Islanders pay tribute to Cape Breton's first lady of song
As Maritimers and Canadians continue to mourn the death of Rita MacNeil, her loss is being felt, perhaps most deeply, on her beloved Cape Breton Island.
Islanders loved MacNeil for her down-to-earth nature and her approachability and today they are remembering her as truly one of their own.
“She was just like one of your family,” says fan Kathleen England. “There was no big feeling about her, no superstardom, even though she was a star.”
MacNeil died Tuesday following complications from surgery after a recurring infection. She was 68.
Her voice took her all over the world, but her passionate lyrics about her home struck a resounding chord with her fellow islanders.
“She put Cape Breton on the map,” says fan John Kennedy. “The songs she made just tell all about Cape Breton.”
Flags flew at half-mast outside municipal headquarters Thursday, as people filed in to sign a condolence book and pay tribute to a woman many of them did not know personally.
“She was everybody’s person, Rita MacNeil was,” says fan Fred Jessome. “She was a wonderful woman, beautiful singer, she had it all and she made the people of Cape Breton very proud of her.”
Proud, not only because of her trademark warmth and humility, but also due to the many challenges she overcame in her life and throughout her career. Rita always seemed real and relatable.
“She was one of those people, she didn’t have to smile. Her eyes smiled for her,” says Mayor Cecil Clarke.
“She was an inspirational lady,” says fan Heather MacDougall. “She was so well known and loved and she was a remarkable artist.”
“She just had a personality everyone could get along with,” says fan Glenda Ball. “She’s going to be well missed.”
Her funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at St. Mary's Church in Big Pond, N.S.
MacNeil's publicist says it hasn't been decided yet whether the funeral will be open to the public and media.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald and The Canadian Press