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If The Provincial Archives Could Sing ...
Cori Brewster found musical inspiration in forgotten corners of Alberta history
Published May 28, 2009  by Curtis Wright in Music Preview See Magazine

I remember how, when I was a kid, every summer my parents would haul out the old oversized atlas of Alberta and every summer they’d tell my brother and me to pick a spot on the map we’d like to check out. Because it was located basically in the middle of the province, Red Deer was the first Alberta break we took. My recollection, sadly, is that it wasn’t nearly as cool as I’d hoped. But as I grew older and learned a thing or two about the actual history of Alberta and the wealth of attractions our province offers, I realized there’s more of a story to be told here than my childhood self ever imagined.

Calgary singer/songwriter Cori Brewster could have told me that years ago. She celebrates Alberta’s rich and largely unknown history on her latest album, Buffalo Street. With this release, Brewster joins a distinguished group of Albertan vocalists — people like the legendary Ian Tyson and that hurtin’ Albertan, Corb Lund — who share her affinity for storytelling and times gone by.
Buffalo Street began modestly, as a concept album simply about Brewster’s family history, but it took on a life of its own when family and friends insisted that she take her passion and her personal history public. And indeed, much of the charm of the Buffalo Street project comes from the way anybody can relate to wanting to know a bit about their ancestry. “I certainly have a long history [in Alberta],” Brewster says. “My great-great grandfather arrived here in 1886, my father was born here, and my grandfather was born here. And when I moved back here [to Bow Valley], I thought it might be time to rediscover my sense of place and cultural roots.”

As with Ian Tyson, a large part of Brewster’s fascination with Alberta comes from her love of unearthing little-known stories from the past. Take the song “That Was Hell,” for instance, which celebrates the colourful legend of explorer and guide Bill Peyto, who saved the lives several stranded climbers, fought grizzly bears (not with his bare hands, but still!), and enjoyed bringing live lynx into bars and shooting them. The song, however, illuminates the softer side of the unruly man: a smitten Wild Bill marries the woman of his dreams and when she suddenly passes away, he gets lost in the heartache and finds support in a bottle and a backcountry cabin. A tamed Peyto, Brewster sings, “was wounded in the war and barley made it home. That was hell, but not like losing you.”
“Stories resonate with everybody and a lot of people can relate to the element of storytelling,” Brewster says. “I sort of let the hidden treasures find me.... There are a lot more stories to be told.”
And Brewster hopes other artists like her act quickly before some of those stories are lost forever. “Banff, as much as being an incredibly beautiful place to be, doesn’t pay attention to the historical aspect,” she says. “If it doesn’t, it could be swallowed up and become only a tourist town. I think it’s important that the people that live there promote their history. It’s not just another tourist town — it has a wealth of history and a story to tell....

“I think it’s important that we preserve the culture and sink into something else. It’s too easy to look for the Starbucks instead of the history of the area.”