Rupert Songs

🕔Jan 27, 2010

“It’s no easy life, living where we do,” sings Frances Riley over an acoustic guitar and the rhythmic beat of a djembe. The opening line of her song, written and recorded for the compilation CD, Rupert Songs, is also the opening line of the compilation itself, which spans styles, genres, and interpretations of the infamously wet coastal community.

While Riley’s take on Rupert is that of a cold, starkly beautiful place, she does qualify its savage beauty by admitting her love for the town. “Truth be told,” she sings, “I love the gale against the eaves; I’ve had my chance to go but I can’t leave.”

The CD’s 15 songs, written and performed by Rupertites past and present, range in personality from a quirky, lilting tune about sailing through spectacular ocean scenery to a folk ballad about a fishing captain working on northern waters to a love song set in the rain, each one paying homage to a town that has immense character and beauty. The vastly varied personalities of the people living here is what makes the community special, and the album reflects its diversity.

Rupert Songs is the brainchild of local musicians Tom Lehar and Kate Lines, known on stage simply as ‘Tom and Kate.’ Drawn to the town’s slow pace and staggering scenery, they moved to Rupert in 2005 after working as musicians on cruise ships. Building on their collective musical experience, they decided to open a recording studio and, for their first big project, put together a compilation featuring local talent to coincide with the city’s centennial in 2010.

Lehar is now the proud owner/operator of Summit Sound Lounge, a studio he set up in 2008. He was eager to take the album on, but co-ordinating a compilation is a gargantuan effort.

For her part, Lines realized shortly after putting out the call to the community that the project required more than just the efforts of herself and Lehar alone. The creation of Garden Records shortly followed.

Between the record label and the studio, all the elements were in place to create the compilation. Me, I came into the project first as a songwriter, throwing my own Rupert-inspired song into the mix, and secondly as a founding business partner with Lines at the record label. Running a label is a bizarre and challenging process, but the experience of working with more than 15 different musical talents has been incredible.

The support that Garden Records received for Rupert Songs has been unbelievable. There has been financial support, donations of various types, and a constant undercurrent of encouragement. The Arts Council gave generously to sponsor the first pressing, for example, and the Lester Centre of the Arts donated its space for the CD release party. Watching the community come together to create this artistic tribute has been amazing. And that is the true benefit of living in smaller communities: people pull together.

Locals past and present
Who’s on the CD? The response to that initial call was overwhelming. One of the first to come through the door and lay down a track was Jack Sigurdson, who moved to Rupert in the late 1980s after playing a week-long music gig in town. Ironically, he first fell in love with the city’s weather: his initial week in the coastal town was during one of its rare spells of summer sun. After leaving to continue his tour, he kept thinking back to Prince Rupert’s “warm, beautiful climate and interesting people.” That in itself says something essential about Rupert: when the weather’s nice, life is divine!

Sigurdson’s song, Coming Home, was originally written for a songwriting contest (which it won) and was rerecorded for the compilation. His partner Peggy Carl also contributed a song. “The greatest attraction of Prince Rupert for me,” explains Carl about the inspiration for Going Sailing, “is the surrounding area…the ocean and the islands and the wild beauty of it all.” Her song captures the essence of being in those places, evoking images of the rolling sea.
Other songs include a contribution by a local 14-year-old, inspired by the scenic stretch of Highway 16 between Terrace and Rupert, a haunting love story by prolific musician Sall Gibson, and a tune written by CBC radio host Russell Bowers, who has since left the area. Bowers’ song was inspired by the pre-dawn sky bursting with the colours of the Aurora that he witnessed on his walks to work. “In my world,” he writes, “the North still has a queen: this city of rainbows.”

The list goes on: A song about the people who leave but pine for Prince Rupert; another about a woman embodying the town’s spirit; a tune about living with the wet weather; a song about the beautiful Pacific misty mornings; and there’s even my song, about my son being born here.

Local choirs contributed as well, recording their renditions in a church under a towering pipe organ. The children’s choir sings a song by the late Mary Lester, a well-respected community member for many years, and the adult choir sings a version of Phyllis Sinclair’s North Coast Fisher Wife’s Prayer. Sinclair is an acclaimed musician who, like Bowers, lived in Prince Rupert for a number of years, co-hosting CBC’s Daybreak North. She left CBC in the mid 1990s to work with the fishing industry, where she had an intimate connection with the people who live and work on the ocean. Her song is about the fear of losing family to the storms that funnel through the infamous Hecate Strait.

“It’s based on true experiences,” she says, explaining that not only did she deal almost daily with fishermen’s wives in her job at Ocean Fisheries, but also that her 16-year-old son worked as a deckhand on a boat. “I understood the fear of being a mother with a son out on the water.” Arranged for choir by Rotary Choir director Peter Witherley, the song taps into the reality of what life in Rupert is like: a poignant reminder of the dangerous resource industry that drives the whole of the West Coast.

Together, these 15 songs reflect an array of images that the little west-coast town at the end of the road conjures up. It’s a place of scenic beauty, high expectations, love stories and tragedies; it’s a place that gets into your head and never gets out; it’s a place where—yes—it rains a lot. But whether you stay forever or leave after a short while, Prince Rupert is definitely a special place. As Sinclair puts it, some 10 plus years after she left, “I’ve never forgotten my years of living in Prince Rupert.” She describes her time in the Northwest as a milestone in her life. Time spent here is decidedly that—a milestone experience—and Rupert Songs celebrates the community’s centennial milestone in song.

For more information, go to