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Young Port Saunders fiddlers pay respects to Rufus Guinchard

PORT SAUNDERS, N.L. – At French Shore Academy, the legacy of Rufus Guinchard’s music lives on.

This past month, the French Shore Fiddlers, from the Port Saunders school, travelled to the legendary fiddler’s final resting place to pay their respects with a performance of his own music.

Guinchard (1899-1990) was born in Daniel’s Harbour and grew up playing the fiddle from age 11.

He initially played for dances in the Daniel’s Harbour area and then around Port Saunders as well.

Eventually, he became popular throughout the province, releasing multiple LPs and even travelling internationally, to share his take on traditional Newfoundland folk music with the world.

He was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1986.

Music teacher Ryan Wiltshire says he started the fiddle program at French Shore Academy over 10 years ago because of the history of fiddle music on the coast, particularly Guinchard’s.

It is one of four junior high music classes.

Travelling to where Guinchard is laid to rest to perform is something that had been on the mind of him and his class for some time.

He felt it was necessary to directly pay respects to the man and the legacy the great fiddler’s music has left behind.

On May 16, on their way to a perform concert in Corner Brook, the class stopped at the cemetery in Daniel’s Harbour.

There, the 15 students, standing over the grave of one of the most famous fiddler players this province has ever produced, performed the song "Auntie Mary" and one of Guinchard’s tunes, “Pretty Little Mary”.

It was a fitting tribute, though the cold temperature and wind that afternoon cut the visit a little bit short.

Wiltshire believes the experience made an impact upon the students and him.

“You’re standing there, you’re playing around Rufus’ gravesite and we’ve been studying about him and thinking about him for so many years, to actually be where his resting place is, it was an emotional experience,” he said. “And then there was the beautiful scenery as well, with the mountains in behind. It made an impact.”

There was no publicity and just one other person, a parent chaperone, attending with Wiltshire and his class.

“It was a thing that we wanted to do for ourselves at this point, to have that special relationship with him at that moment,” he said.

But Wiltshire is considering doing it again sometime and letting the public know beforehand so they may attend.

It has certainly generated lots of subsequent public interest, as the picture posted on the French Shore Academy Facebook page has garnered nearly 200 likes.

Other projects

The French Shore Academy fiddlers has plenty of other projects happening.

After stopping at the cemetery where Rufus Guinchard is laid to rest, the class travelled to Corner Brook for a concert with the First United Church accordion group. 

They played a lot of traditional songs, as well as songs written by their music teacher, Ryan Wiltshire.

Their last stop to perform, before heading back home, was at the Bonne Bay Health Centre in Norris Point.

There, they played traditional music, surely familiar to the elderly occupants.

“It brings back those memories and connections,” said Wiltshire.

On May 26, the French Shore Academy Drama Club, comprised of students from grades 4 to 12, took a trip down the rabbit hole of “Alice in Wonderland”.

At the school gymnasium, they performed a musical adaptation of the classic story, entitled “Alice in Wonderland Jr.”

To round everything out the class held their annual Fiddler’s Café on May 31. That event was sold out.

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