He came to Canada from his native Latvia 70 years ago, with his “poor, refugee family,” a “displaced person.”
Now, Coldstream’s Imant Raminsh has received one of the highest honours his adopted country hands out.
Raminsh is one of 103 new appointments to the Order of Canada.
The new member list includes two Companions (C.C.), 15 Officers (O.C.) and 86 Members (C.M.), including two Honorary Members. Raminsh, of the 86 named as a Member of the Order of Canada, is being recognized for his contributions and achievements as a Canadian musician, conductor and composer.
“I really don’t know what to say,” said Raminsh, 75, about the honour. “I received a letter from the Governor-General (Julie Payette) at either the end of November or beginning of December, informing me of the honour but asking me to keep it under my hat. I could share with my family but they had the same proviso, don’t tell anyone. I’ve been having a hard time with that.
“I guess I’m one of those select few but I’m sure there are many, many more who deserve this honour.”
Born in Ventspils, Latvia, Raminsh came to Canada in 1948, and he and his family became naturalized Canadian citizens in 1954.
After completing an ARCT diploma in violin at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto and a Bachelor of Music program at the University of Toronto, he spent two years at the Akademie “Mozarteum” in Salzburg, Austria, studying composition, fugue, violin and conducting, and playing in the professional Camerata Academica orchestra.
He and his wife, Becky, landed in Prince George in 1969 at the newly opened College of New Caledonia, and stayed there until 1975, founding the Prince George Symphony in his time in B.C.’s northern capital.
After two years in Victoria completing his teaching degree, the couple moved to Vernon in 1977 with the hope of landing a teaching job that never materialized. Instead, the couple decided to “carve their own niche” in the North Okanagan.
Raminsh founded the AURA Chamber Choir, a not-for-profit society boasting 40 members from across the Okanagan-Shuswap region.
“When I arrived here with my wife, we were a little bit at loose ends,” Raminsh said in a November 2017 Morning Star interview. “I was looking for a way to make a living because the job I had been offered suddenly didn’t exist.”
To pay the bills, Raminsh began instructing violin at the Vernon Community Music School – a position he has held since 1977 – and, for a brief stint, served as choral director of the Okanagan Symphony, then later conducted the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra.
His compositions have been performed on six continents by such ensembles as the Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, Toronto, Okanagan, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick Symphonies, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the Tafelmusik Baroque Chamber Choir, the Tokyo Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the Stockholm Chamber Choir, the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir, Ave Sol (Latvian Chamber Choir), and many others.
His music has been heard in such world-renowned halls as Carnegie Hall (New York), Tchaikovsky Hall (Moscow), the Orpheum (Vancouver), Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame (Paris) and Santa Maria del’Fiore (Florence).
Raminsh joked about “approaching his mature years,” but took a moment to recognize the significance of the “displaced person who arrived in a new country 70 years ago” being named to the Order of Canada, with a tribute to a late Israeli Prime Minister thrown in.
“Golda Meir once said to a member of government: ‘don’t be so modest; you’re not that important.’ I’ve always loved that. I’ll have to be careful my hat size doesn’t go up,” laughed Raminsh. “But, you know, from where I started out, I’ve been given opportunities to pursue my interests and make a difference in the lives of other people.
“What more can you ask for?”
Raminsh is one of two Okanagan residents named to the Order of Canada. The other is Kelowna’s Charles Fipke, honoured for his leadership in heavy mineral exploration and for his philanthropic support for educational and health-care related initiatives.
Established in 1967 by Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the cornerstone of the Canadian Honours System, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.
The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country.
Raminsh and Fipke will be honoured at a ceremony in 2019.