Origin story: Heather Bishop

Folk singer decorated for activism in song

Supplied photo

When Heather Bishop relocated from her hometown of Regina to Manitoba in 1975, it was a career move for the folk singer – one that turned out to be highly successful.

“Winnipeg was the heart of folk festivals in Canada, if not also influencing the US. I was thinking of launching a music career, and Winnipeg seemed like a good kickoff place,” Bishop says.

Bishop’s activism in song has been decorated on multiple occasions. Among many awards, she has received the Order of Canada, the Order of Manitoba and an honorary doctorate of laws.

As a young adult, Bishop debated between a career as a visual artist or one as a veterinarian.

“Vet school was in Saskatoon, and I had no money, so that made my decision. I went to art school in Regina,” she says.

After obtaining a fine-arts degree, Bishop realized it was difficult to make a living as a visual artist. She decided instead to pursue a different art form she had studied as a child: music.

While in university, Bishop was in an all-women’s dance band called Walpurgis Night.

“We traveled all over Saskatchewan, singing at all kinds of weddings and country dances. We did old-time music, and when the crowd got pretty drunk, then I could sing the blues,” Bishop remembers.

From there, a solo music career didn’t seem like a big leap.

“The music that really inspired me was the music that came from the people who were telling the truth about their lives, about what the world was like. So my heroes were Buffy Sainte-Marie and Nina Simone. Not surprisingly, People of Colour,” Bishop says.

Wanting to imitate her musical heroes, Bishop was faced with the dilemma of maintaining integrity within her own music. As a lesbian, that meant she had to tell her truth – which was risky at the time, since homosexuality had only recently been decriminalized in Canada.

“I wasn’t going to go on stage and pretend to be someone I wasn’t. My career (was) going to last about five seconds, but (I had) to do (it). My activism, as a person who stands for truth and integrity, was the cornerstone of moving into music,” she says.

Bishop had always wanted to live in the countryside. In 1978, she bought land close to the United States border in Woodmore, Man.

“It’s not on any map. That’s one of the things I like about it,” Bishop says.

Bishop retired as a musician about 10 years ago. A woman of many hats, she uses her carpentry skills on her organic farm. In summer, she can be found building greenhouses or homes for extended family members who live on the organic farm turned small community.

In the wintertime, Bishop writes short stories for pleasure.

“I have no trajectory for those. I’ve been approached many times about writing my story. Why? Who would be interested?” Bishop has several nuggets of wisdom to impart to emerging artists.

“In terms of following a passion or pursuing an art form, make sure that you pursue your skill’s development at the same time if you want to make a living from it,” she says. “You create your own life.

You create your reality. Act as if it’s already there.”

Published in Volume 76, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 10, 2022)

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