Wednesday, May 5, 2010

ReWind Wednesdays: Canadian Southern Gospel on the East Coast

Canadian Artist Feature ~ Part Three

Music in the Maritimes

The Maritime Provinces of Canada are known for their rich musical heritage and diverse styles. This land of rocky coastal terrain, fishing villages and lush countryside, home to characters such as Anne of Green Gables and Ann Murray, has been a source of musical talent for decades. Country, Celtic, Bluegrass and many other influences have mingled in both secular and Christian music, and Southern Gospel has flourished as well.

One of the main early influences on the Provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, was the original Couriers who brought their music from Pennsylvania and sang their way into the hearts of Canadians across the country. However, Christian music began in the New Brunswick much earlier. Ross Ingram, of radio station CJRI-FM 94.7 Fredericton NB, relates that missionaries from the British and Foreign Bible Society came to New Brunswick in the 1790s, bringing the Anglican hymns of the day with them. This love of the old hymns of the church remains and forms a large part of the repertoire of Christian artists there today. Since this time, Gospel music has thrived throughout the Baptist-Pentecostal-Wesleyan Bible belt from Fredericton to the Woodstock NB area.

Ross also mentions a prominent Maritimer who was instrumental in the promotion of Southern Gospel for many years. Bill LaPointe, father of current CCM/SGM favourites The Lapointes, is well known throughout the East for his tireless efforts in support of this style of music. In many ways a pioneer of SG along the East Coast, Bill is well known to many in the Southern Gospel circuit throughout that area.

“Bill LaPointe was for many years the leader of the Gospelaires -- for 50 years New Brunswick's most active SGM group... Around 1950 the Gospelaires were prominent for public performances, radio, television and recordings -- a phenomenon that went on for 50 years until they retired from old age”. Ross relates that Bill’s group was responsible for bringing many American groups into this area, and for building the strong base for SGM that exists there today. New Christian radio stations are popping up across the country, and Ross points to the strong SG foundation as the base for CFRI-FM, the first station east of Ontario with a Southern Gospel/Country Gospel format. This station begins to air this month, and extends our best wishes to Ross Ingram and all of the crew in Fredericton. Ross is grateful to artists such as Bill and the Gospelaires for developing this foundation.

Beginning in 1945, Bill LaPointe sang with his wife’s two brothers in a group which eventually became known as the Gospelaires. In 1978, they released a patriotic album called “United We Stand” which was presented to every member of the Canadian Parliament. This was a timely release as Canada was struggling with national unity, a perpetual issue which had risen to the forefront once again. They received letters of support and commendation from many levels of government, including then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Bill retired in 1995, but continues to produce radio and television programs supporting Southern Gospel.

Many artists pass their love and talent for music down to their children and Bill LaPointe is no exception. From the ministry of the Gospelaires came the award-winning group, The LaPointes, children of Bill and his wife Faith. Singing a unique mix of SGM and CCM, this mixed group presents harmony and professionalism and a family touch that have endeared them to many. You can find out more about this popular group at .

