Hard, Hard Times

"Hard, Hard Times." William James Emberley of Bay de Verde, NL, adapted an older song to describe the plight of Newfoundland fishermen during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"Hard, Hard Times"

"Hard, Hard Times." William James Emberley of Bay de Verde, NL, adapted an older song to describe the plight of Newfoundland fishermen during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The collapse of international markets made it difficult to sell fish at any price, and for years many Newfoundlanders lived on the government dole of six cents a day. Emberley's verses, which passed quickly into tradition, are a local application of a pattern established by an 18th-century English broadside which ridiculed certain trades and later was adapted often to describe hard times. The Emberley version was recorded by Alan Mills (Folksongs of Newfoundland, 1958, Folkways Records FW-8771), and also by Dick Nolan, Omar Blondahl, Kenneth Peacock, and the Travellers. It was published by Gerald S. Doyle (Old-Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland, St. John's 1955), Blondahl (Newfoundlanders, Sing! A Collection of Favourite Newfoundland Folk Songs, St. John's 1964), Peacock (Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, Ottawa 1965) and Edith Fowke (The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs, Harmondsworth, England 1973). Sung as a lively waltz, its lyrics, as transcribed by MacEdward Leach in 1950, read:


Now I am intending to sing you a song,
About the poor people and how they get on,
They start in the spring and they work till the fall,
And when they clue up they have nothing at all,
And it's hard, hard times.

It's out with the jiggers the first of the spring,
And over the gunwale you can hear the lines ring,
Perhaps now the jigger gets froze with the cold,
And the first of the starting of going in the hold,
And it's hard, hard times.

Then out with the traps and the trawls likewise,
Perhaps get a quintal good start for a voyage,
You'll fill up with spirit and work with a will,
Next morning a drifting you're in the hole still,
And it's hard, hard times.

When so much is caught it's put out for to dry,
And then comes the labour to keep off the flies,
They will buzz all around and make trouble for you,
And out comes the sun and splits it in two,
And it's hard, hard times.

In comes the schooners go get your supply,
It's a good price this summer you'll make a good buy,
Seven dollars for large and five for your small,
Pick out your West Indies and wait till the fall,
And it's hard, hard times.

Then comes the carpenter to build you a house,
He will build it so snug you can scarce see a mouse,
There's a hole in the roof and the rain it will pour,
The chimney will smoke and it's open the door,
And it's hard, hard times.

Next comes the doctor the worst of them all,
He says what's the matter with you all the fall,
He says I will cure you of all your disease,
And when he gets your money you can die if you please,
And it's hard, hard times.

Now all you good people you'll work with a will,
For all of us soon will be hauled on the hill,
It's there they will lay us down deep in the cold,
And when you are finished you're in the hole still,
And it's hard, hard times.















































Further Reading

  • Mercer, Paul. "A Supplementary Bibliography on Newfoundland Music," Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, vol 2, 1974

External Links