John Murray Gibbon, writer, publicist, marketer, translator (born 12 April 1875 in Udeweller, Ceylon; died 2 July 1952 in Montréal, QC). The first to conceive of Canadian culture as a “mosaic,” in which different cultural identities coexist and contribute to a unified whole, John Murray Gibbon was an important figure in the evolution of a bilingual, multicultural, national culture in Canada. The founding president of the Canadian Authors Association and a member of the Canadian Music Council, he worked for over 30 years as a publicist for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) promoting Canadian culture and organizing the CPR Festivals (1927–31). He was named a Person of National Historic Significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and received the Governor General’s Literary Award for his highly influential book, Canadian Mosaic: The Making of a Northern Nation (1938).
Born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to Scottish parents, Gibbon was sent as a boy to live with a Presbyterian minister in Aberdeen, Scotland, where he studied languages and geography, and developed an interest in other cultures. While a student at the University of Aberdeen he received a scholarship to attend Oxford, where he graduated with a BA in Literature. He also studied at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and received some musical training in London, where he began his career as a journalist for the leftist newspaper Black and White.
He left the newspaper in 1907 to take a position with the CPR as European Advertising Agent, which he held until 1913 when he moved to Montréal and became the CPR’s General Publicity Agent. He initiated the CPR’s sponsorship of literary, artistic and musical presentations for publicity purposes. During the 1920s and 1930s, he organized a number of festivals and celebrations for the CPR, all involving Canadian musicians (see CPR Festivals).
Gibbon was a prolific author and in 1921 became the founding president of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA), which he co-founded with Stephen Leacock, Pelham Edgar and B.K. Sandwell. The CAA lobbied for the protection of authors’ rights and went on to establish the Governor General’s Literary Awards in 1936. Gibbon received the award, in the non-fiction category, for Canadian Mosaic: The Making of a Northern Nation (1938), in which he argued against the American idea of a “cultural melting pot” that encouraged immigrants to cut ties with their culture of origin and assimilate into a homogenous society. Canadian Mosaic greatly influenced Canada’s immigration policies and multicultural attitudes throughout the latter half of the 20th century, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s (see also: Vertical Mosaic, John Porter).
An enthusiast of folk culture, Gibbon published the four-volume French Canadian Folk Songs (1928) with Sir Ernest MacMillan, and Canadian Folk Songs (Old and New) (1927), which included his translations of some of the most popular songs by renowned French Canadian folk singer Charles Marchand. Gibbon also wrote novels, several historical books (Scots in Canada, 1911; Steel of Empire: The Romantic History of the Canadian Pacific, 1935; Canadian Mosaic, 1938) and two histories of nursing.
A member of the Canadian Music Council, Gibbon’s musical writings include the libretto for the ballad opera Prince Charlie and Flora (1928) and Melody and the Lyric, which won a Prix David from the Québec government in 1931. He also provided English translations for many French-Canadian folksongs, including Le Jeu de Robin et Marion and L'Ordre de Bon Temps for the Canadian Folksong and Handicraft Festivals in Québec (1927, 1928), which he organized.
Honours and Legacy
Gibbon received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the Université de Montréal in 1940. In 1954, he was recognized as a Person of National Historic Significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. A plaque commemorating this honour, located at the Banff Centre for the Arts, recognizes his success in “combining advertising with the promotion of a Canadian identity” and “popularizing the image of Canadian society as a mosaic.”
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
See also: Folk-music-inspired composition.
John Murray Gibbon, trans., Canadian Folk Songs, Old and New (London, 1927; Rev. enlarged, 1949); Le Jeu de Robin et Marion (Birchard, 1928); Vingt-et-un Chansons canadiennes (Oakville, 1928); and The Order of Good Cheer (Toronto, 1929).
John Murray Gibbon, lyricist, Northland Songs, 2 vols (Toronto 1936, 1938); New World Ballads (Toronto, 1939); Canada in Song (Toronto, 1941); and Pioneer Songs of Canada (Toronto, 1941).
“The Music of the People,” Empire Club Addresses (Toronto, 1929).
Prince Charlie and Flora (Dent, 1929).
Melody and the Lyric (London, 1930).
Magic of Melody (London, 1933).
The Coureur de Bois and His Birthright (Ottawa, 1936).
Canadian Mosaic (Toronto, 1938).
“Folksongs of the French Canadians,” Think vol. 7 (1941).
“Your Theme is Your Author,” CRMA vol. 1 (February 1942).
“Women as Folk-Song Authors,” Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada vol. 41 (1947).
“Folk-Song and Feudalism,” Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada vol. 42 (1948).
“Contributions of Austro-German Music to Canadian Culture,” Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada vol. 43 (1949).