Nova Scotia to investigate Rankin accident

The government of Nova Scotia is going to look into the accident that killed John Morris Rankin.

Rankin, 40, died on Sunday when the truck he was driving ran off the road and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Reports suggest Rankin swerved to avoid a pile of salt on the road. The government is going to look into whether the salt was there, and if it was, why it was there.

John Morris Rankin was a member of the internationally renowned Rankin Family.

Rankin's teenage son, Michael, and two other teenage passengers managed to escape and swim to shore. All three are in hospital, one suffering from hypothermia.

Rankin was taking the teenagers to a hockey game in Inverness. It appears he told the boys to jump, but was unable to free himself. It took rescuers several hours to find and recover his body from the freezing waters.

The Rankins, formerly known as The Rankin Family, were one of Canada's most famous groups through the late 1980s and '90s. They brought Celtic music from their Cape Breton roots to a wider Canadian and international audience.

The group - Jimmy, Cookie, Raylene, Heather and John Morris - formed in the late '80s and began by playing in church basements and at local fairs.

The Rankins' fame spread and within a few years they had a recording contract with a major record company, five platinum albums, a slew of East Coast music awards and a fistful of Juno awards - including group of the year in 1994.

John Morris, the eldest of the family, played keyboards and fiddle and was seen as the leader of the group. Friends described him as quiet and a dedicated family man.

His musical ability was astonishing. He first gained attention when he was just a child. He was featured in a CBC documentary The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler.

Last year the siblings decided the band had run its course. They disbanded so they could pursue their own careers. At the time, John Morris said: "Originally we planned to do this for five years, 10 have passed. It's all been a positive experience for us."

The news of John Morris's death spread quickly in the tiny village of Mabou, and throughout the Canadian music industry.

Many of the country's top musicians were at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for a farm aid concert, and were devastated when they heard the news. Jimmy Rankin was scheduled to appear, but left the concert when told of his brother's death.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien expressed what many Canadians are feeling. He said he was "stunned by the news" and that "Cape Breton had lost one of her finest sons, and Canada one of its finest musicians."

In a statement released by his office, Chretien said it is "impossible to comprehend how a life so rich in talent - a life whose magical artistry had touched so many - could be taken so suddenly and under such tragic circumstances."

Chretien said his thoughts and prayers are with the Rankin family.

Besides his son Michael, John Morris is survived by his wife, Sally, and his daughter Molly, 13.

The funeral will take place Thursday at St. Mary's Church in Mabou, at 1 p.m. ET.