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Singer translates Banff history to song

Cori Brewster personalizes her home town
By Roger Levesque, June 4, 2009 (Calgary Herald)

Encountering the amazing geography of the Rockies really makes you think about great expanses of time and space, and how it was for the first travellers and settlers in that part of the world.

Maybe it was inevitable that Cori Brewster would tell some of those stories in song. She grew up in the mountains, so it's not surprising that the gifted singer-songwriter has come up with an album of tunes inspired by the pioneers who lived around her hometown, Banff.

"There's always been a storytelling element in my work," says Brewster, "but this album felt like a new type of storytelling, maybe because you want to get things right when you're dealing with true-life stories."

Dubbed Buffalo St. (after a street in Banff), it's a fascinating set of historical portraits translated into song, an aural artifact that does much to disprove the notion that Banff is just another tourist town.

Brewster acknowledges that some people might tune out the town's history. "I can understand how some people have sort of a love-hate relationship with Banff because it has become so commercial in a sense, and if you just come through to go snowboarding and have a few beers it might seem that way. But there are so many interesting details behind all that. I guess that was part of the reason for this project, to help fill out the underlying historical significance of the area."

Brewster's own ancestors played a notable role in the Banff area going back to 1886, when her great-grandfather John Brewster arrived there. They were the founders and original owners of what is now a key vacation and touring service known today as Brewster Inc.

The Buffalo St. project took root in 2006 when Brewster and her musician friend Bob Remington, who is also a Herald columnist, collaborated on a song about William Twin. Twin was a member of the Stoney-Nakota first nation who befriended John Brewster and helped start Brewster's guide services out of the original Banff Springs Hotel in the 1890s.

That song is told from her grandfather's point of view, as an imagined eulogy for Twin.
Thanks to a Canada Council grant, Brewster became a regular fixture at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, drawing on the archives for inspiration to pen the other nine songs on the album. She also credits the museum staff for adding to the ideas she eventually translated to an evocative set of all-acoustic folk songs.

Buffalo St. features a rich collection of characters, with numbers dedicated to the legendary mountain man Bill Peyto, entertainer Louis Trono, the mountain sherpas, a look at native injustices committed in the settling of the area, a tune about WhyteMuseum founder Peter Whyte, and even a piece about the Irish potato famine, which prompted her family's move to Canada.

Brewster credits her producers Adrian Dolan and Dave Clarke for helping with the additional musicians, the sound quality and arrangements, but the most important part might be that she avoids a dry historical approach, personalizing her songs with atmosphere, imagery and entertaining details.

While Brewster says music was always a passion in her family, she was a bit of a late bloomer.
"Like any young adult, I think I had to leave home for a while maybe to find out who I was.
"When I did decide to do this, knowing the territory as I did helped out a lot."

It was only after graduating from the University of Alberta in 1985 and spending time as a physical education instructor in Manitoba that Brewster moved back to Edmonton in 1993 and made her first CD the next year. Canmore has been her home for eight years, but she visits her parents in Banff.

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