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Coast icon Les Fowler leaves rich legacy

Coast icon Les Fowler leaves rich legacy

Members of the Sunshine Coast music scene are grieving the loss of Les Fowler, whose voice was stilled earlier this week. As founder of the Pender Harbour Choir, Music Society, and Jazz Festival Les Fowler left a rich and enduring legacy to the community.    Photo Martin Nichols 

Les Fowler, a Sunshine Coast original, passed away earlier this week and left an outsized hole in the local community.  Fowler showed up in Pender Harbour in the early 1970s, a long-haired, hippie hitch-hiker who ended up building a barn for Sonny Reid, moving his family to the area, becoming a commercial fisherman and bringing jazz to Pender Harbour.

He will be remembered as a man who made tremendous contributions to the Sunshine Coast music scene, a consummate story-teller and a connoisseur of both single-malt Scotch and fine cigars; an authentic West Coast character with a warm and easy smile on a leathery, sea-worn face.

As a commercial fisherman Fowler plied the MV Nordic Pride through local waters, converting the vessel into a charter boat after the fishery became too political and unproductive.

Les was a founder of the 18-piece Harbour Lights Dance Band (which evolved into the Roberts Creek Big Band), the Pender Harbour Choir (1973), Pender Harbour Music Society (1987) and Pender Harbour Jazz Festival (1995).

The Harbour Lights, a tight, traditional and popular swing band entertained at a variety of venues up and down the coast for nearly 30 years, with Les as band leader.

Les persuaded then-Regional Director, Gordon Wilson, to arrange a permanent practice and performance space for the Pender Harbour Choir and Harbour Lights in an old Forestry Department building overlooking the Madeira Park Wharf at a cost of only one dollar a year. Forming Pender Harbour Music Society to administer the building,  Les and a handful of other dedicated members begged materials and banged nails to transform the run-down structure into the Pender Harbour School of Music, where local kids were taught music by members of the Harbour Lights Dance Band and learned to perform in front of an audience at informal and intimate jazz-and-poetry nights. Today the building, now known as the Pender Harbour Music Society Performance Centre, reveals little of its Forestry heritage. A key venue for the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival, Chamber Music Festival and Blues Festival, it hosts world class musicians from all genres and regular coffee-house nights.

Les Fowler will be sorely missed by his family and his many friends as a talented musician, a brilliant organizer, an engaging and entertaining raconteur-philosopher and, always, a gentleman.

Submitted by Myrtle Winchester


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