Mabou’s own Kate Beaton shines brightly across her North American tour

May 2, 2023

The year 2023 has already been an abundant year full of success for Mabou’s Kate Beaton.

In the month of January alone, her book Ducks: Two Years in the Oilsands was shortlisted as one of five authors on Canada Reads, named on former U.S. president Barack Obama’s list of favourite books of 2022, and was nominated for a prestigious Evergreen Award.

Jeopardy! superstar Mattea Roach will champion Ducks during the Canada Reads debate, which Beaton said is “quite amazing,” in an interview with The Participaper.

“It’s very weird but very cool, this is new to me,” Beaton says.

Her tour took her to cities throughout Canada and the United States, including an engagement at the historic Hayworth Theatre in Los Angeles. Photos by Morgan Murray

Ducks is a graphic memoir that drew immediate attention after being published in September 2022. It details her time living and working in Alberta’s oil patch. It grapples with themes of loneliness, sexual abuse, drug abuse, economic disparity, and environmental damage.

In autumn of 2022, she took the book on tour across North America. She had the idea to create a unique author talk experience.

“I thought this is an opportunity to show up and do something different instead of the usual, since I’m coming all that way anyway,” Beaton says.

With her, she brought Peter MacInnis who accompanied her with music, and her husband, Morgan Murray, who worked the technology.

In September, the crew toured Halifax, New York City, and Boston. In October, they visited Toronto, where Beaton said the biggest crowd of the tour gathered, and in November, they hit up west coast cities, including Vancouver, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, before ending in Calgary and Winnipeg.

In each city, the presentation was accompanied by MacInnis, who performed some classic Cape Breton songs alongside narration from Beaton. She included an explanation of Cape Breton’s culture and labour history with archival footage and educational aspects.

“There was so much that I wanted to say with this book and no moderator was going to get into it … I wanted to talk about the things that I wanted to get into and so I thought, well, I need to find a way to talk to people to make them feel a bit,” she explains.

That’s where MacInnis’ music came in, “music is such an easy avenue to reach out to people and bring them into a culture. A lot of the music that he played are songs about leaving for work, and they’re emotional, they get to the heart of the feeling of leaving and what it means to live here,” Beaton says.

Touring Ducks in a unique fashion that included song and storytelling was important to Beaton because she wanted to pay homage to Cape Breton’s tradition and culture.

“This area is very rooted in storytelling through different kinds of music and in my case, visual. It made sense to get up there and just talk to people because we’re an oral tradition society,” she notes.

The tour went well, as expected, “Every city had a great reception and a good turnout,” Beaton says.

Her publishing company, Drawn & Quarterly, based out of Montreal, organized the entire venture.

“They’re so professional at this, they’ve done it so many times that everything was so organized down to the moment, and you could count on that. That was wonderful because if it was up to me, it would have just been a big mess,” Beaton laughs.

The venues ranged from central library auditoriums to art galleries. She said the group usually had enough time in the day to visit local landmarks, meet up with friends and explore the cities.

“This area is very rooted in storytelling through different kinds of music and in my case, visual. It made sense to get up there and just talk to people because we’re an oral tradition society.”

“It’s been so long since I’ve been anywhere because of COVID and because of having children, that it was just a real treat to get to do that,” she says.

Each city reacted differently. In some cities, people who came from families of migrant workers would share their stories with her.

She was grateful to have brought Murray along with her. “Having the stability of having your partner with you is so valuable when you’re travelling out of your element. And having this person who’s so steadfast and with you the whole time, was so nice,” she says.

MacInnis documented much of the tour with his phone, and people could follow the adventures by watching his Instagram stories.

“His attitude of being in the moment and this positive energy that Peter has was very infectious,” she says.

MacInnis says the book tour with Beaton and Murray was “a dream come true.”

The opportunity to collaborate artistically with Beaton is something he said he thought could never happen.

Every night they did the presentation, it was different, according to MacInnis. Audiences connected with different aspects of the presentation and music, “it was interesting to see how and what people got out of it,” he explains.

A farmer, teacher, musician, and parent of three young children with his wife, MacInnis is a busy man.

“The trip was just beyond anything I could have imagined. I never thought I would get to visit these places in my lifetime,” he says.

For him, one major highlight involved meeting Robert Pecknold of the band, Fleet Foxes.

“I will forever be grateful to Katie for giving me the experience of a lifetime … We had so much fun and I learned so much from Katie,” he says.

For Beaton, presenting every night was cathartic despite having to recount her experiences of assault.

“By the time you’re on stage for like the whatever amount of time and been through the process of making the book and editing it and drawing it, this is something that has been so in your mind and refined that you’re able to talk about it,” she explains. “It becomes easier if you become a bit separated. It doesn’t make the memories any easier or in your private moments make things any easier, but to be able to speak about it to people that becomes easier … it helps you parse events too, to have to recount so many times.”

Of all the presentations across North America, Brook Village was the most nerve-wracking. She says she wanted to get it right for folks at home. She didn’t want to be preaching to the choir.

“What if they don’t think that you’ve been representing them? Well, that would be a hard bitter pill to swallow,” she notes.

But she was welcomed with open arms in her hometown and the presentation was well received and cherished. The audience could relate to her story and are proud of her for being one of their own. People in Inverness County are grateful to have Beaton represent a part of life here that is often overlooked.

“You’re taking your identity and your town and your area with you,” she says.