Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada. Early morning, August 15, 1967. Recently released from a mental hospital, 21 year-old Victor Hoffman randomly enters a sleeping farmhouse armed with a .22-calibre rifle. In what still stands as one of Canada’s worst mass murders, he shoots and kills nine members of the family inside (seven of them children), sparing just one four-year-old girl.
Learning of the tragedy, Manitoba country musician Irvin Freese immediately writes and records “Shell Lake Disaster” and a single (backed with a fine and faithful version of Wilf Carter’s “Fate of Old Strawberry Roan”) is released by Winnipeg’s Eagle Records in September.
Stark lyrics detail the incident to an uncomfortable extent and Irvin’s daughter Jacqueline provides the presumed cries of the spared child. Coupled with almost jaunty instrumentation, the result is deeply unsettling.
Too raw and too soon, Eagle Records was understandably threatened with legal action and the single was recalled shortly after its release, with seemingly few copies escaping the Canadian prairies.
released September, 1967