Genevieve Charbonneau draws inspiration from Cowichan Valley homestead

Genevieve Charbonneau draws inspiration from Cowichan Valley homestead

Singer-songwriter’s music is rooted in folk and old-time country

  • Jun. 14, 2019 8:50 a.m.

– Story by Sean McIntyre Photography by Lia Crowe

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Sometimes the decisions we make on a daily basis are determined by our surroundings. Weather affects our mood, people influence our perspective and lifestyle dictates our health and wellbeing.

As much as we may be subject to the whims of our surroundings, the inspiring homesteading journey of singer-songwriter Genevieve Charbonneau is a reminder that, in the end, it’s us who ultimately hold the power to shape the people and places that surround us.

When she isn’t on tour, chauffeuring three kids to and from school or working part-time at a local winery, Genevieve is at home, writing the next chapter of her life at the Twisted Vine Homestead in the Cowichan Valley.

“We’ve built this kind of authentic, organic, unintentional community,” she says during an interview at Duncan’s lively and eclectic Coffee on the Moon.

The journey began nearly 15 years ago when Genevieve and her partner, pregnant with their first child, returned to Victoria after a nine-month van trip to Mexico had morphed into two years aboard a yacht that took them around the world. The couple knew they weren’t interested in city life but weren’t quite ready to take the plunge and go completely off-grid in the British Columbia wilderness. A short journey over the Malahat to the Cowichan Valley, it turned out, offered the perfect compromise.

Whether it was the trails of Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park, the crashing waves along Dallas Road or summers spent camping with her mom and siblings up island, Genevieve has long had an appreciation for wild spaces.

Genevieve and her partner teamed up with her sister-in-law and spouse to buy a 10-acre piece of forestland near the Kinsol River. A blog post from the homestead’s early days recounts a three-month battle to clear broom amid towering cedar and fir trees.

“When we weren’t out getting soggy with loppers in hand, we were scheming in the relative dryness of our trailers,” she writes. “As the winter gave way to spring, our first buildings began to crop up: a rustic outdoor kitchen and a woodshed.”

Genevieve’s first-born has just turned 14, and she also has an 11- and nine-year-old. The homestead is ripe with fruits and vegetables and building is pretty much done, although perpetually unfinished.

“We were all involved in the building process and that was super empowering in a way that was unexpected to me,” she says. “I always knew that I could do something like that, but to actually have done it was a really great feeling. I felt really fuelled.”

When construction of the main house was complete, a giant creative space in Genevieve’s mind opened up. Time and space that had been devoted to imagining, planning and building her home suddenly became available for other creative pursuits. That’s when, in 2014, she began to really channel into the writing process.

“We didn’t have TV or high-speed internet so we never entertained ourselves that way. Every night we’d have a campfire or, if it was cold outside, hang out inside around the fire, and we jammed a lot,” she says. “I was just sort of inspired by our life. By the community, by the friends that we had, the people who were growing food, and everyone searching for deeper meaning and trying to find connection.”

Her latest album produced from her journey at the homestead is Heart is a Tower, Genevieve’s second full-length solo album. The folk roots sound is ripe with notes bred through time spent enjoying the natural world and reflections on a life without regret.

The album began as a collection of B-sides that Genevieve played for fellow songwriter Jack Connolly. Jakc suggested re-recording the vocals in a state-of-the-art studio at nearby Shawnigan Lake School. Once that was done, they redid the guitar tracks and a new album emerged with assistance from Steve Smith, a Seattle-based, Grammy Award-winning sound engineer, who works part-time with students at Shawnigan Lake School.

“We ended up redoing the whole thing,” she says.

The result is an album rooted in folk and old-time country with bluegrass rhythms, Americana and a tinge of pop. Songs turn effortlessly from insightful love ballads to rollicking political hootenannies. As a trained actress, dancer and long-time member of the multi-award-winning Balkan Babes, Genevieve is an accomplished singer with strong stage presence.

“My songs are pretty lyric driven, and I’m really drawn to folk music because it’s really accessible and creates a platform for the lyrics to be heard. Other genres are more about the music itself,” she says. “I love the music, and I want the music to fit my lyrics and convey a message, but I’m definitely message-driven, hopefully without being preachy.”

First and foremost, however, is the sense of satisfaction and gratefulness she receives from listeners who’ve connected with her music. Receiving news from people inspired by her journey and empowered to embrace the unknown is what makes it all worthwhile, and offers welcome reassurance that she’s made the right choices along the way.

“I think the idea for any songwriter is to have someone recognize something from what you’re saying and have that resonate with them, move them emotionally or open their mind just a little bit to another possibility, or even just to make someone a little bit happier.”

Genevieve Charbonneau’s Heart is a Tower is available now. Visit her website, genevievecharbonneau.wordpress.com, for more information about the album, tour dates and some valuable homesteading tips.

Arts and EntertainmentLifestyle

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Janice and Martin Green are grateful for their town’s community paramedicine program. (Photo courtesy of Janice Green)
Community paramedicine program a lifesaver in Tofino-Ucluelet

“It makes us feel more comfortable here knowing that we do have emergency services that kick in.”

A Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation guardian took this photo of dozens of vehicles parked along a forest service road in the Kennedy watershed. (Submitted photo)
POLL QUESTION: Would you like to see stricter enforcement towards illegal camping?

Would you like to see stricter enforcement towards illegal camping? READ MORE:… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Most Read