(September 2, 1952 – July 24, 2021)
We lost our Kenzie so unexpectedly Saturday night but as he would have wished, with family, song, a full moon, and as little fuss as possible.
While best known for his song “The Island,” which was declared the official Cape Breton anthem in 1985, Kenzie had a career in songwriting, acting, producing, directing, and writing for films, television, and radio for over forty years.
Kenzie inherited his love for family, music, and community from his parents, John Angus and Anastasia (Borden) MacNeil. As the youngest of seven, Kenzie learned the art of storytelling and the beauty of the Gaelic culture from his father’s knee. John Angus, a Gael from Gillis Point, was an educator, field worker for Moses Coady, and a leading member of the Antigonish Movement.
Kenzie proudly grew up in Whitney Pier and studied at the University of Lesotho while accompanying his parents on field work with CIDA in Africa for three years. At Little X, he was greatly influenced by his professors, who became friends and colleagues, especially Charlie W. MacDonald, Donnie F. Campbell, and Harry and Liz Boardmore. Centred around the College Pub, a close group of the Island’s greatest talents came together and formed the heart of the cultural renaissance of Cape Breton in the 1970s: poetry readings, plays, revues, skits, open mics, festivals – all of which laid the path for the Boardmore Playhouse and put Cape Breton story and song on the national stage.
Many people across the country grew to recognize Kenzie’s distinctive voice through his contributions to Peter Gzowski’s This Country in the Morning and Morningside on CBC Radio, and on some of the most popular television shows of the time: Singalong Jubilee, Ceilidh, Tommy Hunter, Ryan’s Fancy, Ian Tyson, and many others. Kenzie had an active theatrical career performing in productions like Tom Gallant’s Step/Dance and with Gordon Pinsent in John and the Missus, and was nominated for an ACTRA award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Last Night in Town. He was integral to the production of the National Film Board’s Empty Harbours, Empty Dreams, 12,000 Men, Scoggie, among others.
He served as the Artistic Director/Producer of the Rise and Follies of Cape Breton Island and the Cape Breton Music and Theatre Company, Director of the UCCB Press, and Editor/Publisher of The Cape Bretoner magazine. He was immensely proud of his work as Chair of the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation and the creation of soundstages across the mainland and on the Island, and in particular, bringing Pit Pony and New Waterford Girl to Cape Breton. He loved the collaborative process of filmmaking.
The songs that Kenzie wrote were deeply rooted in his feelings about family, spirit in the face of decline, and the importance of storytelling and laughter to the Island’s culture. On his beautiful 12-string Guild guitar, he composed songs such as “Johnstown Boogie,” “The Bungalow,” “Stubborn Spruce,” and “The Barbarian.” His soaring voice could fill a theatre just as it would captivate an audience around a bonfire on the Bras d’Or. His duet with Raylene Rankin of Stanley Collins’s “Oh Do You Remember” will endure in the hearts of many Cape Bretoners. His booming laugh was unrivaled, so infectious you couldn’t help but laugh yourself. Kenzie’s girls always knew where to find him in a crowded room or outdoor concert by following his laugh.
Kenzie had some incredible adventures to points far and away, but he always came home to An Innis Àigh, for which he had a deep and unwavering love, full of stories and lessons and having shared his love for the Island wherever he was found.
Beyond all, his greatest pride was being a father to his four girls and grandfather to his eleven grandchildren. He was the ‘sun in splendour’ to his wife of 44 years, Lauren; the adored father of daughters, Caitriana (Juan Tun), Christie (Devon Morrison), Mary (Elias Rassi) of Ottawa, Anna (Gary Hatcher); and ‘Papa Kenz’ to his best friends Marcos Alejandro, Javier Santiago, Litza, Elsie, Elena, Samuel, Sadie, Sandy, John, and twin boys coming in August.
We are gratefully supported by his devoted sister, Mary B. Hureau and her son, Tom, brothers John and Angus, nieces and nephews, and his dearest friend, Father Ora MacManus. He enjoyed a wide circle of friends who shared his great love of Cape Breton, and who fought for its autonomy and its future. He loved his Margaree home and his friends and neighbours who made life there special.
“Bear me upon your wing and fly me to the Highlands, where heaven’s birds sing.
There’s a song there upon the wind, where the ocean meets the sky,
Sounding like my father’s violin as he gently played a lullaby.”
He was loved for his character, humour, good will, optimism, and generous spirit. While left with a tremendous grief, we will be forever grateful to our Dad for the gifts of song and stories for the generations to come and the extraordinary life he gave us all. We will host a gathering in the fall to celebrate together. In his memory, please donate to the Highland Arts Theatre, share a book with a loved one, sing one of his songs, watch the film Empty Harbours, Empty Dreams. There are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
“And if I should ever lose you, or if death comes upon our door,
And our lives have been lived well, I could not ask for more.”
