Rankin dies in crash
MARGAREE HARBOUR, N.S. (CP) -- John Morris Rankin, a member of the former Celtic group the Rankins,
died Sunday after his truck plunged into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Three teenage passengers, including Rankin's son Michael,
were able to escape from the vehicle and climb to safety following the 7:30 a.m. accident.
They were taken to Cape Breton's Inverness Consolidated Hospital.
Family friend Emily Butler said it appeared that Rankin told
the teens to jump out of the truck as it skidded towards the water.
"John Morris told them to jump and they got out,"
she said. "John Morris went with the truck."
Rankin, 40, died in the crash, the RCMP said in a
It hadn't yet been determined how the vehicle ended up in
Morris Green of Nova Scotia Emergency Health Services said
one of the teenagers was being treated for hypothermia and the other two appeared to be
Family friend and musician Denis Ryan said news of the
accident spread quickly through the Nova Scotia music community.
"It's awful, awful, awful," said Ryan, who played
music with Rankin in the mid '80s.
"I've known him for 25 years, for Christ's sake.... Why
is it always the good people that die?"
Ryan described Rankin as a dedicated family man and master
carpenter who was like a younger brother to him.
"He was just a beautiful person to be around -- never
offensive and could be awful funny at times. And
he did have a great Celtic humour and wit about him. (He) could laugh and smile and have fun with very simple things in life."
Butler, who knew the Rankins for more than 20 years and
considered them her extended family, said Rankin's siblings were devastated by the
She said the loss is a great blow for many in Cape Breton
who followed John Rankin's rise to fame.
"He was a very wonderful and talented young man and
we're all heartsick," Butler said from Sydney, N.S.
Rankin's brother Jimmy Rankin left a Farm Aid concert in Toronto after being notified of the death.
Family friend Russell De Carle, lead singer for Prairie
Oyster, said he was stunned when he heard the
news at the benefit.
"Oh God, it's just horrendous to say the least,"De
Carle said from Toronto following his set at the
"He was a brilliant musician. It's a huge loss. It's unbelievable. I had an incredible amount of admiration for his playing. He was a brilliant musician, keyboardist and fiddle player."
John Morris Rankin played fiddle and piano with the popular musical family from Cape Breton. The group broke up last summer so its members could pursue independent careers and interests.
Over a decade-long, storybook career, the Mabou, N.S., family band rose from county fairs and church halls to become the most successful music acts on the East Coast through the 1990s.
The five siblings sold more than two million records, won five Juno Awards, including group of the year in 1994, and took its Celtic- inflected music to the world.
"We've had a great run," John Morris said last year after the breakup.
"It's been 10 years and they've gone by fast.
Originally we planned to do this for five years, and 10 have passed.
"It's all been a positive experience for us."
The family's early independent success -- they sold 75,000 records literally out of the back of a car -- led to one of the first major-label music contracts in Atlantic Canada.
After being courted by several Canadian labels, they finally signed with EMI Canada and delivered five platinum records (each selling over 100,000 copies) through the '90s. Fare Thee Well Love sold more than 500,000 copies alone. Ryan
described John Morris as a "rock" who held
the band together: "He brought stability. He brought
leadership in a very subtle way. He was very,
really a solid guy. I mean really solid. Fame and
fortune really didn't shake him."
Brookes Diamond, a Halifax promoter who had known Rankin for more than 20 years, said he was "a lovely gentleman and a wonderful man" who loved country dances and was most happy at home in rural Cape Breton.
"He had so much to look forward to in his new life," he said.
"It's just an awful thing."
Besides Michael, 15, Rankin is survived by his wife
Sally and daughter Molly, 13.
Rankin dies in accident
Fiddler's son, two others
By Bruce Erskine / Staff Reporter Halifax Herald
John Morris Rankin, fiddler and piano player with the
popular Rankin Family band, was killed when his truck plunged into the Gulf of St.
Lawrence Sunday morning.
The accident at Whale Cove on the old coastal road between
Dunvegan and Margaree Harbour occurred at 7:30 a.m. on Route 219, RCMP Cpl. Keith Brumwell
Police say Mr. Rankin, 40, had three teenage boys,
including his son, with him when his northbound sport-utility vehicle left the road and
went over an embankment into the water 25 metres below.
"It was submerged in the water," Cpl. Brumwell
said. "It's a miracle the kids survived."
The boys, two aged 14 and one 15, were able to escape from
the vehicle and climb back up to the road, police said.
Cpl. Brumwell said Mr. Rankin's 15-year-old son, Michael,
was the first to reach the road and flagged down a passing car.
Mr. Rankin, who lived in Judique, was reportedly driving
the boys to a hockey tournament in
By the time paramedics arrived, the three boys had taken
shelter at a nearby home, Emergency Health
Services spokesman Morris Green said.
The boys were later taken to Inverness Consolidated
Hospital where they were treated for hypothermia,
Mr. Green said.
He did not know how the boys escaped from the truck, which
was pulled from the water by firefighters.
Family friend Emily Butler said it appeared that Rankin
told the teens to jump out of the truck as it
skidded towards the water.
"John Morris told them to jump and they got
out," she said. "John Morris went with
Cpl. Brumwell called the efforts of Margaree Forks
volunteer firefighters "heroic."
"They had to put ropes on the vehicle to prevent it
from washing out to sea," he said, adding
that a family opened their nearby home to rescue workers.
