In Cape Breton, Joella Foulds, C.M., M.S.W., D.Litt., (MSW ’76) has an instantly recognizable name — and voice. For 15 years, Joella worked as a journalist, writer and host of CBC’s Information Morning on the island. Although she left the CBC in 1994 to work on other endeavors, many people still make the connection.

“A lot of people will come up to me and ask if I’m still on the radio,” she says with a chuckle.

In the years since, her work has had such an impact in promoting Cape Breton’s rich culture and music internationally, it would be easy to assume she was born and raised there. In fact, Joella was born in British Columbia and raised on a farm in Manitoba. She and her husband (James Foulds, PhD Biology ‘77) fell in love with the island and moved there in 1978. She currently lives in rural Boularderie with Jim. They have two sons, Jamie and Matthew, and four grandchildren.

She has had a distinguished and varied career as a songwriter, musician (she was a member of Rita MacNeil’s backing band and released her own solo album), arts consultant, president and co-owner of Rave Entertainment Inc and much more. But among her many career highlights, Joella is perhaps best known for developing major events, including the East Coast Music Awards and the Celtic Colours International Festival, which she co-created in 1997.

Celtic Colours is the international festival that shines a spotlight on the rich music, culture, and energy of Cape Breton Island. Some 9,500 music lovers flock to the island each October when its spectacular beauty is at its peak.

“Working in the cultural sector has been a labour of love,” Joella says. “If you have that passion for music inside, it’s something you can’t ignore.”

The cultural and economic impact of Celtic Colours is immense and ongoing. Over 23 years after its creation, some 350 events take place during the festival — from concerts and ceilidhs to square dances and suppers — in communities all over Cape Breton. The estimated economic impact for the island is $18.7-million in direct funds spent by festival-goers, giving a financial boost to more than 50 rural communities who host the events.

The Dalhousie Connection

One would think that Joella’s educational background would be focused on arts, journalism, music, or business. She does have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba but some may be surprised to know she also holds a Master of Social Work degree from Dalhousie with a focus on community development, research and policy analysis.

Prior to working with the CBC, she was a psychiatric social worker and Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood Association of Nova Scotia. She says her social work background education was an excellent foundation to her later career in the arts and culture sector.

“My Masters was focused on community development, and that’s what Celtic Colours is all about — through music,” she says. “It’s about pride of place, pride of culture. The festival has expanded people’s horizons and has touched every corner of the island,” she says.

“My work in this area ties in perfectly with my educational background. When Dalhousie prepared me to work as a social worker, the university helped me to learn to analyze things, to look beyond the surface, examine people, structures and policies, all of which has helped me in my work in the arts and music sector over the years,” she said.

“Also, critically important skills in social work are listening and getting people to talk, skills that have served me well over the years.”

Although she is retired, Joella wants to continue to play an active role in the development of the culture sector in Cape Breton and contribute to the economic growth of the island and her own rural community. An avid gardener, she coordinates a Farmers’ Market in Boularderie. She released an album of original music in 2018 and looks forward to making more music, and spending time with her children and grandchildren.


Find Joella’s music on most streaming platforms, including the following:
Apple Music :

Awards and Honours

  • Nova Scotia Music Hall of Fame (2015)
  • Member of the Order of Canada (CM) (2012)
  • Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa, Cape Breton University (2011)
  • Cape Breton Tourism Hall of Fame (2011)
  • Cape Breton Business Hall of Fame (2006)
  • ECMA Industry Builder (2000)

By Dawn Morrison, with files from Cape Breton University (CBU)