‘Caitriana’ by Kenzie MacNeil
Funeral arrangements are entrusted to the care and direction of Pier Community Funeral Home.
Dear Lauren and Girls, My most sincere condolences on Kenzie’s passing. I can hardly add to the many tributes to Kenzie. But you will know with what great respect I held for him, for his unwavering commitment to Cape Breton Island, the generous sharing of his many talents in the arts, his leadership, his wry sense of humour, so much to remember. You and all of Cape Breton will greatly miss Kenzie. But he has left a legacy that will last and last. You can be very proud of this great Cape Bretoner.
From: ELIZABETH BEATON
I was shocked to hear about Kenzie’s death. My condolences to Lauren his children, and all of his family. We spent some great afternoons together back in the 70s. I loved his voice and his writing. He will be remembered.
From: André Chiasson
I remember Kenzie fondly at many gatherings at my mother and fathers. A true gentleman and an immense talent too soon gone
From: David Butler
To Kenzie’s Family, Friends & Relatives, Kenzie was a great artist, a true treasure to his family, community, Cape Breton Island and Canada. He will be missed, God Bless Him and his Family, May he eternally rest in the piece, love and grace of our lord Jesus Christ.
From: Dan & Nancy Smith
I am so very sorry to hear of Kenzie’s passing. I feel honoured to have worked with him and had his support in The Spirit Never Dies and Pit Pony.
A true supporter of Cape Breton talent. My sincere condolences to all Kenzie’s family.
From: Murdock Mac Donald
Lauren and Family,,,,so sorry to hear of Kenzie’s sudden passing,,he will be truly missed however his memories will forever live on,
From: Colleen and Blick Campbell
Lauren and the MacNeil Clan,
We were shocked and saddened to hear of Kenzie’s passing. Our condolences on your loss. Cape Breton has lost an ambassador. From: Chuck & Pat Drohan
So sorry to hear about the loss of your father Kat. I’m thinking of you during this very difficult time. Sending condolences and hugs to you and your family.
From: Doreen Spicer
So shocked and saddened to hear of Kenzie’s passing. I will cherish the memories of the many projects we worked together on over the years. His legacy will live on forever in the very important contributions he has made to the Cape Breton cultural community.
From: Allie Bennett
To the McNeil family, I was saddened to hear of Kenzie’s passing. He did so much for Cape Breton with his music and advocacy and his legacy will be remembered down through the ages. Please accept my deepest condolences.
From: John and Helen (Fritz) King
Our sincere condolences to Lauren and the children. May Kenzie rest in peace.
From: John Shannon
So sad to hear of Kenzie’s passing. He was an amazing man and a legend in CB. His work and music and spirit will live on. Grateful for him. I wish to express my deepest condolences to all the family and many friends. He will live on in your hearts and mind forever. Bless you all.
A vital member of Cape Breton’s musical family. Kenzie’s contribution will be remembered. Sincere condolences to his family. From: Allister & Beverly MacGilllivray
Dear Lauren and Family,
We are deeply saddened by the news of Kenzie’s passing . He was an incredible man and will be missed by so many. We had many great conversations .
Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. May precious memories help bring you comfort for today , strength for tomorrow and peace in the days ahead. From: Greg and Avril Delaney
Mary B. Hureau,
My sincerest condolences to you, Tommy and families for the loss of your brother Kenzie.
From: Rita Thelma Tompkins
Heartfelt Sympathy to the Mac Neil family on the passing of your loved one. I have fond memories of visiting with your family in your Johnstown home (the barrocks) following your return from living in Africa. Kenzie was there with pages of music that he was working on and just in his glory singing parts of all numbers for all to hear and they were very good. Later on in years the “Johnstown Boogie” was very popular with all us Johnstown folks but I have to say that “The Island” is everyone’s song. RIP Kenzie
From: Mary Josephine (Gerrior) Mc Namara
Dear Lauren and family
Please accept my heartfelt sadness at the untimely passing of Kenzie. I will always remember your visits to the library. May he rest in peace.
From: Donald Ward
We were friends at a young age in the pier ,we played hockey together at Holy Redeemer and Don Bosco .I always remember that his house then was next to the schools not long a walk to school
Condolences to his family he will always be from the Pier .
From: Wendell Mac Cormack
My deepest sympathy to the family in your loss of Kenzie. We didn’t meet very often, but it was always a joy to reconnect. He was named after my father and we always had that bond. His great big laugh and wonderful bear hugs will always be remembered. You have so many things to make you smile.
Please accept my condolences.
From: Jean Marie MacNeill
To Lauren, Caitriana, Christie, Mary, and Anna and families we send our sincere condolences on the loss of your beloved husband and father.
