A National Treasure Lost Too Early


The other night, I was watching a TV program called “Air Crash Investigations” which is a regular program that investigates the causes of certain significant air crashes. On this occasion, it featured the ill-fated Air Canada Flight 797 on 2nd of June 1983. This flight left Dallas, Texas and was supposed to land in Toronto, Canada. Unfortunately, a fire developed in one of the toilets and the whole cabin was enveloped in thick, acrid smoke. Despite these appalling conditions, the pilots managed to make a successful emergency landing in Cincinnati while the cabin crew succeeded in keeping the passengers calm and breathing from oxygen masks.

However, after landing, many passengers were unable to find the exits in the dark and smoke and succumbed to smoke inhalation. Adding to the problems, when the escape hatches did open, the fresh air entering resulted in a flash fire throughout the plane just a few minutes later. Basically, all the survivors were the ones who managed to get out in the first few minutes. 23 died and 23 survived. This was a significant event in aviation history because it was from this tragedy that the airline industry began many life-saving innovations such as lighted strips to guide passengers to the exits, smoke detectors in the toilets, non-toxic materials for the cabin and so on.

The program then went on to note that Canadian Folk singer Stan Rogers was one of those who perished that day. I never knew this fact. I had heard of Stan Rogers and I really liked his music but I never knew what happened to him.

My mind drifted back a full 26 years back in time. It was a cold, blustery and wet winter’s night. It was past midnight but I was still up watching the sheets of rain coming down and listening to BBC Radio. There was an interesting program on which I had been following. It was a competition between the national radio stations of Britain, Canada and Norway. Each of them were given an opportunity to showcase their country through a one hour radio program every Saturday. At the end of the series, a panel of judges in each of the countries would vote for the best program.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) won the series with their entry which was an hour long travelogue of Canada represented entirely by the music and songs of Stan Rogers. I listened to the program and felt that I had discovered a priceless pearl. I have always enjoyed the melancholic Scottish laments and the lively Irish jigs but the music of Stan Rogers seemed to be a combination of both and yet more. I also found that I could really sense the essence and struggles of the people that he sings about. I was mesmerized.

I have kept an eye out for his music ever since but it is unfortunately difficult to find outside of Canada. Now I know what happened to him and can only think that it was a sad day that such life and potential was loss in that manner.

I wish I could play all his songs but I chose three to showcase here.

This first song was one that I heard 26 years ago and just gripped my heart with its poignancy. It tells of the brave men that died trying to find a Northwest passage through the artic ice to reach the Orient and how they inadvertently helped to build the nation. This was the best video I could find and happened to use footage from the TV series about a Canadian Mountie sent to Chicago to work with the American police, called “Due South”. Obviously there is a clash of cultures and personalities and hilarity ensues. That’s just background info. It’s the song that is haunting.

This second song also represents the hardships of the Canadian worker so,so well. It is a touching lament and at the same time a stirring battle cry. i just love the words.

This third one is actually one that i have only recently heard. Daysgoby mentioned this in one of her recent posts saying “I’m a little surprised I wasn’t required to learn it before they’d let me over the Nova Scotian border…” Indeed! Anyway, this is just a great lively song to compliment the slower songs above. You also get to hear Stan explain how he came about to write this song. Enjoy

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