Cape Breton Island is known for its rolling hills, beautiful ocean views, breathtaking scenery and warming hospitality. Today is a sad day, as it lost one of its finest in Rita MacNeil this past Tuesday night at the age of 68.
You would be hard pressed to find an individual who would have something bad to say about this lovely lady. When not playing to sold out shows across Canada, you could often find Rita enjoying her time by greeting guests at the one and only Rita’s Tea Room located in Big Pond, N.S. Never one for the spotlight, the Tea Room was well suited to her low-key demeanor and way of life. Her gentle smile and soft-spoken tone was common amongst both the everyday Rita and the world famous chanteuse Rita. This was hardly a fault, instead this was part of what made Rita so memorable, the fact that this was who she was, an extremely gracious and approachable individual who could quickly put you at ease with her warmth.
It would be her ability to paint a picture of the working class hero that would propel Rita MacNeil into the world where she would find fame from one coast to the other. There was never any doubt where her heart would truly lay, as it would always find itself in Big Pond, Cape Breton. The amount of respect and love that she held for Cape Breton Island was easily reciprocated and oozed out of every corner of the Island, and was nothing short of overwhelming. Each and every night would be a reoccurring theme; a top notch performance to a sold out audience followed by a standing ovation. It ran like clock work. You would never know that Rita was performing for hundreds and thousands of people, night in and night out and more than most artists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the years, Rita never let the pomp and circumstance go to her head.
With a massive collection of album sales over the course of 20 years and by branching out into the world of television, with her variety show “Rita and Friends”, Rita MacNeil was able to showcase both her powerful voice and gentle demeanour to an audience both audibly and visually. These different forms of media would lead Rita to win both Juno and Gemini awards for her contributions to the Canadian music scene.
From her early work as an equal rights activist for females, to her partnership with The Men Of The Deeps, to the opening of her very own Tea Room, Rita MacNeil’s life was filled with one beautiful experience after another.
So in true Rita fashion, I will not dwell on the passing of this wonderful lady, but instead celebrate the life that was, and wake up in the morning with a smile on my face.
Photograph courtesy of Ed Boulter