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   Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory

John Morris Rankin
Age 40
January 16, 2000
Car Accident


    Local residents examine the site where Celtic musician John Morris Rankin died Sunday when his truck plunged into the  ocean at Whale Cove, near Margaree Harbour. Three teenagers in the vehicle, including Rankin's son, Michael, escaped with minor injuries.The Canadian Press 

    Halifax Herald

Road salt likely factor in Rankin fatality
RCMP probing crash; funeral in Mabou Thursday

                  By Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau

                  Whale Cove - Road salt may have been a factor in the death Sunday of musician John Morris Rankin.  

                  Salt spilled by a provincial Transportation Department truck left a large, unexpected bump on Route 219 moments before the internationally known Celtic musician and member of the Rankins approached in his sports utility vehicle. Mr. Rankin was on his way to Cheticamp to attend a hockey tournament. 

                  "There was certainly a mound or pile of salt . . . and from talking to our staff, this seemed to be a little bigger ... (than) the ordinary," department spokesman Chris Welner said.  

                  The mound, less than a third of a metre high and as wide as a single lane, created a speed bump in the 80 km/h zone. It's believed Mr. Rankin swerved to avoid the bump, then lost control of the truck, which plunged over a 25-metre cliff into the Atlantic Ocean near Margaree Harbour.  

                  Mr. Rankin's three passengers, including his son, Michael, 15, managed to escape the overturned, submerged vehicle. Michael was the first one to make it up the cliff and he flagged down a passing car. He and two 14-year-old boys were later treated for hypothermia and released from hospital.  

                  Inverness RCMP are looking into whether the excessive salt on the road caused the crash. The roads were also snow-covered and icy at the time of the 7:30 a.m. accident.  

                  "That's still under investigation, and I do not have much comment," Const.   Sheldon Miller said.  

                  "It's sad . . . probably one of the hardest (investigations) I've had to do," Const.  Miller said. "The boys were lucky" to survive.  

                  Mr. Welner said the department is working with the RCMP to determine whether  the salt was a factor.  

                  "Right now, we don't have all the facts but we're helping gather the facts and helping the police with their work," Mr. Welner said.  

                  The department isn't going to introduce any changes to the way it clears the highway of snow and ice, Mr. Welner told CBC Radio's afternoon show in Sydney.  

                  "Every day (the drivers) go out and go out as well-trained officers who do a very difficult job in very difficult conditions," he said.

                  Mr. Rankin, who lived in Judique, played fiddle and piano for 10 years in the popular Celtic pop band that included sisters Raylene, Cookie and Heather and brother Jimmy. Last fall, the Juno award-winning group broke up to pursue solo careers. At the time, Mr. Rankin said he was interested in spending more time at home with his wife, Sally, his son and daughter Molly, 13.  

                  No autopsy will be performed. Police cannot say whether he died from injuries suffered in the crash or drowned. His funeral is set for Thursday at 2 p.m. at St. Mary's Church in Mabou. 

                  Condolences continue to pour in for Mr. Rankin's surviving family and friends.  

                  Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he was shocked to hear of Mr. Rankin's death. 

                  "Like all Canadians, I was simply stunned to learn of this terrible accident," Mr. Chretien said in a news release. "Cape Breton has lost one of her finest sons, and Canada has lost one of her finest musicians. 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."  

                  Premier John Hamm also sent his sympathies to Mr. Rankin's seven sisters and four brothers.  

                  "The collective grief and sorrow of Nova Scotians and Canadians cannot begin to  fill the void in John Morris's family. But in time, we hope John Morris's family will  find strength in our prayers, our support and our admiration for a most remarkable man. He was a model Nova Scotian . . . an artist . . . an inspiring musician and proud Cape Bretoner."  

                  Mr. Rankin, the fourth child in the family, was predeceased by his mother, Kathleen, and father Alex J. (Buddy) Rankin.  

                  John Morris and siblings Jimmy, Cookie, Raylene and Heather sold more than two million albums and are credited with taking Cape Breton Celtic music to the mainstream, first as the Rankin Family, then simply the Rankins.  

                  But there are seven other siblings, some living as far away as California and the United Arab Emirates. All of them arrived home Monday.  

                  Jim St. Clair, a cousin who has been in touch with many of the Rankins, said the siblings were taking care of each other.  

                  "These are people of faith. They are people of understanding of the difficulties of life," Mr. St. Clair said from his home in Mull River, near Mabou.  

                  "They rally around one another in times of trouble as well as times of joy. They are being supported very well by each other."  

                  Mr. St. Clair said the famous family was keeping a low profile and wanted to mourn in private. Wakes are to be held today and Wednesday at the old Rankin homestead in Mabou.  

                  Organizers of the East Coast Music Awards are planning a tribute to Mr. Rankin at awards ceremonies in Sydney next month.  