Roads were slippery at the time, and Cpl. Brumwell said a
traffic analyst is trying to determine what
caused the accident.
According to the Department of Transportation, area roads
were snow-covered but passable with caution Sunday
Three ambulances from Margaree and Inverness responded to
Mr. Rankin played with sisters Raylene, Cookie and Heather
and brother Jimmy in the popular Celtic pop band
for 10 years.
The Juno award-winning group, which released several
recordings and toured extensively, broke up last fall
so members could pursue individual projects.
Musician Denis Ryan said news of the accident spread
quickly through the Nova Scotia music
"It's awful, awful, awful," said Ryan, who
played music with Rankin in the mid '80s.
"I've known him for 25 years, for Christ's sake....
Why is it always the good people that
Ryan described Rankin as a dedicated family man and master
carpenter who was like a younger brother to
"He was just a beautiful person to be around - never
offensive and could be awful funny at times. And
he did have a great Celtic humour and wit about him. (He) could laugh and smile and have fun with very simple things in
Longtime Rankins manager Mickey Quase said he has lost one
of his best friends.
"It's a terrible tragedy and a personal
tragedy," Mr. Quase said. "He's been one of my best buddies for many, many years."
Rankins fiddler Howie MacDonald first played alongside
John Morris in the mid-'70s, and the pair often
got the crowd hopping with passionate sets of Cape Breton fiddle tunes.
"When people think of him, they think of a solid
individual, a man of few words with a dry wit and
a very likeable guy," Mr. MacDonald said.
"He will be referred to a lot. His music will stay
around for a good while yet, and he's one of the
people we will refer to when we're trying to explain how this music should be done or how it should feel."
Aside from his son, Mr. Rankin is survived by his wife,
Sally, and daughter, Molly, 13.
With Stephen Cooke and Greg Guy, entertainment
reporters and The Canadian Press
New York Times
John Morris Rankin, 40, Dies;
A Master Cape Breton Fiddler
By JAMES BROOKE
MONTREAL, Jan. 18 -- John Morris Rankin, a master fiddler
and pianist who helped spark a North American renaissance of Celtic music and culture,
died on Sunday on his native Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia when his truck skidded off
a twisting coastal highway and plunged into the icy sea. He was 40.
Rankin's son, Michael, and two of his friends survived the accident. An investigation is under way to determine if Mr. Rankin died from
drowning or from impact injuries.
From a humble start selling tape cassettes from the trunk of a family car in the late
1980's, Mr. Rankin led his family group, the Rankins, to sell two million records,
introducing to a new generation the joys of Gaelic song and music. After a decade that
included hundreds of concerts around the world, the five Rankin siblings dissolved the
group last summer so they could spend more time
with their families.
Near dawn on Sunday, Mr. Rankin was driving his son, Michael, and two other boys to a
hockey game when he swerved his Toyota 4-Runner to avoid a pile of road salt in the road,
the police said. As the truck sailed off a 75-foot high cliff and crashed into a cove, Mr.
Rankin shouted to the boys to get out. The boys, unhurt, broke a window and swam ashore.
Michael Rankin, 15, then clawed his way up the cliff, a precipice so steep that volunteer
firemen who retrieved Mr. Rankin's body later said they could only climb it with
Growing up in the tiny, isolated Cape Breton village of Mabou, Mr. Rankin came to the
attention of the outside world in 1973 when he was featured in a Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation documentary called "The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler." Time
proved the title inaccurate, but the closing
scene proved prophetic.
the shot, John Morris Rankin, then 13, walked down a Mabou back road with the legendary
Cape Breton fiddler, Dan R. MacDonald. Conveying
the human link of musical traditions between the generations, Mr. MacDonald, now deceased, placed his hand on the young fiddler's shoulder.
the 1970's, the Gaelic and Highland Scottish traditions preserved by older people in rural Cape Breton were definitely not in fashion,
and John Morris routinely hid his fiddle on the
way to school.
the late 80's, Mr. Rankin, already a professional musician, organized the Rankin Family, drawing on the Gaelic singing talents of three
of his sisters, Cookie, Heather and Raylene, and
the guitar and song - writing talents of a
brother, Jimmie. They melded pop rhythms and lyrics with ancient Highland Scottish musical
traditions, cutting their first album, "The Rankin Family," in 1989.
With the help of their mother, Kathleen, they managed to
sell close to 100,000 albums independently before signing a multi-album deal with EMI in
1992. Renamed the Rankins, the group made six more albums, ending with "Uprooted" last year. They won five Juno
Awards, Canada's equivalent of the Grammy.
The oldest of 12 children, Mr. Rankin was the group's
unofficial bandleader and arranger. A quiet man,
he played behind his more flamboyant siblings on the front line. But when he stepped into
the spotlight, he enchanted audiences with his slow and haunting fiddle solos.
The Rankins' success drew Cape Breton music into the
mainstream, sparking revived interest in Celtic
culture. Exposing modern Scotland to this sometimes forgotten Scottish settlement on
Canada's eastern fringe, their music prompted
many Scots to visit Cape Breton in the 1990's, seeking traditions that have petered out at
home but have survived in a corner of North America where every home seems to have a
fiddle player and where children learn to dance as soon as they can walk.
In addition to his son, Mr. Rankin is survived by his
wife, Sally, and a daughter, Molly.