Cape Breton songwriter Leon Dubinsky dies at 81

Iconic Cape Breton songwriter, actor and activist Leon Dubinsky passed away this week at the age of 81.  (Submitted by Maynard Morrison - image credit)
Iconic Cape Breton songwriter, actor and activist Leon Dubinsky passed away this week at the age of 81. (Submitted by Maynard Morrison - image credit)

Cape Breton has lost a beloved songwriter best known for creating a ballad about the hope and resilience of the island's people.

Leon Dubinsky died this week after a lengthy illness. He was 81.

Dubinsky is probably best known for his song, We Rise Again, which became an unofficial anthem of the island in the 1990s. The lyrics described overcoming challenges, at a time when Cape Breton was struggling through the collapse of its steel and coal industries.

We Rise Again was recorded by The Rankin Family as the first single from their third studio album, North Country. It received an East Coast Music Award nomination for best song in 1994, and has been covered by Rita MacNeil, Anne Murray and Men of the Deeps.

Dubinsky was also founding member of the band Buddy and the Boys, and conducted numerous workshops for songwriters. He worked in film, radio and TV, and received a Genie nomination for best supporting actor in 1987 for his role in the movie Life Classes. He was also the principal actor in the TV series, Pit Pony, which was filmed in parts of Cape Breton.

Submitted by Stephen MacDonald
Submitted by Stephen MacDonald

For more than a decade, Dubinsky was at the helm of the Cape Breton Summertime Revue as its musical director. The enduring stage production regularly features traditional Scottish music and comedy from a light-hearted Cape Breton perspective.

"The influence that Leon had in the shows that we performed, the Summertime Revue shows – it is immeasurable what Leon contributed to this island in shaping who we are," comedian, actor and writer Bette MacDonald said in an interview with Mainstreet Cape Breton.

"First of all, working with Leon was an absolute joyful experience. He was so full of passion for the island and for the show."

'Such a big loss'

Barry Carnat, who was Dubinsky's brother-in-law, said he will be remembered as someone who could captivate an audience.

"I've sort of taken on the role in the community of conducting funerals," Carnat said. "This is the one I dreaded. It's such a big loss, you know, the man was a force. He was funny, and when Leon was in the room and telling a story, he wanted everyone to listen. Leon could have been a comedy writer, had he not been a songwriter. He was wonderful."

Dubinksy was also an environmental activist who led a group known as the Save Kelly's Mountain Society, which raised concerns about potential mining or quarrying on the mountain, which is located in Victoria County near the Seal Island Bridge.

In 2002, Dubinsky was honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the East Coast Music Association for his lasting influence on the music industry in Atlantic Canada.

A friend of the family told CBC he passed away on Tuesday. A funeral service will be held on Friday at Sydney Memorial Chapel.