This account of hijinks on the squid-fishing grounds is one of Newfoundland's best-known songs. Its words were written by the 15-year-old Arthur Scammell as a high school project in 1928. Scammell’s wildly successful 1943 recording, adapted to the Irish fiddle tune “Larry O'Gaff,” is regarded as the first commercial recording of a Newfoundland folk song. The tune was played on the Peace Tower carillon in Ottawa to mark the entry of Newfoundland into confederation in 1949. The song was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame In 2011.
Squid jigging, in which a jigger — an un-baited, lined hook — is submerged in water and jerked upwards to grasp the arms of squid and flip them into boats, was a common practice in Scammell's hometown of Change Islands in Notre Dame Bay, off Newfoundland’s north coast. First published in Gerald S. Doyle's Old-Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland (2nd ed., 1940), the song was copyrighted by Scammell in 1944, issued as sheet music by BMI Canada, and appeared later in other folksong collections.
Scammell's widely successful 1943 recording of “Squid Jiggin' Ground,” adapted to the Irish fiddle tune “Larry O'Gaff” and set against a simple piano accompaniment, is regarded as the first commercial recording of a Newfoundland folk song. It reported sold more than 15,000 copies. The song has subsequently been recorded by Hank Snow, Stompin’ Tom Connors, George Hamilton IV, Omar Blondahl, Harry Hibbs, Ed McCurdy, Alan Mills, Dick Nolan, The Travellers and the Irish Rovers, among others.
The song’s lyrics depict the squid-jigging activities of local fisherman:
Oh, this is the place where the fishermen gather,
In oilskins and boots and Cape Anns battened down.
All sizes of figures with squid lines and jiggers,
They congregate here on the squid jiggin' ground.
Some are working their jiggers while others are yarning.
There's some standing up and there's more lying down
While all kinds of fun, jokes and tricks are begun,
As they wait for the squid on the squid jiggin' ground.
There's men of all ages and boys in the bargain,
There's old Billy Cave and there's young Raymond Brown.
There's a red ranting Tory out here in a dory,
A-running down Squires on the squid jiggin' ground.
There's men from the Harbour, there's men from the Tickle,
In all kinds of motorboats, green, grey and brown.
Right yonder there's Bobby and with him is Noddy,
He's chawing hard tack on the squid jiggin' ground.
Oh, God bless my sou'wester, there's Skipper John Chaffey.
He's the best hand at squid jigging here, I'll be bound.
Hello, what's the row? Why he's jigging one now.
It's the very first squid on the squid jiggin' ground.
Now, the man with the whiskers is old Jacob Steele.
He's getting well up but he's still pretty sound.
While Uncle Bob Hawkins wears six pairs of stockings,
Whenever he's out on the squid jiggin' ground.
Holy smoke! What a scuffle, all hands are excited.
'Tis a wonder to me that there's nobody drowned.
There's confusion, a bustle, a wonderful hustle.
They're all jigging squids on the squid jiggin' ground.
Says Bobby, "The squids are on top of the water.
I just got my jiggers 'bout one fathom down."
But a squid in the boat squirted right down his throat,
And he's swearing like mad on the squid jiggin' ground.
There's poor Uncle Billy, his whiskers are spattered,
With spots of the squid juice that's flying around.
One poor little boy got it right in the eye,
But they don't give a darn on the squid jiggin' ground.
Now if ever you feel so inclined to go squidding,
Leave your white shirts and collars behind in the town,
And if you get cranky without your silk hanky,
You'd better steer clear of the squid jiggin' ground.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.