North

'I love fiddle music': Playing the fiddle for 70 years in Fort Resolution, N.W.T.

A visit to Angus Beaulieu’s home in Fort Resolution isn’t complete without an impromptu concert with his wife Dorothy.

Angus Beaulieu keeps his love of fiddling alive and tells the stories of the N.W.T.’s fiddle traditions

Angus Beaulieu shows off a fiddle that belonged to his grandfather at his home in Fort Resolution, N.W.T. He has a trove of stories about fiddling in the territory. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

One of the last of the old-time N.W.T. fiddle players lives at the end of the road in Fort Resolution.

His house is on land that's been in his family for generations. The living room is packed with antique fiddles, concert photos, and trophies from music competitions.

Angus Beaulieu, 84, has been playing music in Fort Resolution for 70 years. He's a living museum of music history in the Northwest Territories.

"I love fiddle music," he said. "When I was growing up my grandfather used to bring me to fiddle dances, I used to fall asleep sometimes and wake up underneath a bench. I just loved the music so much."

Fur traders introduced fiddle music into the territory in the 19th century, Beaulieu explained. His great uncle George Norn was one of the top fiddlers of that era, winning musical duels against travelling musicians who came to test him.

Beaulieu first picked up the fiddle when he was 14, playing his grandfather's instrument.

He taught himself to play by ear, using one finger to play along with a recording of the song "Rubber Dolly." He then started playing at dances in Fort Resolution.

Dorothy Beaulieu with her wedding picture in front of the church in Fort Resolution, N.W.T. She plays the spoons while her husband Angus plays the fiddle. (Alex Brockman/CBC)
"I don't know how many times I played that old record," he said. "I can't read music, so the songs I learned, I heard them on the radio or records or listening to another fiddler. That's how I picked up my songs."

Decades of experience 

At one time, Beaulieu was playing shows across the territory, winning trophies at competitions in Aklavik, Fort Simpson and Hay River. He played at Yellowknife's spring festival for 22 years straight, often with his wife Dorothy, or his band, the Native Cousins.   

He slowed down his touring schedule after he had a stroke during a show in Saskatoon about eight years ago. Doctors told him he'd never be able to use his left hand again. A year later, he was back at it.

Now, Beaulieu mostly plays songs in the living room with Dorothy.

Angus Beaulieu's fiddle collection includes antiques and some he made himself, like the one shaped in the Métis flag. (Alex Brockman/CBC)
He plays fiddle and uses a homemade series of foot pedals to play the keyboard while she plays the spoons. It's hard for visitors to leave their house without hearing some old-time music.    

He's stopped keeping track of how many fiddling trophies he's won over the years, but his best guess is 113. For the past six years in a row, he's won an 'oldest fiddler award' at the music festival in Aklavik.

The art of fiddling has trickled off from its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, when people paid $20 a show, he said.

In Fort Resolution there used to be four fiddlers in town, now Beaulieu is the only one left.

"It's like that all over, same thing in Fort Smith, where they used to have fiddlers, now they're down to nothing," he said. "In Fort Chipewyan, Fort Simpson, all the communities. They used to have square dancing, fiddle music. Now it's going down."

Angus Beaulieu plays one of the fiddles he made himself from a toilet plunger. He says people always react when they see this one. (Alex Brockman/CBC)
Even with this decline, a younger generation is keeping the tradition alive, he said. The Aurora Fiddle Society offers lessons and
a group of young fiddlers made up the territory's cultural contingent at the 2016 Arctic Winter Games.  

Beaulieu says he hopes these younger fiddlers pick up the music and keep on playing. For him, he'll keep the stories and keep on playing for anyone who'll listen at his home in Fort Resolution.

The Beaulieus were married 59 years ago. They still play music together in their home. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

About the Author

Alex Brockman is a CBC News reporter based in Yellowknife. He's worked in the North since 2016, covering territorial politics, Canada's military and the Sahtu region of the N.W.T. Follow him on twitter @BrockmanCBC. Have a story idea? Email him at alex.brockman@cbc.ca.