Obituary: Murray Shoolbraid

November 10, 1931 — February 26, 2020

Our lovely and magical Murray Shoolbraid is gone; he slipped peacefully into the hereafter at Victoria General Hospital after a short illness.

Murray was born in the wee village of Kinglassie, Fife, youngest son of William and Mamie Shoolbraid who lived at 11 High Street, Leslie, Fife, as generations of family had done, for 210 years.

Murray’s Dad was a third generation Scottish and Highland dance teacher, and after his early death, his wife Mamie continued teaching, with young Murray, a natural piano player, providing the musical accompaniment for the many classes.

A great lover of books Murray worked in Glasgow as a librarian’s assistant for some years, becoming an avid book collector and folklore expert along the way. In 1961 he joined his sister Mary in Vancouver, B.C. who worked for the CBC as a make-up artist. Murray, perhaps inspired by his National Service stint in the British Navy, enrolled at UBC and completed his MA degree in Russian language and Slavonic Studies. During this time he was actively involved with the Scottish country dance groups that Mary had started and the Vancouver Folksong Circle, a weekly singing event that thrived for decades at the Alma YMCA, and many friends, made during these busy years, have continued to the present day.

The newly opened SFU hired Murray to teach in the Slavonic Studies department, a post he held until he had a yen to open a Children’s Book shop, aptly named the Cat and the Fiddle, where he pursued his love of the spoken and written word. The Scottish dance connection was not broken, with Murray regularly playing piano in a number of dance bands, notably “Schiehallion”, with which he recorded two dance albums and toured much of Canada and the Unites States. Then there were “The Teuchters”; the “Vancouver Ceilidh Band” and Victoria based “Barley Bree”. It was fortunate that Murray could transpose music to any key, for many of the pianos he encountered were frequently off pitch.

Murray and Kristin were married in 1966 and had two sons, Roderick and Malcolm. In July 1980 the family moved to Salt Spring Island to rediscover a quiet lifestyle away from Vancouver’s city busyness. On island Murray continued to work hard on his academic and scholarly projects emphasising the Scots language, the songs and music of Robert Burns and folk songs spanning many centuries. He wrote dance tunes and played piano for his sister Mary, by then an excellent teacher established in the US, and well-known Royal Scottish Country Dance Society demonstration team director in her own right.

When once asked, Murray calculated that he must have composed nearly 400 Scottish pieces, and in 1994 he published ‘’Leslie Braes”, a compilation of 60 tunes well suited for singing and dancing.

In the past year, Murray actively collaborated with Akiko Kasami-Saito of the Bluebell Scottish Country Dance Trio based in Tokyo and Amsterdam to produce the CD which is the companion to Mary Shoolbraid Brandon’s book of dances “The Emigrant Scot.”

On Salt Spring Murray wrote honest to goodness ‘pantomimes’, “Cinderella and the Three Bears”, then a few years later, “Sleeping Beauty and the Eight Dwarves”, gleefully produced and performed by the local theatre groups and the school children at the recently opened Art Spring theatre.

In time Murray became very well-known for his literary and musical knowledge, he became someone you could call to get your pronunciation right or an unusual word identified. He tutored many students near and far, and wrote and published books, on Russian, Scottish and Folklore topics.

It wasn’t just what he knew, which was vast, but how all parts of it were closely interconnected.
Sadly Murray has missed the publication, by Peter Lang of New York, of his latest book “The Bawdry Ballads of Scotland”, which will be printed in a couple of months, and almost every day, somewhere in the world, Mary’s dances are being performed to Murray’s tunes and his stories and academic works are being read with interest.

Each week Murray looked forward to playing piano at Greenwood’s, Braehaven, Heritage Place and sometimes Meadowbrook. On Mondays Readers’Theatre would meet to read through a chosen work, and if it happened there were more characters than members present, then everyone had various different parts to play, a challenge Murray found hugely exciting and enjoyable, as he could act very well and express himself in many different accents.

Murray’s partiality for cross-words puzzles is legendary, the terribly difficult involved cryptic variety, which he could polish off with no trouble. He would sit in TJ Beans with the puzzle-of-the-day and his coffee and scone, remaining there until it was done. He was so regular in this habit that he gave himself the reputation of having a downtown office at a select corner table.
He will be missed for his happiness and joy that he brought to learning. His sparkle and grin cheered everyone up, and made them believe in themselves.

Our family takes solace from the fact that Murray’s unwavering contribution to all things Scottish will continue on for a long time to come. He was known and loved by many people, a network that reaches out far and wide. With respect therefore for his many friendships, please feel free to remember him as often and as you know best.

A celebration of his life will be held in the Spring.


March 11, 2020 5:53 PM

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