A voice that’s familiar to listeners in the Cariboo Chilcotin is destined to reach a larger audience with the creation of an audiobook version of Indian Horse by the late Ojibway author Richard Wagamese.
Williams Lake city councillor Jason Ryll, who owns Front Row Voiceovers and is frequently heard on radio and in advertising clips, was hired last summer by Audible Canada to narrate the story.
Ryll has First Nations ancestry and said he was very proud to be part of the project.
“It’s powerful, stirring, sorrowful and inspirational,” Ryll said of the story, noting the fact Clint Eastwood was the executive producer for the recently released Canadian movie of the story meant he is in some good company.
Indian Horse is told by the character Saul Indian Horse who realizes when he journeys back to his northern Ojibway roots as an adult that he was sexually and emotionally abused when he was a young boy at a Catholic residential school .
Soon after arriving at the school in the 1950s, a young likable priest introduces the older students to hockey and they build an outdoor rink.
Saul is too young to play hockey according to the principal’s rules, however, because he is keen, the young priest gives him a job clearing the ice in the early mornings.
While he has the ice to himself, Saul teaches himself how to skate and to handle a stick and puck.
His natural hockey talent is realized by the priests at the school and he begins to excel.
When a player is injured, he gets to play and consistently helps the school team win games.
He later leaves the school to play for a First Nations team and live with a family.
A few years later he is selected to play for the Toronto Marlboros, a Major Junior A feeder club for the Maple Leafs.
Throughout his hockey playing he experiences racism from Non-First Nations people in the crowds and off the ice.
Discouraged, he leaves hockey and struggles with serious addictions before he begins to make his way to recovery and to face his past, realizing getting to play hockey as a youngster came at a price.
The movie opened in theatres on April 13, drawing crowds and receiving lots of praise for shedding light on a painful part of Canadian history.
“It is very heavy stuff the character goes through,” Ryll said.
“Some of the people who you are led to believe are positive in his life turn out not to be.”
Ryll said when he saw a studio post on social media that it was looking for a person to audition for the role he contacted them.
“This was during the wildfires,” he recalled.
“I was evacuated to Prince George, so I had my mobile recording gear set up with me in the basement of my uncle-in-law’s,” he said. “I had a blanket over my head and my microphone and I was auditioning.”
When they posted the job, the studio said it was looking for a First Nations sounding male so Ryll contacted them to ask exactly what they wanted.
“They said if I could tell the story from the perspective of a Northern Manitoban Métis that was what they were looking for,” he said.
“I am Cree and Métis and there are regional accents that I referred to when I was working on the project.”
Ryll’s heritage originated in Alberta.
His great, great grandfather was Scottish and he came to Canada and married a First Nations woman.
Ryll said he thought about his father’s friends and some of the people he knew as he developed the voice of Saul Indian Horse.
After he returned to the City when the evacuation order was lifted, Ryll learned he’d got the job.
Prior to doing the recording, Ryll said he had never read the book or even heard of Wagamese before.
The online audiobook was published by Audible Canada and is available on Amazon.