Steve Bell is remembering his brother-in-law Vince Fontaine as someone full of faith, passion, and genuine care for others.
"There was no warning at all. He was healthy, vibrant, and active," says Steve Bell, in shock after hearing his brother-in-law passed away on Tuesday.
The two well-known Winnipeg musicians had known one another for a majority of their lives, becoming good friends long before they became family.
"I met him at a Bible study prayer group when I was 17," Bell says, "and we were a bunch of eager teenagers. We became fast friends after we found out he played guitar and I played guitar."
Bell recalls that Fontaine predicted they would be lifelong friends while they were driving around Winnipeg as young men.
"He looked at me and he said, 'you and I are going to be profoundly connected. I don't know how or when but we're connected for life.' A couple of years later he met and married my sister."
Bell says that Fontaine was the same person off stage as he was when on stage when leading his bands Eagle & Hawk and Indian City. He had a drive that led to tours with his bands around the globe and performing on the world stage when Eagle & Hawk performed at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
"He was a happy, cheerful guy. He was super energetic, very motivated. His bands were successful not because the industry came to them but because he wouldn't let up. He was the guy who booked all those European dates and he got them into the Olympics."
Fontaine leaves behind his wife and their three children, Aleah, Gabrielle, and Joe.
"He was a profound Christian, brought up in the Catholic church. The last few years had been hard on him as a native person, with all that's been going on. There were deep struggles with that but he remained quite faithful to his faith. He was passionate about Indigenous issues and culture."
While Fontaine may be a well-known and loved local Winnipeg musician, he was an independent musician. Not being signed to a label or having funding behind the music means finances can be tight. Bell started a GoFundMe campaign to help the family with funeral costs.
Bell contributes the hundreds of tributes coming out right now to Fontaine's tenacity and passion, for life and his music.
"He was a part of Sagkeeng First Nation and he's the nephew of the Grand National Chief Phil Fontaine. He's deeply connected with the Indigenous community."
A celebration of Fontaine's life is being held Sunday, January 16, outdoors at the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks.