He always said, “I don’t care if I’m a star, but I wouldn’t mind being a comet.” And that’s exactly what he was.
– Ariel Rogers
When Stan Rogers took the stage, guitar in hand, his presence was electric. Standing six foot four, with a deep, rumbling voice that rose and fell like waves on a Nova Scotia shore, he poured his heart and soul into every word he sang. Poetry set to music, his ballads laid bare the lives of the sailors, ranchers, miners and others whose stories had captured his imagination.
“Stan said things about people that were true. He loved talking and listening to people because he was interested in what they did and wanted to tell their story,” says his widow, Ariel Rogers. “He had an incredible gift for taking that life experience and turning it almost like a prism, so you saw the essence of the person rather than just a reflection.”
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, on November 29, 1949, Rogers grew up in a musical family and began teaching himself to play guitar at the tender age of five. His innate talents as a singer and musician were encouraged by his parents and, by 14, he was playing in coffee houses and other small venues.
Rogers gradually shifted from playing rock and roll to folk, finding increasing inspiration in the traditional Celtic music that had seeped into his veins over many summers spent visiting his relatives in Nova Scotia. Embracing his maritime roots began to earn him a devoted following and, after briefly attending university, he turned his focus to a professional music career – playing at clubs and festivals across Ontario and the eastern provinces.
“He loved to perform – he was most at home when he was full throttle,” says Ariel. “He created this big circle: he put everything out there, and the audience would send it right back to him. He didn’t sing at people, he sang with them.”
Success on vinyl followed a few years later, after Mitch Podolak, co-founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, created his own label to record Rogers’ first album. Fogarty’s Cove came out in 1976, a storybook of tracks that were both deeply personal yet universally relatable. From the raucous sea shanty “Barrett’s Privateers,” a hit from that first release, to the emotional anthem “Northwest Passage” (1981), the title track of the last album before his death, his music took events from the past and made them moving and meaningful in the present.
“He’d spend a day out on Lake Erie on a fishing trawler, even though he got horribly seasick, or on a ranch, riding a horse, if they could find one big enough to hold him,” says Ariel. “It was never about him. It was the music that mattered. He believed so strongly in what he was writing as being good and true.”
By the time he released his second album, Turnaround (1978), Rogers had formed his own label, Fogarty’s Cove Music. A track from that album – “Song of the Candle” – remains one of Ariel’s favourites. “It was the first song I ever heard him sing, and I’ve always loved it,” she says, “I think partially because it embodies his experience as a young person and his frustrations with the writing process, with being human, and with having this job to do that he knew wasn’t going to be easy.”
Rogers was only 33 – with his career on the rise – when his life was cut tragically short in an airplane fire on June 2, 1983. Likened to such greats as Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, he left a legacy of finely crafted albums, most of them released posthumously, that have kept his music vibrant and alive for nearly 40 years.
Other tributes have flowed since his passing, including the establishment of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in his mother’s hometown of Canso, Nova Scotia, in 1997. Cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, the event – which attracts thousands of fans and grassroots musicians from all over the world – was scheduled to celebrate its 25th anniversary this July, the same month Canada Post issued its stamp commemorating the legendary folksinger.
“The stamp is a huge honour, and I think Stan would be really flattered – he’d probably say ‘Aww, shucks’ – but more than that, I think it’s recognition that his music is still available and is still popular with generations of new fans,” says Ariel. “He had a huge impact on our Canadian identity in the short time he was with us.”
Stamp celebrates Stan RogersAvailable now