                  "The Rankins have crossed our stage almost from Day 1," ECMA spokesman Marcel McKeough said. "We're considering ways to show our respect and show our appreciation for his legacy."   ~             With The Canadian Press  


  Plow driver 'devastated' over Rankin accident 

                  By Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau 

                  The driver of the snowplow that dumped a mound of salt on the road where John Morris Rankin was killed in an accident is distraught over Sunday's tragedy, says a co-worker.  

                  "Devastated is an understatement," local plow driver Don Cameron, who represents provincial highway workers with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said of his colleague.  

                  "It's horrible. I know if I were in the same situation, I wouldn't be able to work. All the (other) guys here are working . . . but this has had a major effect on all of us."  

                  Mr. Rankin, a world-renowned Celtic musician, died when his sport utility vehicle left Highway 219 at about 7:30 a.m. and plunged over a 25-metre cliff and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  

                  Inverness RCMP believe Mr. Rankin, 40, may have lost control of the truck when he swerved to avoid a mound of salt on the old coastal road near Whale Cove.  

                  Officers are trying to determine how the pile of salt, less than a third of a metre high, was spilled in Mr. Rankin's lane just moments before the musician and three teenage boys came along.  

                  The four, including Mr. Rankin's 15-year-old son, Michael, were headed to a hockey tournament in Cheticamp.  

                  Michael and two 14-year-old boys managed to escape from the truck and climb back up to the road, where they summoned help. The boys were treated for hypothermia.  

                  Chris Welner, spokesman for the provincial Transportation Department, said officials are trying to help staff cope with the tragedy.  

                  "I think it's fair to say (the driver) is quite shaken up," Mr. Welner said. "It's a very stressful and emotional time for John Morris's family and for all of Nova Scotia, including our operators."  

                  Mr. Welner said the driver was an experienced plow operator and was used to being out when conditions are at their worst, as they were last Sunday, when the highway was covered with snow and ice.  

                  "Every time we put out an advisory to stay off the roads, this is exactly the time our guys are out," he said.  

                  Mr. Cameron said it's not uncommon for excess salt to be spread on the road.  

                  "Sometimes you get frozen or lumpy salt . . . and the excess salt needs to be run off," he said. "Drivers then have to scrape the stuff off the road."  

                  But sometimes, especially when snow and ice cover the road, drivers can't always see excess salt.  

                  RCMP have impounded both the plow and the wreckage of Mr. Rankin's truck to test them for mechanical failure.  

                  Hundreds of people are expected to attend Mr. Rankin's funeral, set for 2 p.m. Thursday at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Mabou. Rev. Angus Morris will conduct the service.  

                  Mr. Rankin played fiddle and piano for 10 years in the popular Celtic band the Rankin Family (later the Rankins), which included sisters Raylene, Cookie and Heather and brother Jimmy. Last fall, the group split up to pursue other interests.  Mr. Rankin's plan was to spend more time with his wife, Sally, his son and daughter Molly, 13.  

                  He is survived by seven other siblings, some living as far away as California and the United Arab Emirates. All are back home in Mabou. 


Ottawa Global TV
Rankin Crash Survivors Recall Harrowing Ordeal
Family And Friends Mourn Musician's Death

      MABOU, N.S.,  January 18,
    2000 -- Members of the tight-knit Rankin clan returned home to Cape Breton on Monday to mourn the death of a loved musician and brother following a fatal weekend auto crash.

RCMP and provincial Transport Department officials continued to investigate the weekend accident that claimed 40-year-old John Morris Rankin,   among the most famous of the Rankin kids from little Mabou, N.S.

Transport officials said there were questions about a large pile of road salt, which Rankin apparently swerved to avoid before his Toyota 4-Runner went off a cliff in Whales Cove, plunging 25 metres into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Three passengers - Rankin's son Michael, 15, and two friends Matthew MacDonald and Timothy MacLellan, both 14 - managed to escape from the vehicle through a smashed window after it hit the water.

MacLellan, of Judique, N.S., told the Halifax Daily News he and MacDonald were snoozing in the back seat during a 1˝-hour drive to a hockey game. They were jolted awake when the truck hit a pile of salt about half-a-metre high, he said.

              "It sent us sideways down the road and that's when we went over." "We were in the water but we managed to get out through a window on the passenger's side. Michael was out first and flagged down a car to help."

              MacDonald, also of Judique, said he found himself in the water seconds after waking. He scrambled to the rocks below the cliff where passersby pulled him up by grabbing his coat.

              "It's a pretty sad day," said the Grade 9 student. "I just wish we all were OK."

              RCMP Const. Shelby Miller confirmed the salt pile was a factor in the investigation, but would say little else.

              TV pictures taken after the accident show Mounties measuring a pile of salt near the accident scene. The salt would have been in Rankin's path as he travelled slippery roads along Cape Breton's northeastern shore to Cheticamp from his home in Judique.

