MONTREAL – The rich voices of some of Canada’s most renowned singers filled a tiny Montreal square on Wednesday as relatives and friends of musician Kate McGarrigle gathered to see the spot renamed in her honour.
McGarrigle, who gained fame with her sister as the folksinging duo Kate and Anna McGarrigle, died in 2010 of cancer.
Kate McGarrigle’s children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, have carried on the family’s musical legacy and were both present along with their aunts Anna and Jane for the ceremony in the city’s Outremont borough.
A portrait of Kate McGarrigle cast its eyes toward the podium as family and city officials praised the singer-songwriter.
Rufus Wainwright described his mother’s songs as “rare precious pearls.” He also remembered her sense of humour, even when giving professional advice as his career blossomed.
“She was a hungry and ambitious professional, who actually told me once after my first album garnered a fair bit of positive press, ‘Rufus, why can’t you be more like Ricky Martin and actually sell some records?'”
Although his mother projected a bohemian image, Wainwright noted she studied engineering at McGill University in the 1960s, something rare for a woman at the time, and eventually graduated with a science degree before becoming “a genius musician.”
“Beyond the ambition, technical know-how and an intricate awareness of the many layers of music, my mother was a true and tortured romantic in the traditional sense and it’s safe to say that in the end was probably most fulfilled inhabiting the role of hippy-dippy type.”
Anna McGarrigle recalled her sister’s attachment to the neighbourhood and choked up slightly as she finished brief remarks reflecting on the tribute.
“I’m speechless,” she said during the ceremony, which ended in a song from the entire family.
Place Kate-McGarrigle sits near where McGarrigle lived before her death. The short corridor lies between two buildings off Outremont’s busy shopping strip and has patches of green and trees.
There are a few benches and a chair-like sculpture by American multidisciplinary artist Robert Wilson. It was donated by McGarrigle’s family.
The artwork, titled Kate & Nora, is two chairs placed close together as if by two confidantes.
Jane McGarrigle, Kate’s eldest sister and a musician in her own right, explained that Nora was Kate’s more sedate alter-ego as a child.
Jane McGarrigle remembered her younger sister as “wild, wilfull and fearless from her earliest days” and not shy about taking on bigger boys in a scrap and sending them running.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, she was a holy terror as a child,” McGarrigle said to chuckles from the crowd.
The dedication of the square was the cornerstone of several tributes to McGarrigle.
A photo exhibit on her early career has been installed in the windows of several neighbourhood shops until Sept. 8 and a concert documentary was to be screened Wednesday evening.
A benefit concert is also scheduled for Thursday with the proceeds going to cancer research.
Naming a square for McGarrigle was only fitting, said borough Mayor Marie Cinq-Mars.
“Our borough wanted to underscore, in its own way, the artistic contribution of this great singer and musician,” said Cinq-Mars.
Elaine Ayotte, who is responsible for culture in the Montreal government, said McGarrigle had made significant contributions to the city’s cultural reputation.
“She was a tremendous artist and we are sad to have lost her.”
Although touched by the outpouring of affection for her mother, her daughter also said she remembers her in quieter ways as well.
Martha Wainwright said while she sings a lot of McGarrigle’s songs in her own shows, she also likes to cook a lot of the dishes her mother used to make. McGarrigle is also reflected in the way she brings up her young son.
“In my mothering, I try and think what she would have done.”