November 17, 2017
Cool Yule with Colin James
Colin James and his wife Heather welcome family and friends home for the holidays
Story & Styling Nikki Renshaw | Photos Janis Nicolay
After two weeks of rockin’, rollin’ and raising money for local food banks aboard the CP Holiday Train, Colin James is happy to be coming home for Christmas. After all, there’s nothing the Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter and his wife Heather enjoy more than spending the holidays at home with family and friends. “I spend a lot of time on the road so over the holidays I just want to hunker in,” Colin says. “I’m a real homebody. There’s nowhere I like more than being at home.”
Over the holidays, a steady flow of friends and family drop by the couple’s spacious North Vancouver home, culminating in a Christmas Eve party that’s also a celebration of various family members’ birthdays. “It’s one big celebration,” says Heather, a keen baker who fills their large kitchen with goodies for anyone who drops by. “It’s a family tradition, and anyone is welcome,” adds Colin.
Home for the James family is a beautiful 1930s Arts and Crafts character house that they share with their adult children—daughter Deghan and son Ryland—and two dogs, Maggie, a goldendoodle, and Annabelle, a Shih Tzu-poodle-cross.
Colin and Heather bought the 5,000-square-foot house 10 years ago, when they heard a friend was selling it. “We walked in and knew it was home,” says Colin. Since then, they have built a studio in the back of the property, where he keeps the collection of guitars that he has amassed over the years. Local musicians are regular visitors, and Colin likes nothing better than to spend time in the studio working on new material.
“I’m a real homebody.
There’s nowhere I like more than being at home”
— Colin James
Born and raised in Regina, Colin has been a stalwart of the Canadian music scene for over three decades. He got his big break in 1984 supporting Stevie Ray Vaughn on tour. (It was Vaughn who suggested he change his last name from Munn to his middle name James—he thought Munn sounded too much like “mud.”) Fast forward 33 years and Colin has amassed six Junos and has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Not bad for a high school dropout. “I always knew music was my passion and that it would be my life,” he says. “Even as an early teen I was hanging out and playing with older musicians.”
It was also during those early formative years that he met Heather, the daughter of family friends. “I was eight when we met, and he was 13,” she says. “I was instantly smitten, but we didn’t get together until a chance meeting 12 years later when he came into a restaurant I was working in.”
The couple have now been together for 28 years, married for 26, and have spent most of that time living on Vancouver’s North Shore where they raised their two children.
Colin’s parents had grown up in B.C. and he had always yearned to make the West Coast his home. For years, the family lived in Lion’s Bay in a contemporary home with panoramic ocean views, but when they found their current house, they knew this was their forever home. “It ticked all the boxes,” says Colin. “It’s large enough to entertain in, which we do a lot, but cosy enough for just the family to hang out in.”
The house is filled with vintage finds that Colin has picked up on his travels, including a collection of old radios, telephones and music memorabilia. “He will always find antique and vintage stores wherever he goes,” Heather says with a laugh. Luckily, she shares his passion for pieces steeped in history and their home is a wonderful mix of vintage and contemporary. The walls are hung with art created by friends—including original album cover artwork by Stevie Ray Vaughn—as well as furniture made by local artisans such as Nathan Weins.
Evidence of James’s passion for making music is everywhere. Guitars lean against walls ready to be picked up and played, while a wreath made from music paper adorns the fireplace and a miniature Christmas tree covered in guitar decorations takes centre stage on their dining table. Adding to the festive fun this year is the re-release of the 2007 album Colin James & The Little Big Band Christmas, a jazzy, bluesy collection of festive tunes that include Boogie Woogie Santa Claus and Cool Yule.
But it’s mostly traditional tunes from Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby their daughter Deghan prefers to play, starting on Dec. 1, when she begins decorating the house. “She would do it way earlier if we would let her,” says Colin. “In fact she would celebrate Christmas all year round it she got the chance!” Deghan is passionate about Christmas, and fills the house with homemade decorations and family mementoes, including a bird decoration from her parents’ wedding day. “I love things that stir up memories,” says Heather. “It’s what makes this time of the year so special.”
The family spends holiday evenings in front of the home’s welcoming fireplaces playing Scrabble and curling up under Heather’s hand-knitted blankets while she reads them Jan Brett’s book Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve?, even though the kids are all grown up now. “They insist,” she says.
As the cold weather rolls in, Colin and Heather look forward to kicking back and relaxing, whether the house is full to the brim with friends and family or just them and their dogs. “Either is perfect,” says Heather. “The door is always open, and everyone is welcome. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about?”
All aboard the CP Holiday Train
The CP Holiday Train began rolling in 1999 to bring holiday cheer to communities on its routes in Canada and the U.S., and support local food banks along the way. Since its launch, it has raised over $13 million and gathered four million pounds of food.
This year, the party begins in Montreal, on Nov. 25 for the American route, and a day later for the Canadian one, stopping by 182 communities in total. Colin James and singer-songwriter Emma-Lee will travel to most of the Canadian stops, ending in Calgary on Dec. 9, with Alan Doyle and The Beautiful Band continuing on through B.C. and wrapping up the journey in Port Coquitlam on Dec. 17.
Come out and enjoy the festivities! The events are free, but please bring a food or cash donation for the food bank.