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Celebrating snow and winter with Boreal

In this Arts and Culture feature we lace up our skates with singer-songwriters Tannis Slimmon and Katherine Wheatley as they prepare for their seasonal tour and two shows at the River Run Centre Dec 20 and 21

It has been said that the Inuit have more than 50 words for snow and members of the Boreal trio will tell you they have nearly as many songs about the white stuff.

“People will be sick of the snow after coming to our show because they will have experienced it all  every angle of it,” said singer-songwriter Katherine Wheatley. “We haven’t done one about snowshoeing yet.”

Wheatley, Tannis Slimmon and new member Angie Nussey are midway through a 10-date tour called Songs for a Snowy Season that includes two shows this weekend at the River Run Centre.

“It’s just a seasonal thing from the end of November right up to Christmas,” said Slimmon. “We call it a seasonal show as opposed to a Christmas show because we have a lot of songs about snow and welcoming winter.”

The trio has been getting together every Christmas season for the past 13 years and this is the first season without founding member Jude Vedala.

“She wanted to step back from performing and spend more time with her grandchildren,” said Slimmon. “It was hard to imagine finding someone that could fill her shoes.”

Vedala was a big contributor to the group’s sound and collection of songs including their 2014 CD release Winter’s Welcome.

“We are still doing one of Jude’s incredible arrangements,” said Wheatley. “She is a fantastic arranger and great songwriter with a lot of other skills, piano, bass, guitar, percussion and a voice the size of the Grand Canyon.”

Their newest member Angie Nussey is an award-winning singer-songwriter and storyteller.

“Angie writes real songs about real people and they are just so moving and yet she is really funny,” said Wheatly. “She’s got a great voice and is a fantastic piano player.”

The first song Nussey wrote for Boreal, Angel of the Road, has become one of their signature tunes. It recounts her experience driving home to Orillia from Toronto during a snowstorm.

“Katherine had a gig of her own at the Tranzac Club in Toronto and she invited Angie and I to join her,” said Slimmon. “Katherine and I were driving home together after the show. We left Angie, gave her a hug and she headed north right into a snowstorm - a white out and it was life threatening.”

A transport truck driver guided her safely through the storm and when she got home she got a message from Slimmon and Wheatley welcoming her into the group.

“It documents that moment in our history - our inception,” said Slimmon. “She got home to our text and she said I’m still crying - but I’m happy. The song is just beautiful. The story really unfolds and whenever we talk about Hwy 11 we have to sing it.”

Wheatley and Slimmon are both established artists in their own right with decades of combined experience writing, recording and performing in the Canadian folk music scene.

“The seasonal nature of Boreal made it suitable for our schedules because we each have our own careers and we know that since we are coming together just this time of year it is manageable,” said Wheatly. “It suited us.”

The Boreal shows were produced by Folkway Music for the first 10 years.

“We used to do it at their store and then they presented us at Dublin Street Church a couple years,” said Wheatley. “Then it was at the Little Theatre and the 10th year was at the River Run. This will be our fourth year at the River Run and now we’re up to two shows there and we love it.”

The group plays the River Run on Friday, Dec 20 and the Sat Dec 21 show is a matinee at 2 p.m. in the Co-operators Hall at the River Run Centre. They are part of the Borealis Music Series. For ticket information visit

“We have four or five standard Christmas carols and the rest are pretty much homemade songs,” said Wheatley. “It has become more and more originals and welcoming winter and really finding the joy in it.”