Ridge: Performed by The Fugitives
A Captivating Retelling of the Battle that Shaped Canada’s Identity
By Len McFarlane
Published in The Daily Courier, Nov. 23, 2023
When Brendan McLeod told the story of the young Canadian men and boys, languishing in the dank squalor of the First World War trenches at Vimy Ridge, the musician, poet, narrator, and creator held an audience of 880 people in the palm of his hand.
“You could have heard a pin drop during Brendan’s narrations,” said spectator Nicole Baer at the spellbinding stage show of Ridge, a piece of theatre art created by McLeod and performed by his widely-acclaimed group, The Fugitives. The piece was presented on Saturday, Nov. 18 by the Kelowna Community Concert Association.
With spare staging and emotive lighting, the four talented performers tell the authentic story of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which raged for four days in April 1917 and left more than 10,000 Canadians dead or wounded.
Poignant readings from soldiers’ letters alternate with McLeod’s gentle, thoughtful, sometimes humorous narration. Taken from songs sung in the trenches, the band’s melodies and arrangements underscore the emotional impact of Vimy.
“The Fugitives' production of Ridge presents this famous battle through the eyes of the individual soldier, capturing the horror, futility and personal sacrifice in a very real and moving way,” said Michael Loewen, a Canadian veteran who has visited the Vimy Memorial in France. “Like many others in the audience, I was moved to tears.”
McLeod’s deeply researched storytelling opened many eyes to a history that differs in significant ways from the official narrative about this famous battle that formed the young nation of Canada.
“I learned many things from this concert that I was not aware of, such as the treatment by our government of those young men, during and after the war,” said attendee Caroline Price. “This group of exceptional musicians should be seen in every high school in our country.”
An acoustic folk-roots group formed in 2007 and based in East Vancouver, The Fugitives have amassed a JUNO nomination, as well as numerous nominations in the Canadian Folk Music Awards and Western Canadian Music Awards. In 2019, their album The Promise of Strangers was honoured as Best Folk Album by the German Record Critics Award.
In 2020, the group created Ridge, which was named a “Top Arts Pick of the Year” by The Globe and Mail. It has been presented at more than 30 theatres across Canada.
The Fugitives’ performance of Ridge was the third of five concerts of the KCCA’s 2023-2024 concert season. With the concerts now being presented at the Evangel Church Auditorium, a much larger venue than in the past, the KCCA is offering membership passes for the remaining two events for a pro-rated price of $60, with special discounts for students.
Len McFarlane is president of the Kelowna Community Concert Association, which has brought renowned national and international performers to this city’s stages for more than 50 years.