In The Spotlight with Dave Woods: Jeff Brown
May 10, 2023
Artist of the Month: Amanda Jordan
May 10, 2023

Ontario’s Country Music Pioneers: Nancy Ryan

// by Larry Delaney //

(#74 in the Ontario Country Music Pioneers Series)

Nancy Ryan has enjoyed a long and successful career on the Canadian country music scene as a recording artist, songwriter and performing artist. She is also a professional horse trainer/rider/owner – horses and music top Nancy’s “been there…done that” list.  


Nancy was born March 13, 1947, in Toronto. On her 10th birthday, the family home burned to the ground… they relocated to Sturgeon Falls and later moved to Timmins. She currently makes her home in Belleville. 


Nancy Ryan’s first recording, in 1957, was a piano piece – a Mozart sonata in C-Major. It got a little more Country after that… she wrote some early career tunes: “I Told Her”, and “Trouble”. As a teenager, she first began performing on the Northern Hoedown (a TV show out of Sudbury, Ontario), airing for 26 episodes in 1958-59.


As a recording artist, Nancy Ryan’s first studio work was produced by Louis Innis at Bradley’s Barn and at Fireside studios in Nashville, in 1964. Initially, she was cutting demos for Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton… later filling-in for Janie Fricke with the Sound 70’s Singers, performing background vocals on various recordings and live shows.  


In 1972, she connected with producer Gary Buck, recording three songs written by Dallas Harms (I Can’t Stand To See A Grown Man Cry / If There’s A Better Way To Tell Me / I Woke Up Crying In My Sleep), and her own song, Polar Bear Special. The singles were released on the Arpeggio Records label. 


In 1978, Nancy released her debut album “Rouge” on the Westmount Music label, the title derived from “red” being her favourite colour. The album contained six of her own original tunes, as well as a classy cover of the Gordon Lightfoot song, “Cherokee Bend” – one of the first Canadian female artists to record a Lightfoot tune. 


Her recordings included the 1980 single release, “Run Terry Run” (a Canadian Cancer Society fund-raising tribute to Canadian folk hero Terry Fox).  


She also recorded sessions in Nashville for Shannon Records, produced by Bud Logan, with her songs being featured on single releases for the label; as well as being part of the “Country Western Shannon Style” album, which included entries by Nashville artists Wilma Burgess, Harlan Sanders, George Kent, and others.  


Nancy has also worked the Ontario country club circuit for many years as a solo artist, as well as fronting a number of bands – Musical Ride, The Fender Trio, Ramblers Three (a U.S.-based bluegrass band), The Country Bandits, Ruffian, and the band Sundown, which included musicians Wade Champion, Al Gain and Bob Swaggers.  


Nancy Ryan was also a popular guest on numerous Canadian country television shows: Country Hoedown, Country Time (a CBC Halifax show), The Tommy Hunter Show, Family Brown Country, The Jimmy Phair Show; and a semi-regular on Nashville Swing, with six appearances. She was also a featured artist on the Ray Griff Goodtime Country TV Show, where she performed on all 26 episodes of the show, as a solo artist and with The Good Time Singers (Dottie Randall and Andy Greatrix). The audio for those shows (1973-74) was recorded at Eastern Sound studios in Toronto; the video segments at CJOH in Ottawa. 


As a back-up vocalist, Nancy has been featured with The Good Time Singers on numerous recordings, including albums by Marg Osburne, Dick Nolan, Smiley Bates and Tommy Ambrose; plus, many of the releases by artists on the Condor Records label. Also notable is a lead vocal performance with Margaret Good on the 1981 Rick Fielding recording, “If It’s Just The Whiskey Talkin”.   


The Good Time Singers were also featured as the back-up vocal group for many of the guest performers on the popular Opry North shows, staged at the Minkler Auditorium in Toronto. 


One of Nancy’s most rewarding musical ventures was The Kangazoo Club, taped in 1982 on location at African Lion Safari, Marineland and Toronto Metro Zoo. She wrote 54 original Children’s songs for the 26 episodes of the TV show, which has since been aired in 70 countries, including Global’s Y-Channel in Canada. 


HORSES – are a big part of the Nancy Ryan “story”.  She got her first pony when she was 5 years old… and for years later, was never without a couple of horses in her life. Show Horse riding was her first love – both Western and English show styles; winning awards for show jumping, dressage, cross-country, and Stadium Jumping. During the 1980s, she owned and operated the North Virginia Acres equestrian centre in Sutton, Ontario, eventually getting into the horse racing game at Woodbine and Fort Erie racetracks. 


In addition to her love for music… and horses, Nancy has also found time for some extra challenges. In 1994, she went back to Queen’s University, earning a BA in Psychology… and then a four-year term to become a Registered Nurse, practising in hospitals for the next 15 years of her busy life. 


Now “retired” and living in Belleville, Ontario, Nancy Ryan keeps active musically with some friends, in their group –  A Wing And A Prayer!!    


A Footnote: In the early 1980s, Nancy Ryan was featured as the “Queen Of Spades” in a souvenir deck of playing cards promoting Canadian Country Music stars…. how appropriate!!  


Lost your password?

Create an account?