Raised in rural Miramichi on Chaplin Island Road, Susan Butler is the daughter of Cecilia Marie Mills of Tracadie and Charles Michael Butler. Their family home was named “Avoka” after a friend noticed similarities between their home and a place in Ireland called Avoka, which means “a meeting of the waters.”
Susan’s interest in music was largely inspired by her mother, and she was also greatly influenced by Mario Lanza. As a young girl, Susan would sing along to Lanza’s albums, Catherine McKinnon, country music artists like Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline, as well as other genres such as Pavarotti and Wilf Carter. Susan received formal training in voice and piano at St. Mary’s High School in Newcastle, though she achieved more with her voice than with the piano.
As a teenager, Susan struggled with an inferiority complex. This feeling resurfaced at an awards ceremony in Ottawa, where she felt out of place among accomplished professionals. However, she eventually found strength in the support of her Miramichi community. Susan’s first confidence boost came unexpectedly when she was asked to sing at a wedding in Montreal after the original soloist fell ill. Following the wedding and a subsequent invitation to sing at a church, Susan fully embraced her singing talent and never looked back.
Susan Butler served as the Director of the Miramichi Folksong Festival for numerous years. Founded in 1958 by Louise Manny in Newcastle, the festival takes place annually in August at various venues, such as the Lord Beaverbrook Theatre, Town Hall (later known as the Beaverbrook Kin Centre), and the Miramichi Civic Centre. Under Susan Butler’s direction since 1983, the festival has showcased traditional folksingers and storytellers from the Miramichi area, as well as other parts of Canada and the US.
Local performers have included Marie Hare and Allen Kelly, heard annually for more than 50 years, as well as Susan Butler, Frank and Ray Estey, John and Robert McKay, Wilmot MacDonald, Charlie Slane, and Hubert Sweezy.
Susan Butler received the Order of Canada on February 9, 2007, in recognition of her 25 years as the festival director, her fundraising efforts for various causes, and her contributions to the arts. Her fundraising initiatives have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations like the Canadian Red Cross, local high schools, and the Alzheimer’s Society, as well as relief efforts for war victims in Kosovo and those affected by Hurricane Katrina in the southern US.
Musically, Susan’s life has been filled with exciting moments, such as organizing and performing tributes, writing and performing theme songs for special events, and participating in international concerts for charitable causes. She has been featured on numerous CBC programs throughout the Maritimes, received the Paul Harris Medal from the Rotary Club, and has been recognized by the National Folklore Society of Canada.
Susan has performed across Canada and the US for notable figures like Pope John Paul and the Prime Minister, and has shared the stage with renowned singers and fiddlers, such as Frank Patterson, John Allen Cameron, Valdy, John McNulty, The Rankin Family, Barra MacNeils, Graham and Eleanor Townsend.
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