Deep cuts resurface Songs chronicling a different era in the Interlake are back in rotation thanks to vinyl re-issue of The Lake Winnipeg Fisherman
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Ray Giguere, owner of Argy’s Records, once referred to The Lake Winnipeg Fisherman, a traditional, folk-music album recorded in 1970 by Riverton singer/songwriter Sol Sigurdson, as a “unicorn record.”
Giguere, who opened his St. Mary’s Road store in 1982, had seen images of the album’s front cover through the years. He’d also come to understand its nine tracks were peppered with direct references to the Interlake community where Sigurdson grew up, such as the haunting Suzanne-E, which kicks off Side 2, and recounts the story of a freight ship that capsized on Lake Winnipeg in September 1965, tragically killing nine crewmen. Or the wistful Lake Winnipeg Bound that name-checks, among others, former premier Duff Roblin.
The thing was, until he was holding a physical copy of the LP in his hands, how could he be certain it wasn’t some musical myth?
Imagine his surprise, then, when Scott Petrowski, a Gimli musician who operates the music label Ancient Raven Records, popped by Argy’s a few months back, to deliver five copies of a new, 180-gram remastered edition of The Lake Winnipeg Fisherman, for Giguere to sell.
“Finally, the wait is over. One of Manitoba’s rarest pieces of vinyl,” Giguere announced on Instagram later that day, comparing Sigurdson’s singing and playing style with that of the late Stan Rogers, a Maritime legend who, before his death in 1983, also sang about the people and places he knew best.
“If you’re Manitoban, and have lived or spent your summers in the Interlake, you should own this record,” Giguere stated alongside a shot of the album’s cover that shows three deck hands preparing to cast their net into Canada’s sixth-largest lake.
Funnily enough, Petrowski, the person responsible for the re-release, didn’t know what he was staring at, the first time he came across a used copy of The Lake Winnipeg Fisherman, at an MCC thrift shop in Riverton, over a decade ago.
“I’m a musician, too, and had been collecting records for a while by then, but I had no personal knowledge of the record,” says Petrowski, who grew up in Gimli and records under the banner Van Allen. “Later, when I got around to listening to it and started hearing all these local references, I could hardly believe it. I’m a big fan of singer/songwriters like (Bob) Dylan, and to discover Sol, this tremendous storyteller with this really deep-with-the-community vibe about him… All I can say is I had to find out everything I could about the guy.”
Petrowski was able to track Sigurdson down in Edmonton, where he was living following a 40-year career teaching mathematics at the University of Alberta. The two hit it off and before too long, Petrowski had learned that Sigurdson, who was born in 1936 and whose grandfather settled on Hecla Island in 1876, had once been a member of the Whisky Jacks, a fixture at Interlake dancehalls during the 1960s.
Sigurdson also shared that a monetary reward he received for winning a songwriting contest in 1967 for an entry titled New Iceland Saga gave him the confidence — and the financial resources — he needed, to write and record The Lake Winnipeg Fisherman, in honour of Manitoba’s Centennial year.
Initially, Petrowski intended to teach himself the songs, for the purpose of performing them for an audience, hopefully alongside Sigurdson during one of the retiree’s annual, summertime trips to the area. He was beaten to the punch, however. In 2016, a set of Winnipeg musicians, including Scott Nolan, Jess Reimer and John K. Samson, released a four-track EP, Love, Lake Winnipeg: A Tribute to the Songs of Sol Sigurdson, and subsequently staged a show in support of it at the West End Cultural Centre, to raise money for the Lake Winnipeg Foundation.
He and Sigurdson stayed in touch, nonetheless. In 2021 he had another idea: why not re-master the original album, of which only 3,000 copies were known to have existed, thereby introducing Sigurdson’s words and music to an entirely new generation?
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I had just started working on my debut album (Small Eclipse), which was ultimately released on a friend’s label, Fleece Records,” Petrowski explains. “Because I produced it myself and, through that, got to know a fair bit about what went into making a record, I immediately started considering followup projects. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, what about Sol?’”
Petrowski laughs, saying Sigurdson seemed even more excited than he was, when he let him in on his plan, over the phone. One problem: Sigurdson didn’t have a clue where the master tapes were, or if they still existed, period. So, using the same piece of wax he scooped up for 50 cents at the thrift store years earlier, combined with a raft of noise reduction technology, Petrowski was able to create a “nice, clean” version, which was then used to press 200 copies, on high-grade vinyl.
If you’re looking for differences between new and old, there are a couple, he points out. The aqua-blue font on the front cover is slightly changed from the original version, plus credits have been added on the back of the sleeve, to indicate his involvement. As well, an extra song was added, the aforementioned New Iceland Saga.
As per Sigurdson’s suggestion, all proceeds from a pre-sale held in the fall went directly to Gimli’s New Iceland Heritage Museum. (When contacted by email, Sigurdson wrote, “These songs recall a lifestyle that has disappeared. The Riverton-area people must be recognized for their support… for this collection of songs. It comes from and supports a cohesive community.”)
Going forward, Petrowski hopes to land the album on a streaming service such as Spotify, where it will have the potential to reach an even wider audience.
“One or two songs were posted to YouTube in the past, but other than that, it’s never been online in any way, shape or form,” he says.
Last question: while he was dropping copies off at this record store or that, did Petrowski ever consider how unlikely it was that any of this would have occurred, had he simply chosen not to go record-shopping, all those years ago?
“Oh, it was serendipitous, for sure,” he replies. “That and the fact I was able to get a hold of Sol so easily, through his ongoing connections in the community. It was definitely a combination of fate and perfect timing, no doubt about it.”
In addition to Argy’s Records, The Lake Winnipeg Fisherman is also available at the New Iceland Heritage Museum, Selkirk’s Marine Museum of Manitoba, and through the website, ancientravenrecords.com.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
Updated on Monday, January 23, 2023 8:57 AM CST: Adds link, changes tile photo
Updated on Monday, January 23, 2023 9:12 AM CST: Changes to jumbo article format