Fire in the Belly: Kamla Hari McGonigal

Fire in the Belly: Kamla Hari McGonigal

March 27, 2010 By By Sandra Wiebe
Routes Magazine


“The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” – Elie Wiesel


Breezing through university degrees faster than a speeding bullet, raising two boys, managing a nursing career, and baking specialty cakes all in a single bound, Kamla McGonigal comes across as a modern day superwoman. Yet through it all she still finds time to inspire others to seek their passions and follow their dreams.

Kamla (Kam to family and friends) grew up on a farm west of HighRiver as the second oldest of six children. It was her paternal great grandfather, Harnam Singh Hari, born in northern India, who, over 100 years ago, came to farm in Calgary, then Dewinton. Kamla, now a registered nurse and patient care manager for two urgent care centres in the area, credits a generational strong work ethic for her success. She comes from a family of strong, energetic women, particularly her mother.

Even at age two, Kamla was said to be a very focused child. “Most things just came easy for me,” said Kamla. That is, until she decided to pursue her passion for music, and found her kryptonite. “My struggle in attempting to be a musician is like pushing water up hill. I have to keep reminding myself that everything now easy in life was once hard, usually very hard. Just keep practicing!”

Photographed at the Highwood Distillery whisky storage room. Photo by Neville Palmer.

Photographed at the Highwood Distillery whisky storage room. Photo by Neville Palmer.

When she was young, Kamla fell in love with the drums while watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, then became a fan of Judas Priest, the Doors and AC/DC. “Before drumming, I wasn’t easily intimidated,” she said. “Now I know fear; especially the first few times playing publicly in a band. Yikes! I just felt so exposed; it’s like baring your soul.”

Although she has managed to earn herself a spot as a drummer in a band, Kamla claims to have no talent, just desire and discipline. “I am a true amateur,” she says. “Struggling to learn a new skill is very humbling; it has made me more understanding, compassionate, patient and accepting of others, especially as a nurse and a manager.”

In order to learn new songs, Kamla listens to music over and over for hours, every Saturday morning. At one time, the ritual also included baking ‘Whisky Cakes’ – another passion she aims to perfect.

Three years ago, with a couple of business partners, Kamla set out to produce a unique, first class gift that would represent the unbridled spirit of the West. “I wanted it to be the ‘Bernard Callebaut’ of cake.” Kamla envisioned the cakes as one of the three things tourists would take home from Canada: B.C. salmon, maple syrup and the ‘Alberta Whisky Cake’.

Today, she works with grand ambition; her goal not yet fully materialized. The cakes will provide an avenue for supporting young people interested in artistic and cultural activities. Presently, every cake package contains a frame-ready card with an image that showcases the work of a local amateur artist, (paintings, photography, airbrush, sculpture, jewelry, leather tooling, etc.). Eventually, Kamla hopes to also include samples from local musical artists as part of each cake purchase.

“I feel privileged to have met some of the most amazing young people lately, who are making our world a better place, and with such passion and confidence,” She notes “I feel honored to promote their work.”

Kamla also dreams of one day opening a youth centre. “Youth who are not academically inclined can fall through the cracks (of society); they could use a safe, enriching, and fun place to go. I call it the grassroots of health care.” Even now, her basement is packed two nights a week with young musicians, including her own two sons, playing, writing and recording music.

Kamla seeks to encourage young people to reach their potential, to boost self-esteem through their art forms. “I realize how much skill it takes and how truly gifted, unappreciated and unsupported many musicians are.”

While Kamla says she feels blessed to be in great health, and have the energy that comes with that, she is otherwise humbled by her gifts of leadership and inspiration. “I’m nothing special. We all do as much as we can. I just use my abilities to help others be productive and recognized for what they do.”

The Alberta Whisky Cake is made from many local ingredients:

Premium High River Distillery whisky

Ellison Flour, Lethbridge

Canola oil (a true 100% Canadian product)

Maplewood boxes, made in DeWinton

A local bakery is now baking the cakes, but Kamla still gets up early to ‘meditate on the skins’.