Home Feature Aengus Finnan is biking across Canada while making us a musical map

Aengus Finnan is biking across Canada while making us a musical map


Folk singer-turned arts administrator Aengus Finnan is embarking on an epic musical journey this summer: he is cycling across Canada while collecting place-based songs and visiting their settings.

He began the 8,000-kilometre Great Canadian Song Cycle in St. John’s, NL last week. He plans to be in Pedder Bay, B.C. in time for the 50th anniversary of the Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific on Sept. 15.

“In many ways, this is the least ready I’ve been for anything,” said Aengus, who attended Pearson College as a teen. “I’m certainly not in the shape that I was even in three years ago … But I want and need to do this for the joy of it, for my own health, to decompress from 20 years of the administrative side of the cultural sector and in some ways to fall in love again with music.”

Aengus began his career as a touring singer-songwriter before taking on increasingly demanding roles in arts admin. He founded the Shelter Valley Folk Festival and the Lawless Gallery of Fine Art and served as president of the board of what is now Folk Music Ontario. He was also a program manager for the Northumberland Community Futures Agency and the Touring and Audience Development Officer for the Ontario Arts Council. Then in 2014, he took on the role for which he’s been best known for the past decade: executive director of Folk Alliance International.

Aengus left the role in the summer of 2022 and had originally planned to do a bike ride at the time. But instead, he “chickened out financially” he said.

“You know, [I’m] at a certain age where I’m still making up for a decade on the road as a musician and another decade, you know, running small-town projects, and so I have lots of catching up to do,” he added.

Ultimately, he was lured into spending a year or so working for an arts organization in Colorado before returning to Canada and finally hitting the road.

Aengus is inviting artists who have written original songs about Canadian places and music fans who have favourite place-based songs to submit them through his Great Canadian Song Cycle website for inclusion on a digital map.

But he has no musical instruments with him, so there will be no performing or recording on the road, he said. The trip is really about appreciating songs that already exist.

“I learned about Canada through records, and I wondered about places,” he said.

“I have lived and worked and studied in different parts of the country. Most of it was a curiosity that came from song.”

Aengus’ belongings are currently in storage. He doesn’t have a residence. It’s not entirely clear what happens when the trip is over, but he’s hoping it will change “some of the DNA … of how I operate,” he said.

“It’s an interesting physical, mental and emotional process to let it go, not have a plan, other than to start here and see where it goes, and to give myself permission daily to change that plan if I want,” Aengus said.

“As someone who has been very determined and regimented about things … that’s exciting to kind of recalibrate my physical and life norm for a while.”




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