British Columbia

Christmas album by B.C. artist inspired by community resilience during wildfires

Francois Lake-based songwriter Rachelle van Zanten recorded her new Christmas album while wildfires raged across B.C. and she says the collection is inspired by the big hearts of the people in her small community during that time.

Rachelle van Zanten was recording while fires threatened her Francois Lake home

Rachelle van Zanten has released her first Christmas album, and it reflects on the impact of the wildfires on her hometown of Francois Lake, B.C. (Facebook/Reflections photography)

Singer-songwriter Rachelle van Zanten's voice sounds smokier than usual on her new Christmas album.

The Francois Lake-based performer recorded her six-song seasonal compilation, It's Christmas in These Parts, this past summer, while wildfires threatened her rural community, about 230 kilometres west of Prince George.

Despite developing a smoker's cough as the fires closed in, van Zanten was determined to lay the tracks down, so those fighting to save their homes would have something to listen to and feel good about come Christmas time. 

"If you listen to my voice, you can hear the smoke," van Zanten told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

Van Zanten said her voice was impacted primarily because she scrambled to put the hay up on her property and help her extended family secure their farms as best as could be done before flying to Victoria, B.C., to record in studio.

"It was definitely bad timing," said van Zanten, who had booked the studio time months in advance. Van Zanten said her stomach was in knots, because she felt helpless leaving, as her community prepared for the worst. But it was her community that inspired her decision to go.

Rachelle van Zanten at work on her farm. Van Zanten developed a smoker's cough after putting up hay during the summer wildfires. (Submitted)

'A really scary time'

"It was a really scary time, but I thought I'm going to do this ... make this great music that these people that have been through so much can listen to come the holidays."

In the lyrics for her title track, van Zanten reflects on the wildfires:

"I can still smell the smoke. I can still taste it, even though the snow covers the ground. We've been through bad times, the hard and the sad times, and, in the end, it all came around. Love abounds. 

Van Zanten told de Ryk how moved she was seeing friends and family come together to help each other during the fires and the people from across the country who rushed to offer food, supplies and homes for livestock.

Wildfires burning through Francois Lake Provincial Park on Tuesday Aug. 7, 2018. (John Calogheros)

"I wanted to pay tribute to the resilience of our community and to the good hearts ... I wanted to capture that,' said van Zanten.

This is van Zanten's first Christmas album. She said the plan was in motion before the fires, after an elderly woman approached her in the local grocery store asking about one.

Van Zanten didn't know then just how much she would want to give back to her community some of the Christmas spirit it was already showing in August when she stepped into the studio.

Click here to listen to songs from the album and see van Zanten's upcoming tour dates.

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