Rufus Guinchard died on September 7, 1990, one day after his 91st birthday. He had played the fiddle since the age of eleven and possessed an extensive and unique repertoire of tunes, many learned from fiddlers who were old men when he was a boy, and whose names they now bear. For decades Rufus was the fiddler of choice in communities along the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, often walking many miles to play for square sets, cotillions, and reels that were the main source of community entertainment. It was for these dances that he first started to "humour the tunes, adding more notes 'cause it makes 'em go better for dancing, see."
In his last twenty years, Rufus traveled the world, his quiet dignity and infectious tunes endearing him to tens of thousands of people. Yet Rufus was more than a fiddler. His stories about Newfoundland throughout this century were a wealth of history, sociology, culture and politics. He had a repertoire of tunes that he played only on the accordion, but never in public. He composed The Wreck of the Steamship "Ethie" in January of 1920, with Maude Samson and Sabina Eisan of Sally's Cove, a month after the ship was wrecked on Martin's Point, in what is now Gros Morne National Park. Rufus finished work on the "Ethie" herself five days before the mishap. He remembered two verses and the chorus of My Loving Little Sailor Boy from one of his schoolteachers who used to sing it when he was a boy. He composed the rest to make a complete song.
Rufus was honoured with The Order of Canada in 1984. In 1989 he appeared with some of Newfoundland's finest musicians in Corner Brook for Four Score and Ten, a concert held in celebration of his 90th birthday and his life-long contribution to the music of Newfoundland and Labrador, broadcast by the CBC. Also in 1989 Red Ochre Productions released Rufus Guinchard, a documentary written and produced by Rosemary House, directed by Ken Pittman with musical direction by Jim Payne. The program tells the remarkable story of Rufus' life working and playing music on the Great Northern Peninsula, until he was 'discovered' at the age of 72.
Rufus' final album, Humouring the Tunes, was completed a little at a time over 1990, a couple of tunes on each of his occasional visits to St. John's. He was unable to see it through to its release. The album does, however, represent what he was up to until just before he died. He maintained his high spirits and his irrepressible gift of laughter until the end. Rufus lived life to the fullest and left us with some great music to play when he could no longer be here to play with us. May we all leave such a positive legacy.
- Jim Payne, 1990