David Leask uses ‘musical museum’ to tell story of Sask. Doukhobors

David Leask's new record called Voyageur in Song is inspired by this guitar, built with pieces of Canadian culture and history. (Mary Ellen Beatty/Submitted)

Award-winning singer/songwriter David Leask has released a new record inspired by a guitar made up of fragments of Canadian history, including the Russian Doukhobors’ flight to Saskatchewan.

Leask used the Six String Nation guitar, also known as Voyageur, built with 64 pieces of Canadian culture and history. Leask is based in Mississaugua, Ont.

“I’m a Scottish immigrant to this country, so for me, it was about digging deeper into what Canada means to me,” said Leask in an interview.

“It’s such an amazing almost musical museum.”

The guitar includes wood from a Wayne Grezky hockey stick and Canada’s Parliament. The guitar’s strap and case feature more historical elements, such as Chris Hadfield’s mission patch.

Four pieces on both the interior and exterior of the guitar are from a Doukhobor-built grain elevator in Veregin, which is now designated a provincial heritage property. The Village of Veregin is located about 50 km northeast of Yorkton.

Leask told the group’s story of resilience in a song called ‘Spirit Wrestlers,’ the meaning of Doukhobor. The six-song record is titled Voyageur in Song.

The Doukhobors are a Christian pacifist sect who fled Russia following persecution from Tsar Nicholas. They arrived in Canada in 1899 with support from author Leo Tolstoy, who used proceeds from his book Resurrection.

Leask wrote that they settled in Saskatchewan with “fertile soil in their hands” and that “faith and Mother Nature kept them alive.”

Leask said the Voyageur project’s leader, Jowi Taylor, told him about when a Doukhobor handed him a piece of the grain elevator: They handed the wood over with the hope that “something positive would come of it.”

“As an immigrant myself, there was a bit of a kinship there,” said Leask.

“I’ve always loved being in Saskatchewan, so it feels like a bit of a special place to me. Maybe that’s part of the draw to the story.”

Leask said he’s toured to Saskatchewan about seven times.

Taylor handed the Voyageur over to Leask on two separate occasions to write the record. He first had it for two weeks in August of 2016 and again for two weeks in November that same year.

“I just let it lay there for five days or so. I was scared to touch it,” he said with a laugh.

“And then, actually, I picked it up and I kind of made a pact with it and I said ‘Whatever I’m going to play on this, it’s going to become a song.’”

The process from when he first received the guitar to the record’s release took over four years. He recorded the final song in late January of 2020.

“It was the kind of project I didn’t want to force,” said Leask.

“It was a lot of long nights, until two or three in the morning to try and get this right. It was a lot of care and attention and, I suppose, pressure to make sure that you’re telling the story properly.”

Leask said he hopes the record inspires listeners to also creatively explore a topic that helps them understand themselves better. Listening to his music, he said, will hopefully encourage others to delve into Canadian history.

“I had to dig pretty deep into all of these stories to really render them and do them justice, so that was really my process. I called it a songwriting expedition, and it really was a bold adventure into unchartered territory,” he explained.

Voyageur in Song was released on Sept. 18 and is available at davidleask.com. To learn more about the Voyageur, visit sixstringnation.com.