The Fugitives Perform Ridge
The Fugitives take to the stage with poignant homage
to the courageous soldiers at Vimy Ridge
By Nicole Baer
The seed for Ridge, a moving piece of performance art by Canadian folk musicians The Fugitives, was planted more than 30 years ago, when the group’s founder picked up Vimy, Pierre Berton’s seminal book on the Great War battle that shaped Canada as a nation.
“I was struck by the fact that these soldiers were just young kids like me, teenagers,” recalls Brendan McLeod, now 43. “I just couldn’t fathom what these young Canadians were going through; it’s always stayed with me.”
A subsequent family visit to the Guelph, ON, birthplace of John McCrae, the physician and soldier who wrote “In Flanders Fields”, cemented McLeod’s fascination with the First World War and its lasting impact on those who fought and survived.
As his career as a musician, novelist, poet and spoken-word artist evolved, McLeod continued to explore this epic era — not from the perspective of military leaders or governments, but through the eyes of the young men who sacrificed so much.
“I wanted to tell the stories of those soldiers — their experiences and their youth,” he says. “They just were not prepared; they went in there with no idea about what was going to happen to them, the reality of trench warfare.”
Years of research were woven into an album, “Trench Songs”, in which the four talented members of The Fugitives breathe new life into the music that sustained the camaraderie and tamped down the terror of the young warriors, so far from home. The effort earned nominations for a JUNO Award for Best Traditional Roots Album, and Vocal Group of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards.
From there, McLeod and fellow songwriter Adrian Glynn created Ridge, which seeks through narrative, music, theatre and innovative staging to keep alive the stories of that singular time and place.
“The people of that generation didn’t talk about their experiences,” McLeod says, adding that there was no understanding or support for the lifelong impact of the trauma the soldiers endured. The stories, however, lived in those people, and now they’ve been brought to the stage.
Indeed, McLeod was most gratified to learn that the production, which also features banjo player Chris Suen and violinist Carly Frey, prompted some people to open up to their own families about their experiences.
“I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m really glad it’s had that effect.”
McLeod has visited Vimy Ridge in northwestern France where, since 1936, a 110-metre national monument has paid homage to the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France who have no known graves. He admits to a complex response.
“The first thing that hits you is the bigness of it; that almost didn’t sit right. It’s an amazing place, but I felt a conflicted relationship to it: How can something so beautiful be associated with so much horror? There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance.”
The Kelowna Community Concert Association is honoured to host The Fugitives as they perform Ridge on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Evangel Church Auditorium.