              "There was a pile of salt on the road, there's no doubt about that," said Transportation spokesman Chris Welner. "We're not sure how it got there but we're certainly looking into just those questions."

              John Morris and siblings Jimmy, Cookie, Raylene and Heather sold more than two million albums and are credited with taking Cape Breton Celtic music to the mainstream, first as the Rankin Family, then simply the Rankins.

              Jim St. Clair, a cousin who has been in touch with many of the Rankins, said the siblings were taking care of each other.

              "These are people of faith. They're people of understanding of the difficulties of life," St. Clair said from his home in Mull River, near Mabou.

              "They rally around one another in times of trouble as well as times of joy. They are being supported very well by each other."

              St. Clair said the famous family was keeping a low profile and wanted to mourn away from the public spotlight.

              Condolences came from the highest levels. Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he was stunned by word of the accident. "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," the prime minister said in a statement.

              Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm called Rankin's death an "aching blow."

              "Today, the whole province is united in mourning the loss of one of its favourite sons," said the premier's statement. "He was a model Nova Scotian, a musical ambassador who brought the traditions, the spirit and the energy of Mabou to people around the globe."

               Copyright 2000 by The Canadian Press.


A Rankin Family History:
From Dirty Linen #60 October/November '95 by Maureen Brennan
In Mabou (a village on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia) everybody enjoys music," began Jimmy Rankin, as he explained
how the Rankin Family started singing. "Mabou is a very musical community," Sister Cookie elaborated, "and it's not unusual for
people to be involved in music in one way or another. They either sing or play music on a personal basis, or just have a great
interest or appreciation of it. There are very few people that I know that don't know how to do the traditional dance." And the
Rankin family -- Jimmy, Raylene, Cookie, John Morris and Heather -- partake in all aspects.
Raised in a family of 12 children, music was an important form of recreation. "Our parents really encouraged us to participate
through local festivals, local dances, and so forth," Cookie explained. "We could participate by singing or playing the fiddle or
the piano. John Morris played the fiddle and the piano, and we would sing. Jimmy plays the guitar, and we dance as well."
As they grew up, music became a financial opportunity for family members as well. "When we got a little bit older -- junior high
and high school -- we got involved in being an actual band where we could play for adult dances. We'd be too young to be
admitted to them and we were never allowed to go to them on a recreational basis. It would always be through work. It was a
means of making money for us -- preparing for college and getting through college. We would have a summer job and do this at
Parents Buddy and Kaye Rankin were involved in music in a minimal way. "Our father was a classic fiddler and our mother had
a voice; but they did not perform in any way really," Cookie continued. "They had a tremendous appreciation for music,
especially traditional music. They made sure that we had a piano at a very young age, and it was usually tuned. It wasn't unusual
for local musicians to come to the house for a cup of tea. While Mom was making the tea, there would be music in the house.
We were encouraged to be involved with music, and I think our parents had an ear to hear that we had an ear for music."
Not surprisingly, the five Rankins that became this singing (and playing) phenomenon were not the first in the family to enjoy the
benefits of the local music. "When I was too young to participate, the older sisters and brothers were participating. But once
they reached high school and graduated from high school, they kind of went their separate ways. By the time we came along,
there was much more support for the local music scene, and people getting involved in the local music. I think that's why we
were able to sustain ourselves musically, more so than the older (children).
"Raylene and John Morris," Cookie continued, "were actually part of the older group; and they were always involved in the
music. It didn't matter what was going on, they always stayed in the music scene. Jimmy came along, and I came along, and then
Heather (the age span in the Rankin Family is from mid-20s to mid-30s). It was basically whoever wanted to stick with it, stuck
with it; and those who didn't, it was okay."
Six years ago, the Rankins decided to record their first album, and see how far they could take the music. "We were all at a
crossroads," said Heather.
Heather, Cookie, and Jimmy were just finishing school. Raylene, a trained lawyer, was re-thinking, looking twice at that career;
and John Morris was working and supporting his family in music. The first album, The Rankin Family, contains the most
traditional material, certainly the most acoustic. Early marketing schemes included loading up their mother's car with cassettes,
and selling them to restaurants, shops and gas stations around Nova Scotia. One small business owner in Baddeck reported that
she's sold over 300 of the family's tapes to tourists preparing to visit Cape Breton Highland National Park. She makes the same
offer to all: "If you don't like it, you can get your money back when you return." She's never had one come back.
The first recording features three of Jimmy's original compositions (many of which now comprise a large portion of the Family's
repertoire). He finds inspiration in the geography, music and people of Cape Breton Island. "There are loads of great
songwriters in the Maritimes," he said, "and there's so much great music that comes out of there. You cannot help but be
inspired by the ocean, and the history. In Cape Breton, people have a very strong sense of history and their past, and
