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Monday 28th April 2003

Morden's McKennitt keeps creating possibilities!
By Tammy Marlowe

She reaches the farthest corners of the Earth with her soulful voice and inspiring music -- and this weekend, Morden-born composer Loreena McKennitt reached out to the small Manitoba town she called home for much of her young life.

"It is a fascinating subject, what constitutes home. It can be quantified in different ways and in different terms," McKennitt, 46, said last week from her offices in Ontario. "I think it's a luxury to have been born and raised and lived in a community for 17 years straight without moving around.

"I feel particularly blessed for having the childhood I had."

This weekend, the southwestern Manitoba town of 6,200 people celebrated its most famous person and honoured McKennitt with a gala evening at the Morden Recreation Centre.

Hundreds of people came out for the highly anticipated event, which took months for a committee of local residents to plan.

Throughout the night, attendees watched a video biography of the world-renowned singer and songwriter and listened to a few selections by the Morden Collegiate Institute concert band.

They were even treated to a short, private performance by McKennitt herself.

A group of organizers unveiled a portrait of McKennitt, and others sold copies of her two most recent recordings -- with proceeds from the sales donated by the musician to the Morden Foundation.

McKennitt also presented the 2003 Morden and District Chamber of Commerce annual Loreena McKennitt award to local performer Andrew Rampton.

There's no doubt the town is proud. But McKennitt says she's also proud to have grown up in a place where her neighbours and friends still remember the young girl with a determination to learn -- and a gift for music.


"It's the people you encounter in a place," she said. "They take responsibility for each other ... it's found in the support network, I think a certain kind of independence and resourcefulness. A small community has to look to itself to make things happen."

Although her teachers now say they knew McKennitt was destined to be a musician, she believed as a youth she'd become a veterinarian. She had top marks in school and was succeeding academically, but she says her heart just wasn't in it.

"I found it difficult to learn at university, in the impersonal environment," she said.

A defining moment for McKennitt came in 1978, when her melodious abilities were rewarded at the national Du Maurier Search for Talent competition.

"It was exciting," she recalled. "I thought, 'Wow!' In my naivety, I thought, 'Maybe I'm launched now and this will lead me to what I am going to be.'"

Although success didn't come quite that rapidly, McKennitt did begin to turn her attentions away from her original career choice and toward composing.

In 1981, McKennitt moved to Stratford, Ont., and explored other creative avenues -- she acted and sang in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's productions of The Tempest in 1982 and, two years later, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

She also busked with her harp in Toronto, Vancouver and London, England. She used the earnings -- as well as "the money my parents had given me for my education" -- to self-produce her first cassette, entitled Elemental, in 1985.


McKennitt believes it was around this time in her life that she decided to "seize my own destiny."

"You embark upon a road and you don't know where it's going to take you, in many, many, many respects," she said.

Two other independent recordings followed, and in 1991 McKennitt signed on with the Warner Music Group. She continued to produce her own music and put out three more albums before making her last, entitled Live In Paris and Toronto, in 1999.

McKennitt's "eclectic Celtic" style has been embraced around the world, and to date, she's sold more than 13 million albums.

McKennitt again used her entrepreneurial spirit to help her through the devastating loss of her fiance, Ronald Rees, in 1998.

Rees, his brother, Richard, and friend, Gregory Cook, were killed in a boating accident in Georgian Bay. In response, McKennitt founded the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety, which has since raised $4 million.

"It was a pretty huge loss," she said. "I think that one tries to take what they can from it."

These days, McKennitt is working tirelessly to reshuffle the structure of her record label, Quinlan Road, and plans to record another album for her legions of loyal fans.

She says she'll continue to do so in her business endeavors, her charity work and her music.

McKennitt says she has "a wealth of ideas and possibilities" for a new studio recording, which she hopes to start working on as soon as she can. "I just need the time to do it," she says with a laugh.


A few facts about internationally renowned recording artist Loreena McKennitt:

- Born Feb. 17, 1957, and raised in Morden of Scottish and Irish heritage. Her mother, Irene, was a community nurse, and her late father, Jack, a livestock dealer.

- Busked with her harp in Toronto, Vancouver and England and used the earnings (plus money from her parents) to self-produce her first cassette called Elemental in 1985.

- Nearly 13 million albums sold worldwide to date from six studio albums and one double live CD.

- Multiple awards and honours, including two Junos for best roots/traditional album, a Billboard International Achievement Award, an honorary doctor of letters from Wilfrid Laurier University and a commemorative medal for the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

- Headline performer for HRH Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip during Golden Jubilee celebrations in Manitoba last year.

- Founder of The Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety, which has raised nearly $4 million for water safety education, research and support in Canada.

- Founder of The Three Oaks Foundation, a charitable body which gives money to cultural, environmental, historical and social groups.

- Owns her own recording company, Quinlan Road, in the city of Stratford, Ont., where she now lives.