Métis fiddler Richard Lafferty, one of the N.W.T’s most prolific musicians who performed for Queen Elizabeth and before sold out crowds at Expo 86, passed away on Dec. 21.
Lafferty’s story begins in his hometown of Fort Providence, where he developed his passion for music.
“Fort Providence was just a small isolated community [back then],” Lafferty told CBC News in a 2018 interview. “The music really came down through waterways from different settlers… The locals would pick up whatever they could pick up with their ears.”
Lafferty, who was 76 when he died, didn’t own his own fiddle until 1981, but once he possessed one, he had the chance to play it in front of audiences on some of the biggest stages.
One of those audience members was Queen Elizabeth II who was in Yellowknife in 1994 for the Royal Visit to the North.
He also performed for the launch of TVNC in the early 1990s, now known as Aboriginal People’s Television Network.
The Métis fiddle
Lafferty was proud of his Métis heritage, which he showcased by playing the fiddle the traditional Métis way.
The Métis fiddle style creates a unique sound, distinct from Celtic or country fiddle.
In 1996 Lafferty was awarded the Métis sash by Northwest Territories Métis Nation for his contributions to traditional music and dances, according to the Métis Musuem.
He also spoke the Métis language Michif.
“He was very proud of his heritage,” said George Tuccaro, a longtime friend of Lafferty’s, in an interview with CBC Weekender host Marc Winkler.
“He never really spoke, you know, too much in the public. But I heard him use the language in Fort Providence quite a bit.”
Tuccaro, who is the N.W.T.’s former commissioner, a former CBC broadcaster and a musician himself, reminisced about the time he and Lafferty performed at Expo 86 in Vancouver.
“The place was sold out,” he said. “The Northwest Territories was being highlighted as one of the top pavilions in Expo 86. Richard had quite a bit to do with that, with his fiddling styles.”
But the performances weren’t all glory as Tuccaro remembers Lafferty accidentally falling off the stage during a show in Vancouver.
“Luckily the stage wasn’t that high, so he didn’t really get hurt that much … we all had little chuckle at that,” he said.
The music continues
Andrea Bettger is a Yellowknife-based musician who remembers meeting Lafferty in Hay River in the early 2000’s.
She was teaching at Diamond Jenness Secondary School and had the opportunity for professional development.
She reached out to Richard Lafferty for a chance to learn from him one-on-one.
“I just wanted to watch him play, have him teach me a tune,” she said.
Bettger said the way he was able to position his left hand to hold down the strings shocked her.
“He did some things that from my upbringing were just outrageous,” she said.
Bettger said now that he has passed away, she hopes to keep his memory alive in the music.
“I’m just gonna make more of an effort now that he’s gone, to keep these tunes alive as best I can and include them in my teaching and include them in my repertoire,” she said.