Ernie started out playing in bars and coffee houses — part of Sneezy Waters’ band in the early 1970s, and ready to start a career devoted to music. But his story doesn’t play out on the Ottawa scene, the young piano player struggling alongside every other musician in town, trying make a name for himself.
A CALL TO MINISTRY
Instead, his talent grew in the same place so many gospel greats started out: the church. With a Bachelors Degree in Music from the University of Ottawa, Ernie took on the role of Music Director at Ottawa’s Parkdale United, which is where he came to learn how music can inspire — and while there, he found himself being called down a different path, one towards the ministry. In 1980, Ernie graduated from Acadia University's Divinity College. With his new career in the ministry ready to begin, he and his family (Lynda, Jordan and Jimmy) settled outside of Ottawa, to take a church in the small town of Winchester, where his reputation as a great preacher and performer began to build.
After a few years, he returned to Parkdale United as Minister of Music. By 1990, Ernie’s accessible preaching and musical reputation were widely known, and it was then that he accepted an offer to lead his own church in Ottawa: Fourth Avenue Baptist. Under his leadership, Fourth Avenue grew into the open, accepting church it is today, with an inclusive message that kept music front and center.
A SECOND START
In 2007, Ernie retired from Fourth Avenue Baptist after 17 years, deciding to make his music accessible to everyone — to perform beyond just Sunday morning and those occasional shows. He recorded One More Time, an album of blues and gospel numbers, the genres resting comfortably alongside each other. It’s not much of a stretch, really — despite the hardship and heartache, these blues songs often strike a note of hope, just like the gospel numbers speak of a higher hope.
But for Ernie, gospel music isn’t really gospel unless it looks to a better, fuller, more meaningful life, today — and that’s the same inclusive, second-chance message he’s always preached.
Today, Ernie is the minister at McPhail Memorial Baptist Church in downtown Ottawa.