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Family and friends remember generous troubadour who died in Squamish apartment fire

James Piche was a beloved musician who loved to help others and give back.

Locals and relatives near and far are mourning a Squamish man who overcame so much before his tragic death in an apartment fire last week. 

The BC Coroners Service is investigating the death at Tantalus Manor on Aug. 25. 

James Allan Piche, Jim as he was known in Squamish, is remembered as a generous musician who wanted to make others happy. 

Piche was adopted in Edmonton as a baby and didn’t meet his biological relatives until he was grown, family say. 

Tina Conroy, Piche’s biological cousin, told The Squamish Chief Piche was of Cree heritage. 

“Our ancestors come from Fort McMurray First Nation 468. He was a troubadour, singing and playing guitar and piano,” she said in an email to The Squamish Chief. “He loved cooking, riding his bicycle, painting, and had an artistic soul.” 

His life in song

Sharon McGonigal, Piche's sister in Alberta, with whom he was raised, wrote a tribute to her brother on behalf of the family that was shared with The Squamish Chief. 

She calls it, His Life in Song

“My older brother, James, has been an inspiration to me of how he overcame the many hardships in his life, and through it all, looked to and for his family,” she said. “Through his passion for music, he shared who he was — through the songs he sang. He was the main event at family reunions, sitting around the campfire late into the night.”

McGonigal said Piche’s musical repertoire ranged from Christian to old-time rock and country songs. 

“Songs we could all sing along and also songs that he wrote himself,” she said. 

 She noted during the COVID-19 lockdowns, he shared many songs on Facebook. 

“He could not go out, but he could bring that positivity to others through his songs,” she said. 

“Family was his connection to overcoming difficulties. His sister and cousin from [the] Fort McMurray area, his grandchildren and son, the extended family he grew up with. We were his anchors,” she added. 

Her last visit with him was earlier this summer, she said. He visited family and put on a little concert. 

“I’ll remember your many songs, James, that demonstrate your ‘Life in Song.’ Your trip here was ‘Country Roads,’ when you left, it was ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane.’...And the one that got me was, ‘Turn the Page.’ You have now, ‘turned the page.’ The discussions we had the last night you were here and the questions we were exploring, well, you ‘Turned the Page,’ and now you know the answer, ‘We are One in the Spirit.’” 

Time in Squamish

Piche’s friend, fellow Squamish musician Carolyn Grass, said that Piche came to the district with his friend and musical partner, the late Billy Lane. 

“Soon, they began playing music together whenever they could,” Grass said, noting Lane passed away a few years ago. 

Grass first met Piche, 62, at the Brackendale Art Gallery when he attended her “GrassRoots Jam at the BAG” in October of 2008.

“Not long after we met, I was to perform somewhere in Squamish, and I asked Jim to accompany me. My guitar skills have never been my strength, and from that day on, we were a team and became very good friends over the years,” she said. 

Later, Grass formed her band “Carolyn Grass & Friends,” which included Piche as lead guitarist. 

For years the band played all over Squamish at various events and venues.

Lung transplant recipient

Grass recalls that Piche was suffering from a deteriorating lung condition even in 2008 and it progressed in the years that followed.

Piche’s biological little sister, Trish Cooke, first met her brother when she was 16. As adults, they became quite close. 

She came to Squamish from Grande Prairie to care for her brother during his long wait for a double-lung transplant, which he finally received in 2018. 

Cooke nursed him from a worrying 130 pounds — he was over six feet tall — to 180 pounds, ensuring he could qualify for his transplant. 

She and Grass both noted he would go to Hilltop House and play for residents often, even before his transplant when he was feeling quite unwell. 

“There were days that I could see he was struggling,” Cooke said. “But he didn’t care. He was like, ‘I have to go and do this. They appreciate it. And they love it.’ So he used to take his scooter and go up there to Hilltop House.”

By all accounts, he took the transplant surgery well and was happy to be getting back to a full life. 

And then the pandemic hit, and he isolated at home. 

In January, he caught COVID-19, but beat it, Cooke recalled.

Generous heart

Life had not always been easy for Piche, but Squamish was a healing place for him, Cooke said, noting his many friends and caring neighbours. 

He moved to town about 15 years ago and had been in the same apartment for as long as she could remember.

“Squamish was a good start for him,” she said, adding he devoted himself more to his spirituality and music here. 

Cooke was due to come back and visit him again in September.

She said what stands out for her about her brother is his generous spirit. 

“A big thing was with helping others and doing what he could do to give back. He felt that he’d been so blessed that he just wanted to return it all,” she said. 

“If somebody needed $10 and it was his last $10, he doesn’t care, you know? He didn’t think twice.”

Grass also noted that Piche blossomed post-transplant and played music whenever he could, until COVID hit.

“It’s so hard to believe that Jim is gone after fighting so hard for this second chance at life,” Grass said. 

She said as restrictions have loosened, Piche had again been making the most out of life. He was playing music when he could and had a part-time job at Home Depot shortly before his death. 

“There, he connected with another new world and was really doing well,” she said. 

 “I have very fond memories of Jim over the years. We were very close and he was like the brother I never had.”

Grass said there will be a public service to honour Piche on Sept. 23 at the Brackendale Art Gallery at 5 p m.


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