Band on the Run: “Our Way Home” to Beautiful British Columbia

The musical traveller, Troubadour. Road Rat. Whatever you want to call it, this blog will hold the stories that take place when travelling musicians are not on stage. What happens between the shows? What happens behind the scenes?
Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

Interior British Columbia is stunning.

I didn’t need to go there to remember that, but of course beauty strikes us when we see it and we’re forced into memory with every glance. And, I’m not complaining. Each glance brings a quick breath in and a gracious smile.

We used to tour across Canada every summer which gave us the chance to be in British Columbia in July or August annually. In the past few years, however, we have done fewer cross-Canada road trips and have opted to fly to destinations more regularly. If nothing else, it’s better for the lifeline of the vans that we drive! And also, I think yearly cross-Canada touring for six years consecutively is deserving of a medal.

And a break.

So, when we arrived in Castlegar, BC in July in the middle of the afternoon and stepped out of the little airplane to the lush green, low mountains, churning river, waterfalls… well, I was reminded of British Columbia’s beauty and grateful to see it again.

We were in Castlegar for a total of eight short hours. It was too brief, but full to the brim with amazing inspiration before we had to roll out of there in a rental car bound for Vancouver in order to make our morning flight. In those eight hours, I met amazing people and took part in a brilliant event called “The 2nd Annual Our Way Home Peace Event & Reunion.”

This region of British Columbia is where the Doukhbor communities are. This is a Russian Christian sect who left Russia en masse in 1899. A huge portion of this group settled in the Castlegar (and surrounding regions) shortly thereafter. They chose Canada “for its isolation, peacefulness and the fact that the Canadian government welcomed them” (according to Wikipedia). Today, it is estimated that 30,000 Doukhobors live in Canada while another 30,000 live in Russia. The largest and most active Doukhobor organization, however, is here in Canada.

Every place has such unique stories.

I had heard about this religious group, but never met anyone who was Doukhobor. The man we met almost immediately and whose house we were to use as a resting pad (i.e. nap stop) spoke to us in English with a very evident Russian accent although he has lived in Canada his whole life. He grew up in the Doukhobor community, though, which was more isolated than many communities and now lives in a private home just a few kilometres from the event. He is currently grey-haired and his face is lined with stories and laughter.

He sat in the front seat of our vehicle to direct us to his home. He chatted easily, telling us about the region and its history. Later, he also sang in the Doukhobor Men’s Choir who started the evening entertainment. Apparently, prayer meetings for this group were dominated by the singing of a cappella psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. So, singing is very traditional to the Doukhobors. Their performance filled the hall with harmony in both Russian and English. I closed my eyes and just listened.

A perfect start to a perfect evening.

And speaking of the hall: it is called the Brilliant Cultural Centre. The event was brilliant and so, too, was the space. Simple and large, and filled with open smiles on the faces of all those in attendance.

After hearing the choir and before hearing some of the speakers, I took a walk outside and I was greeted by the Arlington Northwest Memorial, a dramatic representation of the costs of war consisting of grave markers representing the more than 3,000 U.S. service men and women killed in the Iraq war. This display is sponsored by the Veterans for Peace Northwest chapter (Washington state) and is amazing to take in with your eyes or your lens. There was also a section for Canadian deaths, which was striking. I walked around the whole site, reading the names of the markers I could see, feeling acutely aware of death despite its not being a real cemetery.


I felt solemn when I came back into the hall. I quietly found a spot and sat down to take in the words of Arun Gandhi, MK Ghandi’s grandson. The audience gave him a standing ovation when he took to the podium and he gestured for us to sit with a soft smile. He was gentle (as I imagined his grandfather must have been,) but he stood there solidly and delivered a short but simple speech about non-violence and forgiveness. I sat back and took it all in the way one absorbs a slow sunset from a country porch on a late summer’s evening.

The artists and speakers were all incredibly diverse and articulate. One of my heroes, Holly Near, was in attendance and we greeted each other with a big, warm hug and welcoming eyes. She has cut off her signature hair since I saw her last and looks as radiant as ever – perhaps even more so. She was there with Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow, who sang beautiful back-up harmonies with her during a brief snippet (read: tease) of her performance, which was to be held the next day. I am glad I saw what I saw, though, as she always inspires me and of course I wasn’t going to be there the following day to smile at her from the audience.

Our performance took place shortly thereafter and went well. This was my first show with Lyndell Montgomery since March. It was a joy to hear her music again alongside of mine. The audience welcomed us with open ears. Even though we had to head off quickly when the performance was over, I was touched by the warmth that was offered us and the kindnesses we were offered with every interaction.

Backstage, to one of the women making food for the participants (delicious, organic, vegan food for us – thank you!) and after she offered me something to drink, I said: “Thanks so much. That’s so kind.” She looked me a moment and then turned her head to one side with a coy grin and said: “Everyone’s kind here, sweetie.” I laughed.

She’s right.

We pulled away from the Our Way Home Peace Event & Reunion waving goodbyes and balancing wrapped-up road food on our laps. I felt like I had just left my family’s house after a big family meal.

And so we drove into the sunrise.

The long drive was fuelled by the sparks of inspiration and empowerment that were flying around this event and were in all of these interactions. And, I know that these sparks will yield yet more fire for the ‘good fight,’ the belief that this world will find peace, that this environment will survive…

That the beauty will remain.

To stun us every time.