From: Rankin and Marie MacSween
My thoughts and most sincere sympathies are extended to all family members and friends. An enormous loss to our community. A man adorned with such class and integrity. “We are an Island” will live on in our hearts forever.
We are so sorry to hear about Kenzie’s passing, our thoughts are with you all. Jed, Valerie and the boys at Jed’s Auto Repair
Lauren and Family,
I was so sorry to hear about the passing of Kenzie.
I know that you have so many great memories that you can lean on in the days ahead.
So sorry for your loss Lauren. He will be missed by many. He was such an interesting and knowledgeable man. So enjoyed spending time with you and Kenzie in Margaree.
My deepest condolences to the MacNeil family. Kenzie helped to create and enhance the Culture of Cape Breton through his music and theatre. He will be missed.
I’ve learned so much about him from this . Such a great man . RIP Kenzie.
A true island soul – RIP
Sincerest condolences to Kenzie’s family on behalf of everyone at The Coast 89.7 community radio. Kenzie gave us so many great songs and we’ll be playing them forever.
I am saddened to hear of the passing of Kenzie.. I had the pleasure of working with him at the YMCA. He was a lovely man and I am sure he will be missed by many. May he Rest In Peace.
Sincerest Condolences to all who were blessed to be loved by such a fine man. Love to Christie,Devon,Elsie,Sadie and Sandy.
Thank you for being the Cape Bretoner we all want to be.
Mary B so sorry to hear of your brother Kenzie’s sudden death our prayers are with you all in this time of sorrow Jane and Ashley MacLeod
Cape Breton lost one of it’s icons. He will lice on in the music and songs he created. May the memories you cherish get you through this difficult time.
That should say live on
Shocked as everyone else on the passing of Kenzie.Will always be remembered as a friend of the family. Sincere condolences to Lauren,
Catriana. Christie, Anna and Mary.
The family lost a loving husband, father and grandfather. The community lost a great musician. He will be greatly missed but will live on in the hearts of his family, his music will live on in our hearts. R.I.P.
A Cape Breton treasure and icon, all of the superlatives will surely fail at this time however. I will remember him for how he brought a recognition of pride to Cape Breton culture though his music and productions. May he Rest in Peace.
So terribly sad to hear of Kenzie’s passing. He was a wonderful man. Kenzie was full of fun and a wonderfully talented fellow. Please accept my condolences.
Wish we could have talked again, been so long. I still miss everyone in the family and was shocked and saddened reading this. He will always be a part of Cape Breton heritage. An incredible accomplishment not many achieve.
My sincerest condolences . Kenzie was a proud family man and Fiercely proud Cape Breton’er. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire MacNeil family at this time….. Rodney & Gayle MacDonald and Family,, Mabou/ C.B.
Kenzie was a Cape Breton pioneer. He will be forever remembered for his contributions to Cape Breton Arts and Culture. Our sincere condolences to the MacNeil family.
Mary B., Tommy, Lauren and family, all the MacNeil family,
We were so sorry to hear about Kenzie, Cape Breton has lost one of its greatest artists. Our sincere condolences and sympathy.
Sending our love and profound sympathy to Anna and Gary and to Anna’s family. We pray that you will find strength and peace in the coming sad and difficult days. May your beloved dad rest in perfect peace.
Laurie and Lee and family
I remember watching him sing a song and play guitar at his daughter Christie’s wedding in Margaree from the upper deck of the barn at the Normaway Inn. It was like watching a Masters class — totally original and authentic. Like watching a force of nature.
So very sorry for the loss of this wonderful man , a real ambassador for Cape Breton all these years with music that touched our soul, made us laugh and ultimately made us cry and made us proud. Sincere sympathy to his wife daughters extended family all the grandchildren that must have been so happy to have such a wonderful grandfather. To all his friends from our theatre and preforming arts, those that must be mourning the loss so much from our original Rise & follies gang, all our home grown talent a very sad day. A great loss for one and all. ❤️
I am so sad to hear about Kenzie. We grew up together as children and he was like a brother to me. We had so much fun growing up in the Pier. I know how much he loved his girls and how proud he was of his grandchildren. Lauren, you and the girls are in my thoughts and prayers. Mary B ,you lost a special brother. Kenzie will surely be missed.
To Anna and family my deepest condolences he will be remembered dearly
Mary B so sorry to learn of Kenzie’s passing. You are in my thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time. He will be missed.
So glad I saw this on Facebook. I am so sorry for your loss, Lauren and girls. My daughter, Melanie McLeod was friends with Mary when they were in school. I so enjoyed our coffee breaks, Lauren and treasured your friendship. I live in North Vancouver now. Please feel free to reach out. Kenzie had such a legacy and you should all feel proud. Imagine 11 grandchildren.
