Originally Published on Cortes Currents

According to the description on their website, the McKentys saga starts sounds on a steep snowy mountainside in the backwoods of British Columbia. Robert and Elizabeth had a small cabin, “many children of various sizes, a wood stove, a small battery-powered stereo system that sometimes worked, a mandolin, and several fiddles.” By the time they moved to Cortes, the Merry McKenty were on their way towards becoming a band.

There were five people sitting around the table of their Vancouver home, the morning we skyped. It is easy to identify the rich timbre of Robert’s voice, or his daughter Ieva, but I find it more difficult to discern which of the boys –  Francis, Immanuel or Isa – is talking. 

Coming Back To Cortes

“We lived in a number of different places on Cortes because it is very difficult to find year round rentals, especially for a large family. Cortes is … a very unusual demographic, all told, and it is also a very unusual place to be in nature. Those two things stand out for all of us. … Whether we were living on the boat, or living in a campground in Smelt Bay, or when we lived in Smelt Bay for nearly ten years in a rental, every morning we could get out and we were in unusually pristine natural environment and go swimming, or go running … or go to the Co-op, especially when the Cafe is open.” – Robert 

“We arrived in 2002 and didn’t find a summer rental and so moved off the island and then came back in 2003 and were there more or less continuously, although travelling often in the summer – until the summer of 2018. As our home for up to half of our lives, Cortes means a lot to all of us. …” – Immanuel. 

“It was always really amazing coming back to Cortes after being all kinds of other places in the world.” – Francis (?)

While they are here, the McKentys hope to find a place where they can settle down.

How the Merry McKenty’s Came Into Being

The family started out playing for local dances and busking in nearby towns. They released their first studio album in 2013. 

“Since then they have toured up and down the Salish Sea on a large wooden sailboat and traveled to Europe, bringing their unique and joyful brand of traditional music and contra dancing to enthusiastic audiences in France, Italy, Germany and the UK.” – courtesy the Merry McKenty website

The Bells of Kindness

“On Sept 17th, 2015, we squeezed ourselves and a huge pile of instruments into two overloaded vehicles and headed South on a shoe-string budget musical tour. Forty days and 3,600 miles later, things had worked out remarkably well. We had survived tire blow outs, heat stroke, and equipment failures. People came, listened, sang, danced, laughed, cried, connected, and afterwards gifted us with their heartfelt recognition and encouragement.” – The Merry McKentys

Purchase: The Bells of Kindness

Leaving Cortes 

The McKenty’s sojourn on our island came to an abrupt end last year.

“We had a relatively short time period to move out of the house where we had lived for such a long time. We’d accumulated quite a few things and didn’t really have enough place to put it or enough time to move it. So we did end up in the overflow parking lot, at the last possible moment, with all of our stuff piled around us … That had a limited time frame to it and then we were offered the opportunity to continue camping in the field at the co-op, which also had a limited time …” – Robert. 

“I think that was the point when being Cortesian, or belonging to the island, was  the most apparent. It was really incredible the warmth and generosity and caring that the island demonstrated.” – Ieva


They went to Washington (state), had a ten-day tour in Toronto, numerous Air B&B options and finally:

“We found a sabbatical rental right in the heart of Dunbar, in Vancouver … We’re living in an area where there are a large number of Mercedes, Rolls-Royces, Lamborghinis and Ferraris …” – Robert

“Our humble blue van is a little out of place on this street.” – Immanuel

However some of the neighbours have requested the McKentys leave their windows open when rehearsing. They have discovered the best, and least, profitable places for busking and performed at a number of venues

July 2019 Performances 

In a couple of weeks the first family of Cortes music is returning home on tour.