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Raylene Rankin, a member of the internationally acclaimed group the Rankin Family who went on to a successful musical career independent of her siblings, died on Sept. 30 after an 11-year battle with cancer. (Sandor Fizli for The Globe and Mail)
Raylene Rankin, a member of the internationally acclaimed group the Rankin Family who went on to a successful musical career independent of her siblings, died on Sept. 30 after an 11-year battle with cancer. (Sandor Fizli for The Globe and Mail)

OBITUARY

Humour, empathy came naturally to Rankin Family star Add to ...

Raylene Rankin and Susan Crowe disagreed about a scene in Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief. There is no way that the story’s narrator would take his brother all the way back to Cape Breton to die, argued Crowe.

“[Raylene] looked me in the eye and said ‘you’re not from Cape Breton.’ ” said Crowe of her friend and musical collaborator (along with Cindy Church), in the trio Rankin, Church and Crowe.

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Crowe related this story on Friday evening while standing in the middle of the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, the small Cape Breton village where Rankin was born and where her body was buried.

Rankin, a member of the internationally acclaimed group the Rankin Family who went on to a successful musical career independent of her siblings, died on Sept. 30 after an 11-year battle with cancer.

Friday was the second funeral for Rankin, 52. A service had been held a day earlier in Halifax, where Rankin lived with her husband, Colin Anderson, and their son, Alexander.

The service in Mabou, on the west side of the island, drew hundreds. Cars filled the parking lot of St. Mary’s Parish Church and spilled out along Route 19, the road that bisects the village and carries on north to Inverness and the Cabot Trail.

Well-known Cape Breton musicians, such as singer Rita MacNeil, instrumentalist Dave MacIsaac and others, joined family members and other residents. Local businesses gave employees time off to attend. The Red Shoe Pub, owned by Rankin and her sisters, Cookie, Heather and Genevieve, didn’t open until 4 p.m.

“It was a real homecoming to a community that has loved her,” Crowe said.

Mabou sits at the mouth of the Mull River and is surrounded by hills. Visible from the main street, dotted sparsely with a few businesses and big homes for large families, are farms on the slopes and apex of the hills. On Friday, deciduous crowns had begun to arrive at yellow on their autumnal journey to red, while the large fields still held a lush green appearance.

Here is where Rankin was born, the fifth child of 12, to Alexander (Buddy) and Kathleen Rankin. Neither were musical performers, but they encouraged their children in music. All the children performed locally as the Rankin Family in the 1970s before Raylene along with her three younger siblings Cookie, Heather and Jimmy, and their older brother John Morris, made the family name world famous in the 1990s.

They won six Juno Awards, 15 East Coast Music Awards, three Canadian Country Music Awards and legions of fans in North America and Europe.

Shirley Campbell, who was at the Shoe Friday night, reminisced about returning to the area each Thanksgiving to visit her husband’s family. The highlight would be seeing the Rankin children perform at the community hall. This is where tea was served following Rankin’s funeral. Afterwards, some mourners moved across Route 19 to the Shoe.

“They’d jump up and dance, or sing or play the guitar,” she said. while gesturing with her hand to indicate the ascending height of the children, “Whatever they would do. They were wonderful.”

Mourners at St. Mary’s church were told how John Morris would run up one aisle of the church to play the organ while Raylene would run up the other to sing.

No performance was taken lightly, said James St. Clair, a family friend who knew Raylene Rankin since she was born and taught her in high school. He spoke at both the Halifax and Mabou services.

“Her mother was very insistent … that they never go out to perform unless they had rehearsed. And unless they were appropriately dressed,” St. Clair said in an interview.

Rankin spoke of her upbringing in a documentary broadcast in June on the CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition. Her memories were of her parents’ efforts in raising 12 children and of the fun growing up surrounded by music. Rankin spoke of going to local square and step dances nearly every night.

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