Local Horsefly western singer and songwriter Bernadette Ducharme won the Kamloops Cowboy Festival’s 2019 Keeper of the West award last weekend.
Ducharme first moved to Horsefly with her parents at the age of 13 when they bought a ranch in the area and while she has moved in and out for years since she said that she intends for it be her home from here on out. Singing and songwriting have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, though she only got seriously into the Western genre five years ago.
“There was music in my home all my life. Every one of my siblings, I’m the youngest of six, can all carry a tune quite well. Music is in our blood,” Ducharme explained.
Her first steps down the cowboy trail came shortly before the 2015 Kamloops Cowboy Festival, where she competed in the rising star category with songs from her album Pieces of Me. She said some of the songs she sang that year were the result of collaboration with fellow Horsefly resident and cowboy poet Bruce Rolph. This started a tradition of collaboration with western poets across North America where they pen the words and Ducharme brings them to vibrant musical life.
It was her following album entitled One Boot in the Stirrup, however, that convinced Ducharme to continue to pursue her musical career. She received eight separate nominations from the Academy of Western Artists in Fort Worth, Texas including album of the year, vocalist of the year and five for song of the year.
The Keeper of the West Award is given out each year to an individual who keeps Western heritage and culture alive and well through music, poetry or other media. Along with the award and title, Ducharme also received a special buckle worth $700, something she proudly wears already. She said she competed against 18 other contestants this year from across North America.
“I feel that it’s an integral part of where we came from, who we are and I find beauty in (the Western lifestyle) that is rare and I just don’t want to see it pass. It warms my soul, truly, so I want to keep it alive,” she said.
The Kamloops Cowboy Festival as a whole is just wonderful, in her opinion, especially for the venues’ ambience and authenticity. The Ball Room of the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre, the traditional venue for the event, sits just around 500 people by her estimate and she has been happy to help fill those seats over the years.
This year at the festival, from Marc 14 to 17, Ducharme submitted a song entitled That Far Away Look from her latest album Melancholy Trail into the Keeper of the West Category. It was penned by Alberta cowboy poet Meg MaWhinney and is in memory Bud Webb, a dear friend of hers who was well known within the cowboy music scene. Webb had always been a staunch supporter and cheerleader for Ducharme and lent his voice to Fly Sparrow Fly, which is also on the same album.
“His passing was very, very painful for me and many other cowboy festival goers. I went first to the Kamloops Cowboy Festival because of Bud and now I wear this buckle because of Bud,” Ducharme said.
When talking of Webb and describing his straightforward welcoming attitude Ducharme was visibly moved and credits him with her winning this award in the first place. She also wished to extend a thank you to all the poets and others who have supported her and lent their words to her over the years, in particularly MaWhinney for the mentoring role she’s played in Ducharme’s life.
“It is overwhelming (to win), it’s very humbling and extremely nice to be acknowledged for the effort I’ve put in this direction. I’ve been singing all my life, writing songs all my life and to be accepted into this family is beautiful, it just tears me up. I feel greatly appreciative of the acceptance I’ve found there from entertainers and fans alike.”
Her music is available at www.burnsmusic.com with Melancholy Trail to be released online within the next few weeks. Her next musical endeavour will be an album of gospel songs written by herself and her mother, Maggie Ovington Borgess, entitled Moment by Moment that she intends to release around the time of her performance at this years Williams Lake Stampede.
“I feel pretty much on top of the world. The Kamloops Cowboy Festival is always one of my favourite events of the year but this time it was most exceptional.”