wakes up in her log cabin, located just outside of Dawson City in the Yukon. The fire’s gone out in her wood-burning stove and the heat’s slowly dissipating. She pulls herself out of bed to chop firewood so she can build another fire before the cabin’s interior temperature drops. If she needs water, she will have to go down to the river to fetch some. Luckily, her dog can help her pull water back to the cabin. Later, she settles down to write music for songs she has percolating in her head. For the past nine years, this has been a familiar routine for Joey in her off-the-grid cabin.    

Joey performing a virtual concert from her log cabin.

After graduating from Greenwood, Joey took a gap year to figure out what she wanted to do before deciding to attend the Theatre Arts program at George Brown College. It was an extremely competitive program and Joey was not invited to attend for the next semester. She took another gap year before enrolling into the independent music production program at Seneca College. This year-long bootcamp program taught her songwriting, production, marketing, grant application writing and merchandising. She then went to the Yukon where she attended the School of Visual Arts (SOVA); her intention was to complete a year in Dawson City and then transfer to complete the degree at OCAD.

Joey spent one winter up north and made the decision to stay. She initially lived in Dawson City inside a parked trailer home. While she would visit people who lived across the river in log cabins, Joey didn’t imagine that she could do cabin living herself. But, after seeing people her age making it work, Joey thought that she could try it out. There was a beautiful log cabin made with white birch up for rent and Joey leapt at the opportunity. She lived in the cabin for 8 years before moving to another cabin nearby. 

Joey’s yearning for the north may have begun when she went dogsledding for a winter outdoor education trip. During a campfire rest on the expedition, Joey remembers listening to someone recite Robert W. Service’s poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee. It sparked her imagination and since then, she’s always had a hankering for the north. And thanks to her new neighbours in the cabin community, she was able to go dogsledding again. “Cabin life is great. It’s such a privilege to walk outside, be in nature and pick berries or swim in a river.”

Joey with her dog Oblio in the Arctic Circle.

Joey’s music has given her the chance to connect with the community of banjo and guitar players in Dawson City. “There are a lot of jam sessions with dogs running all over the place and even howling to the music,” she says. “Sometimes the huskies can even howl in tune!” 

Joey has driven across Canada at least 10 times, giving performances in many parts of the country. She recently completed a tour across Canada with one unique twist: the venues were dog parks. “In Toronto, it would be Cherry Beach dog park, but my favourite overall would be Maple Grove dog park in Manitoba,” Joey says when asked to rank her favourite dog parks across the country.

Recently, Joey has been staying in Toronto at her mother’s while she records new music and tries out a new instrument, the theremin. “There’s a refrigerator, air conditioning, running water, shower and toilet?!,” Joey marvels at the common amenities in her mother’s home. “That’s incredible for me.” Now that she’s experienced life without them, she has a greater appreciation for these modern conveniences.
Joey O'Neil on one her winter OE trips during her time at Greenwood.

Joey’s advice to students is to appreciate the experiences that Greenwood has to offer, savour their time at the school and not be afraid to ask for help. “I really enjoyed the drama program at Greenwood,” Joey remembers. “That theatrical education really taught me a lot of self awareness. And my teachers really helped to instil a sense of confidence in me.”

Find out more about Joey’s music and where she’s playing next here.

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