Once again inspired by the good folks over at Thrillist, we’ve set out to name the best band or solo artist from each Canadian province and territory.
“Best” is subjective. The criteria we used to decide this list is a mixture of influence, commercial success, and enduring relevance. We also tried to imagine which artist people would most want to see associated with their home province.
In the Thrillist list of the best bands from each US state, the authors limited themselves to bands and not solo artists. Some of our provinces and territories are so small that if we only used bands, we wouldn’t have much to choose from. Also, we tried to choose bands that got their start in that place. Most Canadian artists end up in Toronto or Vancouver eventually but we were more interested in where their careers began. Simply being born in a province was not enough.
Now that all the disclaimers are in place, shall we begin?
Ontario– Of the massive list of successful artists from Ontario, Bryan Adams, Justin Bieber, and Shania Twain are by far the most successful, each having reported sales north of 100 million albums.
The Tragically Hip are a huge part of Canadian culture, and Rush has influenced virtually every metal and prog band for the last 45 years.
But we would argue Neil Young wins. He’s an absolute legend, having seen enormous success outside of Canada. He’s released 38 records over the last 48 years. He played at Woodstock and on The Last Waltz. He’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not once but twice, as a solo artist and as a member of Buffalo Springfield, without saying anything of his work with Crosby Stills, Nash & Young. He’s won Grammys. CBC named “Heart of Gold” the third best Canadian song ever in 2004. In Bob Mersereau’s book on the Top 100 Canadian albums, Neil has 8 in the top 50. And most of all – he’s still cool. With a body of work as large as Neil’s there’s bound to be a lot of filler, but his best stuff is some of the best music ever written.
Quebec – Leonard Cohen? Arcade Fire? As much as I want it to be Arcade Fire, Celine Dion is probably too big to ignore. Even though Celine Dion is the definition of “mom music”, her impact on music is undeniable. Few artists become “Vegas residency” big. No doubt she’s been a huge influence for a lot of French musicians.
BC –There are quite a few successful bands from BC. Loverboy and Hedley have had hits in the US. Michael Buble has commandeered Christmas. You could also make a case for 54-40 – they’ve influenced so many Canadian artists who came after them. But we have to give this one to Matthew Good. His work with the Matthew Good Band and subsequent solo career have produced some phenomenal music, and he’s still releasing great albums today.
*EDIT* – We were mistaken. While Bryan Adams was born in Kingston, his music career started in Vancouver. So Bryan Adams is probably the ‘best’ artist from BC.
Alberta – Jann Arden is big. Feist has been big. SNFU and Corb Lund are legendary in their respective genres. Nickelback is the most successful Albertan band but you probably wouldn’t feel right about giving it to them. (Edit: k.d. lang deserves recognition too – she’s won Grammys.) And so we come to Tegan and Sara. They’ve had a ton of success outside of Canada, so much so that they haven’t really had to rely on Canada to support their careers. Many people forget that they’re from Calgary. They’ve collaborated with giants of electronic music like Morgan Page, Tiesto and David Guetta. And they’ve been hugely influential in the gay community as well.
Manitoba – The Guess Who. No question. Crash Test Dummies and Propagandhi are great. The Weakerthans are one of Beckler’s favourite bands of all time. But none of them come close to the success or influence of The Guess Who. Their music has been a staple of Canadian culture for 52 years, they’ve had hits in the states, and they launched the careers of both Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.
Saskatchewan–Colin James, Wide Mouth Mason, The Sheepdogs – all solid dirty Sasky acts. But Joni Mitchell is next level. She was an essential part of a movement that changed music forever. Listen to “Both Sides Now” and tell us Saskatchewan has produced anything better than that.
Nova Scotia – Wintersleep, The Trews, Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays, April Wine – Nova Scotia cranks out wicked music. Anne Murray is by far the most commercially successful. But she’s in the same boat as Celine Dion – uncool (and probably completely unknown to younger generations). Therefore, I think the argument needs to be between Sloan and Stan Rogers. Stan Rogers passed away in the prime of his career so we may have to give this one to Sloan, who have been a quintessential part of the Canadian indie scene for over two decades.
EDIT: We forgot that Sarah McLachlan is from Halifax. She’s far bigger than anyone we mentioned here.
New Brunswick – Stompin’ Tom Connors was born in New Brunswick and was later adopted by a family in PEI. But he ran away at the age of 13 and began hitchhiking across Canada, so assigning Tom to any one province is going to be difficult. His origin is in NB though, so we’re calling Stompin’ Tom the best musician from New Brunswick.
Newfoundland – It kind of has to be Great Big Sea, doesn’t it? Honourable mention: Hey Rosetta!
PEI – With a population of only about 150,000, few Prince Edward Island artists have managed to break out beyond the island. PEI has a rich history of fiddlin’ but has any single fiddler had more influence than the rest? Some in PEI would try to claim Stompin’ Tom Connors as their own, as he lived in Skinners Pond, but we’ve already assigned him to New Brunswick. Paper Lions and Two Hours Traffic both have healthy fanbases in indie rock, so perhaps we’ll let the islanders fight it out amongst themselves.
NWT–This is a tough one. Canada’s largest territory hasn’t produced many contemporary artists, and without being familiar with the traditional music of the area, it’s hard to say who has been the most influential. Susan Aglukark is from Arviat, Nunavut, which was part of NWT when her career was beginning, so perhaps she wins on a technicality.
Nunavut – Tanya Tagaq is the only musician from Nunavut who we can name, so her.
Yukon – Stephen Kozmeniuk. Who? He’s a songwriter and producer from Whitehorse. His credits include Madonna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, BenniBenassi and a TON of Canadian artists. So while technically not a musician releasing stuff under his own name, you’d have a hard time finding a Yukon musician who’s had a bigger influence on music as a whole.
Beckler on Twitter
Seanna on Twitter