storytelling, and people and their relations. I think that rubs off on me consciously and unconsciously."
Their hometown, Mabou, has a population of approximately 1,500. The major sources of income and employment are fishing,
farming and forestry. And, unfortunately, like so many places, they've been "hard hit by the economy," Jimmy explained.
"There's been kind of a mass exodus of people there since about 100 years ago. It's been a launching ground for people to take
off for other parts of the country and other places in the world. It's kind of a quaint place, untouched by industry. In one sense
it's good, in one sense it's bad, 'cause there's not a lot of work there." His song "Tramp Miner" reflects the kind of life some
have had to lead once they left Mabou. It's a great irony that many of the descendants of families that once left Scotland due to
economic hardships are now, generations later, having to leave again in search of work.
The Rankin Family's music and performance are noted for their eclecticism. In some ways, their concerts are like cabaret. There
are songs (traditional and contemporary, in Gaelic and English), instrumental music, and dance. The lead vocals are constantly
shifting from one member of the family to another; yet the others are always there to provide backing harmony or to-and-fro
While much of the original material the band performs has a country flavor, the influences of traditional music, folk, pop and
rock 'n' roll can also be heard. When the Rankin Family goes out on the road, besides the five family members, the band
includes Howie MacDonald on fiddle, drummer Scott Ferguson, electric guitarist Ray Montford, and bassist John Chiasson.
Jimmy attributed the variety in their performance to their earlier career, playing dances. "That's where our style evolved from,
playing a diverse array of music. We had our Cape Breton fiddle, and people dancing square sets. Then, between the square
sets, we had what we called round dance music. Round dance music, to us, was anything that people would dance to. That
could be rock 'n' roll, whatever."
The majority of the traditional music the band plays, other than jigs and reels, are songs sung in Gaelic. While not native
speakers, the Rankins did study Gaelic at school. "When I was in elementary school, junior high, and high school, I took it for
that whole time," said Cookie. "It was a real sense by a small community of people to try and re-establish the Gaelic language at
least through the kids. But unless you're immersed in it, you're not going to learn to think it instinctively. I know how to read it,
vocabulary and grammatics, more than I know how to speak it. So we have a tutor that helps us with it at home; and we do
have to learn the songs phonetically, unfortunately."
The Family put out a second album, Fare Thee Well Love, which in March 1992 was picked up by EMI-Canada. "The best
thing that happened to us when we signed with EMI was that they were able to get our records in stores everywhere in the
country," said Jimmy. "People were able to see us on a different level, as opposed to the underground thing we had been doing
ourselves for two or three years. Most importantly, they got songs on mainstream radio. We had four singles that year that were
in the Top 10; we had a couple of songs that made it to the Top 5 in country music radio; and we had one that went to number
one on the adult contemporary charts. That was like people hearing you ten times a day, and that broke us through."
When the Canadian version of the album North Country came out in 1993, the Rankin Family were poised for success. The
album swept the Juno Awards in 1994, winning for "Group of the Year," "Country Group of the Year," "Single of the Year,"
and "Entertainer[s] of the Year." Jimmy Rankin explained the Family's reaction: "I think at the time we were touring so much, we
didn't really absorb what was happening. Once we had a chance to sit down and reflect, it was just a great honor. It's not an
easy thing to do, even in Canada, which is a heck of a lot smaller than the U.S. It's very competitive, especially for the kind of
music we do, which is not easily categorized."
Catching on in the rest of the world -- and particularly in the United States -- was a bit slower, and at times frustrating. "It took
us so long to get our album (North Country) released here," Jimmy said, "and we went through a couple of bad experiences
with other record companies before we found this one [Guardian, a division of EMI] that knew what we were about and had
some good marketing schemes. I think our next album is going to be available here in February. That's the plan anyway."
Last spring, the Rankin Family toured Australia and New Zealand with the prestigious Irish Guinness Tour. Other performers
included Altan, Sharon Shannon, Donal Lunny, Brendan Power, and Maire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman. They have built
up their reputation in England and Scotland, and hope, with record company support, to tour Ireland. At the time of this
interview, they were just finishing their first full U.S. tour. Previously, they'd travelled south for the odd festival or concert.
If asked to name the most memorable aspect of a Rankin Family live performance, most people would mention the exquisite
three-part harmonies of the sisters, that sometimes extend to four and five parts when the brothers are included. Does the
harmony carry over when they have to go on tour together for days on end? Jimmy responded "We've been at it seriously for
six years, touring in every way, shape, and form; and we've learned to stay out of each other's way and make things work; you
have to. Basically, we're on a bus with 11 people a lot of the time, and any band has their hard times and good times."
Cookie added, "It's the same way with any family that has to work together, whether it's working on the road as musicians or
working in an office trying to make a go of a family business. You learn to work together, and you learn to get along. It's part of

making something good successful; and we happen to like one another."


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