New Brunswick has produced another award-winning group, Emmaus Road, which embraces the roots of Southern Gospel flavoured with that special Maritime touch. Traveling many miles and logging long hours, this mixed group takes the perils of singing SG across the East in stride. Their members have other jobs as well, and this adds to the many facets of life as an SG artist. Bass singer Burrell Cross says, “The challenges in Canada would generally come from the distances we need to travel to do our ministry, and the costs involved (gas is averaging almost $4.00 per gallon now). Despite the fact that we live in a "Bible Belt" the costs are very high and make it impossible to be full time. Just paying the expense is all we hope for. The other thing is that good gospel music, live, is not in abundance here and many people really have no idea what a good group can do for their assembly until they experience it first hand. Because we work hard at getting better musically constantly and strive to maintain God's anointing, the word is getting around about us and our reputation is becoming better known. This has to be done ourselves because of the lack of quality promoters here... Longer winters make for a short summer season also for traveling considerations. The advantages on the other hand are a general lack of competition from other groups, so it is kind of a mixed blessing.”
This mixed blessing does come with a price, but many wonderful moments as well. “One story that I could tell you about does actually deal with that very topic and a winter trip to Halifax NS…about a 4 hour drive in the summer, but we were booked in November, normally early enough to not have to contend with snow, a least that's what we thought. Well the weather had other ideas and we ended up getting home in a snow storm at 4 AM and our lead singer was driving semi at that time, [He] just stepped out of his car and into the truck and kept on going for another 14 hours. Another time we ended up further away on a Sun night service and wondered why that was happening, but later found out from the pastor that a man in the service that had been away from the Lord for many years came back to him during the service, another one for the kingdom!.” Please go to for more information on these fine folks.
Travel is a huge obstacle with any SG group and the Canadian artists we spoke with are no exception. Finding churches willing to host groups in a land which is just now starting to embrace Christian radio, and which does not have the history of popular SG groups that exists in the United States is another huge challenge. The Ascensions, a mixed group from New Brunswick, is facing these hurdles head-on. The Maritime Provinces are primarily lightly populated, and many people are having difficulty financially. Peggy Matheson of the Ascensions, talks about life as a part-time artist: “Some of the challenges we see are the smaller population that causes you to have to travel further to reach new territory. Winter weather is another challenge to fulfill our commitments. Down south there seems to a church on every corner that makes it easier to reach more people in a closer proximity.”
Peggy continues, “Now a days there also seems to be a big trend toward the new praise and worship music in every church regardless of denomination and they seem to think as Southern Gospel as being old-fashioned and out-dated. While I like the new music as well as many other styles of music, we personally find the southern gospel style has a deeper message in the words and music that ministers to a hurting or lost person. Anointing makes the difference!! That is always our biggest compliment when people tell us they have been ministered to and touched. We have seen people come to repentance and healed through our simple messages of salvation and hope. Unfortunately, a lot of
churches don't support financially as well as maybe they could or should. That makes it hard to do this full-time in Canada. They fail to understand the costs involved in travel with gas, meals, vehicle repairs, sound equipment to buy and keep in working order, overnight accommodations, etc. As with a lot of groups, we did purchase a motor home for enabling us to travel further on a week-end and still go to work on Monday morning, but eventually you realize as much as it helps, it is a big expense to drive and repair so we
went back to a minivan.” This group from St. George should know what it’s like; they’ve been on the road for 27 years. Travelling part-time while working full-time jobs, group members have found time to record projects that have received nominations and awards from the East Coast Music Awards and the New Brunswick Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Click on for more information.
Artists across Canada face the same hurdles of distance, lack of exposure through lack of airplay, rising gas costs and a lack of one central association to tie them together. Several smaller associations have existed throughout the years, and even now try to connect these artists to each other and to promoters. We’ve mentioned a few of them here including the Shaia Awards and the Canadian Gospel Music Association. Exposure through airplay is starting to improve with the advent of new Christian radio stations. Many current programs are being hosted by various local artists, and there is hope that these programs will multiply as audiences grow. Television stations such as CTC host programs like “100 Huntley Street” that feature Canadian Southern Gospel artists.
One television program that helped the growth of SG was “The George Hamilton IVth Show”, taped in Hamilton, Ontario. This show often featured Canadian Southern Gospel artists, such at the Master’s from Kingston. The Master’s were one of the favourites on the SG circuit in Ontario, and were managed by Cam Shillington. They were also featured artists on “Opry North”, a radio show on CFGM based out of Toronto. Cam was the host and producer of “Gospel Singin’ Time”, a nationally syndicated television show programming SG which won several Canadian awards for excellence in programming. The Master’s hosted and promoted many concerts and were instrumental in the growth of Southern Gospel in the 70’s and 80’s. They are currently reforming and hope to be singing again soon.
Many of the artists we have met in this overview promote concerts in their area and work tirelessly to familiarize people with this unique style of music. Groups such as The Kingsway Quartet, a mixed group from London, Ontario, have gained a loyal audience who enjoy their harmony and laid-back presentation. One of their greatest challenges is trying to educate audiences on what SG really is. Bass singer Mark McLellan says, “I think one of the greatest challenges of singing SG music in Canada is to get people to realize that SG is not a full concert of old hymns. SG has developed in a manner that folk are not familiar with here; it's just trying to get them out to a concert to hear for themselves.” Kingsway travels up to 50 dates a year, as well as hosting numerous concerts throughout the year. You can check their schedule at: .
Across Canada we have found that Southern Gospel is alive and well in this not-so-frozen North, and the SG ambassadors that are working hard through singing, promoting, award programs, radio and television, are slowly but surely gaining an audience for this music. The challenges may be great, but this is a country of explorers, innovators, entrepreneurs and pioneers. Watch for more Canadian Southern Gospel to work it’s way south. You’re going to like what you hear.

By Lorraine Walker
Originally published by in 2005. Used by permission

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