In Memory of Justin Haynes, 1973-2019

Justin Grant Alan Haynes was born February 24, 1973. As a boy growing up in Dunrobin, now on the outskirts of the amalgamated city of Ottawa, he attended school in Kanata where he was remembered fondly by a former music teacher. At the age of 12, Haynes discovered the music of revered jazz guitarist Joe Pass. He was playing out before the end of high school and making a name for himself in Ottawa’s music scene.

By the mid-90’s, Haynes lived in Ottawa’s Centretown and while he apparently liked it there, Toronto held more opportunities to play one’s own music. He joined the migration of some of his Ottawa musician friends and left for Toronto. He quickly found himself busy with all sorts of projects, including some with well known artists like Tanya Tagaq and Mary Margaret O’Hara. He also taught where he could, including music therapy related work with people on the autism spectrum.

A residency at the National Music Centre in Alberta 2012 seems to have only postponed the problem of making ends meet in Toronto. Haynes was quite candid about his struggles both online and in print.

Justin Haynes’ story is a sad one to tell. The 46-year-old composer and multi-instrumentalist was found dead in his basement apartment on March 13. A sad, premature death in the local arts community, but more frustratingly, Haynes had a lengthy, well respected career. If he couldn’t survive the life of a working musician in Toronto, one wonders if this is an indictment against the cost of living (renting) in Toronto.

Haynes worked with new players, seasoned veterans, on stage, in studios, composing and performing a wide range of styles. He played for audiences of all sizes; from The Rex downtown, to appearances at prestigious festivals across Canada, like the Victoriaville music festival and seminal American festivals including SXSW. He even performed at Canadian embassies.

Despite casting a large net in the musical pond of Toronto, regular gigs as a teacher, composer and player weren’t enough to pay all the bills.

Haynes found himself homeless briefly, and he wrote about life at Seaton House for Now magazine. CBC picked up the story, the city of Toronto officially responded, and it became one of those fleeting moments when homelessness makes the news.

Back off the streets, on ODSP, and living in a 500 square foot basement, Haynes was struggling with personal issues. The single father was trying to qualify for overnight stays with his son in the tiny apartment.
Despite recognition for Haynes musical pedigree among musicians, he spent years living hand to mouth. He wrote jazz, folk, solo and group music. The musician was well ensconced in soundscape creation, a growing field, but not necessarily a revenue stream.

A GoFundMe page was opened for his 12-year-old son, George Freeland-Haynes where the community came together and donated over $40,000.

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S.A.C. Spotify Episode 7: Remembering Justin Haynes. Click here to listen.

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