<< Return to Articles and Reviews

Brewster set to unveil Buffalo Street
By Rob Alexander - Rocky Mountain Outlook

If it isn’t handled well, history can be boring, crusty and pointless, but in the hands of the likes of Banff-born singer-songwriter Cori Brewster it can be interesting, meaningful and even emotional.

Brewster is days away from releasing her fourth album, Buffalo Street, a 10-song album inspired by the rich history of the Canadian Rockies, at a CD release party at the Canmore Miners’ Union Hall, Friday (June 19) at 8 p.m. as part of the Seventh Annual Canmore artsPeak Arts Festival.

The Canmore resident is also performing at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies on Saturday (June 27) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available at the museum. Brewster, also the festival’s honorary chair, is proof that history – when approached with passion – can be given a fresh creative spin with a broad range of appeal.

Through the 10 historical songs, Buffalo Street tells a story about some of Banff’s most colourful and intriguing figures, including William Twin, Bill Peyto, Louis Trono, Peter Whyte and Catharine Robb and members of the Brewster family. “I didn’t really realize, until I was flipping through the CD jacket, how much of a tribute it is to the Brewster family. I didn’t approach the project like that at all. I did let one story go into the next, but it just so happens that the stories do tie in some way or another to the Brewster family,” she said.

“In our case, business was family, everything we did was part of our family and upbringing. We never did a very good job of separating the two.”While each song tells a different aspect of the heritage and history of the Rocky Mountains – along with two poignant and powerful songs featuring people of the Stoney-Nakoda First Nation – Brewster is clear on one point, she’s not a historian, but a storyteller.
And as a storyteller she gave herself a certain amount of creative license with the history and the songs, tweaking a few of them to suit the story.

“I love the expression ‘don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’. If someone comes up to me and says this isn’t quite historically accurate, I can say to them, you know what, it isn’t. I’m a storyteller and that’s an important aspect of it,” she said, adding the facts are equally important, but at times difficult to work with.

“Buffalo street corral, 1881? Maybe I needed a rhyme!” she said with a laugh. Banff was founded in the fall of 1883 when rail crews with the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived. “I’m always open to people coming up to me and saying, ‘Cori, that’s not how it really happened’.”But, she said, if the storyteller has done their job in keeping the historical aspect relevant while bringing in the emotional aspects, the linked approach serves to draw in listeners.

“People can really relate to stories. Storytelling certainly has a way of tying us all together. There’s value to music that enriches our identity as Canadians or Albertans and that as well gives us back our history.”The idea of using music to reclaim history began with the song “William Twin”, which appears on Buffalo Street and honours a Stoney-Nakoda man who became a good friend of the Brewster family, after it placed as a finalist in the Best of Alberta category as part of the Calgary Folk Festival’s song writing contest.

“It was neat the story has come full circle because the story I wrote about William Twin in 2006 was a finalist in that same competition. That’s how the project got started. That song was really well received and that’s when I thought maybe I should be doing an entire historical project,” she said.
More recently, “My Familiar Sky”, which explores the romance of Peter and Catharine Whyte, placed third in the 2009 contest. And to ensure the stories have a life beyond the album and the gigs, Brewster plans on building on the project. “It’s really important to do everything I can to ensure the stories have some longevity,” she said.

To do that, Brewster hopes to take the songs into area schools and she’s considering a book and possibly a documentary. The evocative songs, rich in detail, speaks volumes to the time Brewster spent researching her stories in the archives of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, turning over numerous rocks for those beautiful little kernels that Brewster has not only hung her album from, but allows her to remain excited about her upcoming gigs.

“Especially with this CD, it really helps to be in the moment and in character and the more I sing these songs the more I realize that I am really personally vested in all of the songs. “I think when you write them you want to write the best song that you can, they hold a lot of personal meaning to me and that certainly helps to perform them live,” she said.