Guitars for Vets: A Project by Great Big Sea’s Sean McCann

[A report from intern-in-residence Dorothy Lee. – AC]

If you’ve ever doubted the healing power of music therapy, here’s proof that it is actually very effective.

Jim Lowther is a veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD who had tried almost every form of therapy that was available. Then one day, he took out his old guitar and started playing again, and was amazed by the therapeutic benefits it offered him:

It took me away from where I was, I drifted off for about 15 or 20 minutes. To me, it was unbelievable.

Jim believes his guitar saved him and he wanted to share the healing power of music with his fellow veterans, and so he founded Guitars for Vets six years ago. The program aims to provide support and comfort to Canadian veterans, and current members of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP who are suffering from PTSD or “other service-related injuries or disabilities” including mental illness, homelessness, and addiction by providing them with guitars, beginner lessons and a supportive community. So far, Guitars for Vets have provided guitars to over 800 veterans and current military members without a large cost, and they have a waiting list of approximately 100 people.

According to a senior psychiatrist with the Canadian Forces, the three most common mental health conditions in the military are depression, PTSD and substance abuse; and many suffer alone in silence. There is also the serious ongoing problem of suicide. According to The Department of National Defence as reported by Global News, 130 active military members have committed suicide since 2010. It is unknown how many veterans have committed suicide during this time period. However, a new strategy by the federal government includes the promise to track and report those numbers in the future.

Today (Friday, November 10), Great Big Sea’s Séan McCann who is the official National Ambassador for Guitars for Vets will be hosting a benefit concert at the Algonquin Commons Theatre in Ottawa in support of the program. The show will feature performances by Sarah Harmer, Joel Plaskett, Jeremy Fisher, and McCann himself. The price of each ticket is $100, and proceeds will go towards guitar purchases and free lessons for former and current service men and women across Canada.

McCann is a survivor himself also. He was sexually abused at the age of 15 by a priest, and used alcohol to cope with what happened to him. He feels that his guitar was the key to his recovery and believes it saved his life. He has now been sober for six years.

In the future, Guitars for Vets would like to open a music centre where veterans can come to play any instrument together, and socialize in a supportive environment to help the healing process.

For more information, please visit

Guitars for Vets

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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