Meet Fairmont’s First Fiddlers
By Erin Knutson
The group was formed when two fiddle enthusiasts from the Columbia Valley met at a Métis fiddle camp in Golden and made a connection.
The fiddling duo, Russell Buksa and Kate Hagstrom, who knew each other before the camp and share Métis heritage decided after the culturally-rich experience to form a fiddle club.
“The best way to learn how to play is to get together with people,” said Buksa, owner and operator of Full Mason Enterprises.
There has been a resurgence of fiddling, and the historically significant instrument plays a unique role in the identity of the Métis people according to Buksa and Hagstrom.
“There were probably 20 people of varying levels at the camp, I’m new-new,” said Hagstrom (a travel adventurer, yoga instructor, genealogist enthusiast, and social media manager). “I’m not musically inclined like Russell, but I will try anything and the screechier, the better.”
“Louis Riel was made out to be a terrible person, but he was sticking up for his people; people who were being massacred and starved to death—my family was pushed off their land in Manitoba, and most of it was taken away from them, and they didn’t know any better,” she said.
Alcohol, diabetes and intergenerational trauma, are all part of the equation according to Hagstrom, who recalls having the First Nations drummed out of her as a child as does Buksa who was beaten up and bullied at school.
“I was never shy about speaking up about my heritage,” said Buksa, who remembers growing up around music and being surrounded by several notable family musicians, including his uncle Herman Benson, a Canadian fiddle champ.
The musically inclined Buksa recalls simple living conditions in rural Alberta, which included dirt floors, no running water, and no toilets but there was always music—it was a form of storytelling and entertainment before the arrival of the Internet and television.
“There was always music around—we didn’t have anything else. My mom and uncle had a band and played country dances, and my aunts and uncles would come out and play. We never had power, and we finally got electricity when I was 14,” he said.
Buksa is part of a tradition that was adopted when the Métis conceived their original style of fiddling in the early 1800s following an introduction to the fiddle by the Europeans, mainly Scottish and French-Canadian fur traders.
Individually crafted fiddles comprised mainly of birch and maple wood was often the choice of the Métis who could not afford to purchase the instrument from a retailer. Their personalized stamp inspired a musical and cultural sensation involving the original sound of spoons and tin pans for drumming and down-home rhythmic stylings that cultivated group gatherings in homes.
The lively rhythm of the Métis fiddle inspired dance, most notably the jig (an upbeat folk dance) and led to a culture of celebration, humour, togetherness, and dancing that lasted all hours of the evening.
Buksa and Hagstrom have decided to forge ahead with Fairmont’s First Fiddlers in the spirit of adventure while celebrating and keeping their Métis traditions alive. They have invited others to join in the experience with jam sessions that will be hosted by local music instructor Spring Burke.
“Let’s get the word out and see what happens, you never know who’s out there, or how it will all come together,” said Buksa.
All interested fiddlers, musicians, and spectators are invited to jam with Fairmont’s First Fiddlers 7 p.m. on Wednesday evenings at Valley Coffee. For more information contact Russell at 250-342-1302.