Australian turned Churchill resident Roy Mexted has taken the inspiration provided by the Northern Manitoba town he and his girlfriend have made their home by recording a CD made up almost entirely of songs written in and about the Hudson Bay port.
Entitled Smiling Like a Sundog, Mexted’s eight-song CD was recorded in Winnipeg while he was down performing at Travel Manitoba’s outdoor showcase .
“Some of my songs have a travelling spirit to them but then coming here we started to put our roots down and stay here so that’s where the story leads,” Mexted told the Nickel Belt News. “The songs are about here, some of the people here and just scenes about the north and the wildlife. There’s bears and whales and lights and things in my songs.”
Mexted and his girlfriend had been travelling through and working in northern Canada and Alaska and then headed down to California when he learned about Churchill and decided he needed to be there.
“I saw Polar Bear Town on YouTube,” Mexted says. “I only had to watch the opening sequence, the opening credits for it to click in my brain. ‘Oh wow, there’s a place where there’s polar bears and lights and it’s unique and small and there’s tourists’”
He got a job as a cook at the Seaport Hotel and his girlfriend, originally from France, moved up there a few months later. They have since obtained their Canadian permanent resident visas and settled into the unlikeliest of new homes.
Churchill is not the sort of place that Mexted, who has ben playing in bands since he was in high school, imagined himself ending up.
“I witnessed a few winters where it was below zero,” he remembers. “I lived in Scotland for a few years and I thought that was cold. I thought it was cold because you have to wear gloves to go down the street. I thought, ‘Oh my god, you have to wear gloves. Your fingers wouldfreeze without gloves,’ but up here it’s a whole other ball game. It’s survival. You need to have the right winter gear to survive the winter and just walking from one building to the next in winter when it’s below 50 or 60 with the wind, it’s crazy but you do get used to it. You have to like it to want to stay here and I enjoy it.”
The songs on the CD include one called “When the Train Comes Back to Churchill” and another called “The Ballad of Dave Daley,” inspired by the owner of Wapusk Adventures, where Mexted’s girlfriend works.
“He was very welcoming to us when we first came to the community and showed us what we needed to know about living up here in the subarctic and so I thought I’d best write a song about him because he’s got a lot to say and a lot of stories,” Mexted says.
There’s also one about a town institution that was destroyed by fire.
“There’s a song about the Gypsy’s Bakery that burnt down a while ago,” he says. “Whenever there’s a bakery or any kind of shop here, it takes on a life of its own and so when it burnt down I talked to a few people about the stories they had about the place and I wrote a song called ‘Goodbye Gypsy’s.’”
While some might consider a small northern town less than inspiring, Churchill’s community spirit and landscape provide plenty of spark for Mexted’s artistic imagination.
“You can go for a walk or a drive anywhere and all of a sudden you’re experiencing things that inspire you,” he said. “There seems to be opportunity here for artists with so many visitors coming here and excited to be here, to see what it’s like up here and we live here, we live it every day, so we can sort of package that up to present and show people through our art what it’s like up here.”
Smiling Like a Sundog will soon be available to purchase from Mexted’s website at https://my-site-100254-106359.square.site/.