Bronwyn Churcher (alum student ‘2000 and alum teacher ‘2014) is coming to play with her Celtic traditional band Knacker’s Yard on December 15 at the Bowen Pub.
We thought now would be a good time to get caught up with what she’s been doing.
Bronwyn graduated from IPS in 2000, which makes her one of IPS’s first graduates. She reflected how in 1997 when she started at IPS, it was really just a single room schoolhouse, on Cates Hill on Bowen Island (now the location of Bowen’s Municipal Hall). There were just 23 students in three grades housed in a building no larger than a small house. They worked together in most subjects, but when they needed to do independent study, they simply pulled a curtain across the room!
“Kellie Rapley (now Kellie Burnett) was the best teacher I’ve ever had. She inspired me to get a degree in History, which I followed with a Masters in Social Anthropology”. Bronwyn recalled Kelly’s background in anthropology, which she infused in her teaching as she shared knowledge about different cultures, imparting her passion into her lessons.
Bronwyn’s Masterworks explored the question ‘Is violence a choice?’ inspired by her grade 8 class field trip to the downtown eastside, she found herself wondering about the stories behind how people ended up there. Her Masterworks presentation became an exploration of the cycle of poverty, violence and drug abuse. She laughs when she recalls her mentor, Pam Matthews’ reaction to her submission of 56 pages, “we’re going to start having to put limits on how long these are allowed to be!”
In December 2005, Bronwyn was studying at the University of Edinburgh, but was home visiting for Christmas as were her brother and sister. In the early hours of the morning of December 16, a devastating fire completely destroyed the family home on Bowen Island. Everything was lost but most valuable were the family albums. Eva, her mum, worked hard to get photos back and one valuable source was IPS’s repository. People were good too about sending photos back to the family, that had previously been given away. “You pull together” Bronwyn said, “it’s community”.
After high school, she obtained a history degree from UBC, a Masters degree in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, and then her B.Ed. at SFU where she met her partner Christian MacInnis. They taught abroad together, first in the UK and then in China. In 2012, they both returned to Canada to teach at IPS: Bronwyn teaching Humanities and English for two years, and Christian teaching PE, Design Tech and English there from 2012-2016. They then embarked on their year-long bike trip around the world.
Ted Spear had a huge influence on her years at IPS both as a student, then some years later when she returned as a teacher. “I was always in awe of how thoughtful and intentional and respectful he was. He really cared about what staff thought, asked us how we could improve what we did, year after year. It was really neat coming back to work for him…having him as a boss instead of a principal was an interesting experience!” She recalled how, earlier this year, she was playing with her band, Knackers Yard, at a Victoria pub, and he just appeared, in the audience. He was visiting a friend and had made a point of looking her up and checking in.
She said she started as a substitute teacher with the Greater Victoria School District in September 2017 and enjoys the flexibility of subbing. “I love teaching and hanging out with kids”. While some people may find it daunting to go into new classes regularly, she doesn’t find it difficult now that she’s got six years of teaching behind her. She teaches all levels — elementary, middle and high school and while she enjoys all ages, she finds middle school to be the most wild — “they just have so much energy at that age!” she laughs.
Education or music?
I asked Bronwyn whether she considers herself a teacher or a musician. “I love teaching, I’ve finally found the thing that feeds me creatively and being able to get paid to do it is amazing. We travel all over BC and further afield meeting people, playing music and bringing joy to small communities. I love it.”
How did she land with Knacker’s Yard? “It was quite by accident, I just stumbled across them” she said, “a relative happened to mention they were looking for a fiddle player — apparently it was posted on Craigslist, but I wouldn’t likely have found it there”. After learning all of the repertoire (over 50 songs and instrumentals) over the weekend and rehearsing once with the band, she knew it was a good fit and was on stage performing within two weeks!
“My mum is half Irish and my parents constantly had music playing in the house like the Dubliners, Planxty, the Clancy Brothers and the Bothy Band. I grew up listening to folk music” she says. “The band was a natural place for me and the more I do music, the more I want to do it”.
Bronwyn has been playing violin since the age of four. She never had to be pushed: “I was a hard worker, I could see a progression, set goals and set my sights on them”. It was a passion. She recalls vividly an incident at home when she was 9. She can’t remember what she had done wrong (probably something very minor), but her mum threatened to take away her violin as punishment. “I was so distraught at the thought of it being taken away, I remember threatening to throw myself down the stairs!”.
She continued to play the violin through high school and university, but felt that doing it on her own didn’t allow for her to grow as a musician. Now she’s with a band, where she’s constantly working on new repertoire, “there’s always so much growth. I’m very happy right now.”
Knacker’s Yard are very busy, performing 4 or 5 gigs a week and touring on weekends. They’ve played in many towns on Vancouver Island including Parksville, Nanaimo, Victoria, Ladysmith as well as Saltspring Island, Clayoquot Sound, Whistler and last September, did a ten day tour out to Alberta. Next March, they are planning a St. Patrick’s week tour out to Alberta and a Canada tour out to the east coast in September. She says her life now “is a nice fusion of travel and staying in one place.” She’s happy to settle in Victoria – she and her partner Christian live just outside downtown Victoria on “The Gorge”, a narrow tidal inlet that connects Victoria Harbour to Portage Inlet.
What’s next for the band?
She and Wolf Edwards (vocals, plectrum banjo), share the work of bookings, paperwork, billings and so on. Bronwyn states “It’s a lot of work running a band. We will need a record label and a booking manager at some point, to help us with the promotion and business side of our music. Borealis Records is definitely interested, but we need to have more original songs. A lot of our songs are very historical, so I think there’s an opportunity to get good funding”.
One project they’re working on involves Albert (Ginger) Goodwin, a labour leader, shot by the police in 1918 near Cumberland on Vancouver Island under suspicious circumstances. They are writing a song about him to bring this story to light.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
“That’s a long way away! Who knows! I need my life to be ever-changing and always challenging, but who knows where this will all lead…that’s the exciting thing about being in a band. I’ve also got some ideas about doing a solo project too but…we’ll see.”
I asked Bronwyn how she would you define ‘success’? “It’s doing what you’re passionate about and doing it for yourself, not for other people — but you have to do the difficult work first. I was searching for a long time, but once I came back to doing music, I found it was really right. Doing what you love comes first, and if you can make money at it and put all your time and resources into it, then even better.”
“It’s not about the money. I just need enough to live. The joy we give to others is important to me — I believe in what I’m doing now and think it’s really special.”