Philip J Thomas

Philip J. (James) Thomas. Folksong collector, composer, singer, teacher, b Victoria, BC, 26 Mar 1921, d Vancouver, BC, 26 Jan 2007; BA English and history (British Columbia) 1948, B Ed (B.C.) 1949. Following a year of war service in India, for most of Philip J.

Thomas, Philip J

Philip J. (James) Thomas. Folksong collector, composer, singer, teacher, b Victoria, BC, 26 Mar 1921, d Vancouver, BC, 26 Jan 2007; BA English and history (British Columbia) 1948, B Ed (B.C.) 1949. Following a year of war service in India, for most of Philip J. Thomas' adult life he was a children's visual art teacher; he began working in the Vancouver school system in 1952. He also gave courses at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Summer School and at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Thomas collected on tape many folksongs relating to British Columbia and, in researching documentary materials relating to the province's history, uncovered other songs in diaries, archival papers, newspapers, and books. He adapted or composed tunes for those songs for which the original music was not given or had been lost. His own songs included 'Far from Home' and 'Way Up in the Monashee Range.'

In 1975 the 500 songs in Philip J. Thomas' collection were deposited with the provincial archives. Some have been published in periodicals and books, including British Columbia Library Quarterly (July 1962; 10 songs and an accompanying article); More Folk Songs of Canada (Waterloo 1967; two songs); Canadian Folk Songs for the Young (Vancouver 1975, three songs); and Singing Our History (Toronto 1984, eight songs). He self-published two books, Songs of the Pacific Northwest (Saanichton, BC, 1979); and Twenty-five Songs for Vancouver (Vancouver, 1985). Nineteen songs from Songs of the Pacific Northwest are on his LP, Where the Fraser River Flows and Other Songs of the Pacific Northwest (1962, 1980; Skooumchuck SR-7001); reissued by Cariboo Road Music in 2004). A live performance, Phil Thomas and Friends Live at Folklife Expo 86, was also issued (Cariboo Road Music, 2004). A second edition of Songs of the Pacific Northwest was published by Hancock House, 2007, with revised commentary and 13 additional songs. The Philip J. Thomas Popular Song Collection has been held in the UBC Library since 1993. Songs from the collection have been arranged and recorded by various musicians, including Imant Raminsh (in Northwest Trilogy); Howard Cable (in 'Sing, Sea to Sea!'); Stephen Chatman (in Five British Columbia Folk Songs); and Chris Rawlings (in Les Flûtes Canadiennes, RCI 507). In the late 1990s Thomas donated his folk music library, which included more than 7,000 books and publications, to the UBC Library.

Awards, Appointments, Performances

Self-accompanied on the guitar or banjo, Thomas sang in concert and on CBC radio. Tapes of his performances were included in the instruction kits The Cariboo Wagon Road 1858-1868 (Vancouver 1964) and Solo Flight (Vancouver 1970). Thomas was a co-founder (1959, with his wife Hilda, Rolf Ingelsrud, and Al Cox) of the Vancouver Folk Song Circle, which, as the Vancouver Folk Song Society, published the periodical Come All Ye 1972-7 and the Canada Folk Bulletin 1978-80. It also began producing 'Folk Circle' for radio station CFRO-FM in 1975 and opened the Green Cove coffeehouse in 1977. Thomas performed at the Vancouver Folk Festival in 1978, 1980, and 1986, and at the Mariposa Festival in 1982. The group Phil Thomas and Friends presented 21 concerts at Folklife Theatre during Expo 86 in Vancouver. Thomas was a director of the Canadian Folk Music Society (CFMS) from 1974 until his death, and was made honorary president in 1999. He was honoured at the Northwest Regional Folklife Festival in 2004 as the most prestigious collector of folksong in the Pacific Northwest. He was a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. The Canadian Folk Music Journal dedicated its spring 2007 issue (Vol 41.1) to his life and work.

See also: Folk Music; Folk Music, Anglo-Canadian


Further Reading

  • Bartlett, Jon. 'The P.J. Thomas collection of British Columbia folk songs,' Canadian Folk Music Journal, vol 4, 1976

    Gregory, David and Rosaleen, eds. "Special Issue on Phil Thomas," Canadian Folk Music Journal, vol 41, 2007