We shall follow in your footsteps Kenzie – thanks for leading 💔
great loss for sure. My thoughts and prayers are with you all at this very sad and difficult time. RIP Kenzie
My condlences to the MacNeil family.
I was so sorry to hear of his passing. I distinctly remember the first time he played “The Island for Eric and I. Eric told him right then, that song would become an anthem. I have called radio stations and newspaper people to tell them he was the author. When they ask how do you know that., I say, well he was right next to my then husband and I when he first played and sang it for us. I used to get so angry. I would say check it out yourself. Kenzie write that song and no one else. I am surprised you did not know that. Don’t worry Kenzie,I will always yell from the rooftops that is your song.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family at this sad time . God love Kenzie , he was a good friend to me , I will miss him immensely . Rest in eternal peace brother , God speed .
Sincere condolences on the loss of your much loved, highly respected & multi talented brother. Like legions of both Cape Bretoners & non Cape Bretoners, I had the pleasure of enjoying his musical gifts many times. Cherish your many wonderful memories.
Sincere condolences to Anna and the macneil family. On the loss of this great man.
Kenzie gave us so many divine moments and will continue to do so through his masterpieces. Lauren and daughters, I’m with you in these painful moments. Bon courage, he will help you and of course your great love for one another will help you through this. I am with you and mourns with you this brutal departure of your beloved husband, father and grand-father.. Christiane
Sincere condolences on your family’s loss.
Kenzie was indeed one of a kind, and is a good way. He made us all laugh with his wit and the lyrics of his songs could make us cry. He created strong Cape Breton pride in us all. Loved the guy . My deepest condolences to his family.
Kenzie, Rest in Peace. God grant him eternal rest and peace and consolation to the family. Your melodies are etched forever in our hearts and minds and in those who come afer us. R.I.P,
Mary B , We were so sad to hear of Kenzie’s passing , our thoughts and prayers are with you and all the family at this difficult time.
Much Love , Elaine & Scotchie.
Our sincere condolences to all of the MacNeil family. Our thoughts are with you at this time. I was so honoured that Kenzie gave me permission to record The Island with Ryan’s Fancy back in the 1970s. I still sing it regularly during my performances. and it always gets a great response from both Cape Bretoners, Newfoundlanders and others, especially anyone from an Island.
Mary B. And Kenzie’s family. So sorry for your huge loss. Thoughts and prayers are with you all. Do take care. Love Sheila
We are deeply sorry to hear of Kenzie’s passing. Please accept our condolences and may our prayers help comfort you at this very difficult time.
My condolences to Kenzie’s families and the many people who loved him. He will be missed.
I will miss exchanging stories, often exaggerated about characters in The Pier. A good man, he left this world and his beloved Cape Breton, a better place than he found it. My condolences to his family.
Dear Lauren and family
We are so sorry to hear that Kenzie has passed away.
In addition to his many talents and brilliance, he had a beautiful spirit, an incredible sense of humour and an unwavering love for Cape Breton.
He will never be forgotten.
Dan and Donna
Mary, Eli, and all of your family,
We were so shocked and saddened to hear of your father’s sudden passing. Beyond the brilliant talent that all of Cape Breton and beyond knew him for, we know he was an incredible source of love and pride in your life, and that he will be sorely missed. All of our love and sympathy to you, your mother, sisters, children and families. We’re singing his songs here at our bungalow and around our own Bras d’Or bonfire.
The Kolankos (Tasha, Marty and Kathy).
I am so sorry to hear this sad news. My thoughts are you with you, Mary B. and family. Kenzie will be greatly missed but he is leaving such an amazing legacy. Homesick Cape Bretoners everywhere will be singing his songs for ever and ever. His music and his life was such a gift to us all.
Christine (Weeks McLean) and John
Very saddened to hear of Kenzie’s death. He was certainly a powerhouse for Cape Breton. My father was a first cousin of him. I was familiar with the family home of his father in Gillis Point. My thoughts and prayers are with you and all the family. Sincere condolences.
My Sincerest condolences to Mary B.and Tom and MacNeil families.Thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.God Bless
Josephine and Lennie
Our deepest condolences to Kenzie’s family. The announcement of his sudden passing was heartbreaking. Kenzie made a remarkable contribution to Cape Breton culture and heritage, and the legacy will live on. May he RIP.
Sheldon and Marlene MacInnes
I am very sorry to read of Kenzie’s passing. We were friends and contemporaries in Halifax in the early ’70s, when our lives were just beginning. His love for Cape Breton and the gaelic culture was palpable even then and his beautiful voice was unique; once heard, never forgotten. My sincere condolences to his family.