Anglo-Canadian Folk music | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Anglo-Canadian Folk music

The folk music of Newfoundland reflects a rich cultural heritage from the British Isles, nurtured in the New World into a unique tradition.

Folk Music, Anglo-Canadian

The folk music of Newfoundland reflects a rich cultural heritage from the British Isles, nurtured in the New World into a unique tradition. The relative isolation of the outports and the extensive travels of seafaring Newfoundlanders are the basic factors behind a body of music which is at once firmly local and broadly eclectic.

Singing Styles

The major published collections of Newfoundland folk music have dealt almost entirely with the province's vocal (rather than instrumental) traditions. Newfoundland folksinging is unaccompanied and is characterized by a straightforward undramatic solo performance with little dynamic variation from stanza to stanza. Personal styles may include vibrato (generally only on lingering notes) and melismatic ornamentation. Tone production usually is clear rather than raspy but may be relaxed or tense depending upon whether the upper or lower portions of the singer's natural range are used. Often the final words of a song are spoken. Emphasis within the tradition is upon words rather than tune (or 'air').

Categories of Song

Two very broad categories of song are used by most Newfoundland singers. The 'ditty' is a non-serious song with satirical, derogatory, bawdy, or children's lyrics. The 'story-song,' often simply called a 'song,' is a serious narrative folksong of the type usually called 'ballad' by scholars. The latter is the more important of the two categories, both numerically and in terms of local values.

Newfoundland Ballad Traditions

The stylistically heterogeneous body of ballads traditional in Newfoundland includes the old English and Scottish popular ballads (see Child ballads in Ballads), British and North American broadsides of the 17th to 19th centuries, 19th- and 20th-century sentimental ballads from British music hall and US popular music traditions, songs from the flourishing 19th-century-Maritime and lumberwoods traditions, sentimental ballads from 20th-century 'cowboy' traditions, and locally composed ballads.

Most of these songs describe a single incident. Stories of disasters such as shipwrecks are popular. Other common motifs include lovers separated and adventures in foreign lands. Settings include sealing, fishing, war at sea or on land, lumbering, and local communities. Such content reflects the environment and daily concerns of the singers and their audiences.

Most of Newfoundland's folk music has been preserved and passed on by oral/aural means, but print has played an important role in the introduction of new material. Principal printed sources have been Irish and US 'songsters,' the 'Old Favourites' page of the Montreal weekly the Family Herald, the broadsides and songsters of St John's ballad poets like James Murphy and Johnny Burke, and the five editions of Old-Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland published by Gerald Doyle.

Phonograph recordings from England, mainland Canada, and the USA of music hall, popular, and cowboy songs also have influenced the folksong traditions of the province. After confederation with Canada in 1949 and especially after the mid-1960s, Newfoundlanders in their recordings have reintroduced the older traditional songs as well as new material from indigenous sources. Examples of this can be found in the recordings by Dick Nolan, Figgy Duff, Rawlins Cross, Harry Hibbs, The Wonderful Grand Band and others. Another important influence upon recent song traditions has been the music of immigrant Irish pop groups.

Song performance contexts

Folk singing in Newfoundland occurs most frequently at informal parties called 'times'. Held in outport kitchens or fish stores, 'times' typically involve solo performances by one or several singers. The song commands the attention of all present; words of encouragement are spoken to the singer between verses or during pauses within the song. The end of the song is observed with similar comments and may precipitate a discussion of its contents. Generally there is drinking, the usual fare being dark rum. 'Times' occur almost always at night on weekends, and most frequently in the winter when there is more leisure. There is a 'time' every night somewhere in the outport community during the 12 days of Christmas.

Other occasions for singing include work situations, such as those on shipboard or in the lumberwoods, and formal community 'concerts' held in local church or school halls on religious and national holidays. Usually organized by the teacher or clergyman, concerts involve dramatic skits, dancing, recitations, and other kinds of stage performance by members of the community. Often local singers compose songs for specific concerts. These deal humorously with recent local events and local personalities, and some are sufficiently memorable to become part of local folksong traditions.

Instrumental Music

While after 1949 the guitar increased in popularity as an accompanying instrument for young singers, instrumental and vocal traditions generally have been quite separate in Newfoundland. Instrumental music was dance music, and the most popular instrument was the button accordion. Among other instruments used were the harmonica, the tin whistle, and the violin. When no instruments were available for a dance, the tunes would be sung - a practice known variously as 'gob music,' 'mouth music,' or 'chin music'. A great many Newfoundland dance tunes appear to be from Irish traditions, and those in 6/8 and 9/8 meters are as popular as those in 2/4 and 4/4. Dances were held in community halls, kitchens, and fish stores and in the summer on wharves and bridges. A dance had from three to six segments, each of which had its particular rhythm. A good instrumentalist had to know the appropriate tunes for each section and also might be called upon to provide music for solo 'step dancers' between segments of the dance. Occasionally singers would perform between dances; usually a 'mug up' or tea was served afterwards.

Recent Trends in Newfoundland's Folk Music

With the introduction of paved roads, electricity, and TV many of these musical traditions have been altered or become moribund. Younger musicians and singers are apt to perform rock, Irish, or country-western music rather than perpetuate the traditions of their fathers. Dances rarely involve the intricate patterns of earlier times, although step dancing still is quite popular. Increasing emphasis on instrumental virtuosity in playing traditional dance music has replaced the older concern with the ability to accompany dancing properly. Song-writing and local composition still are relatively common, reflecting the fact that Newfoundland's musical culture still is flexible enough to cope with and adopt from mainland influences.

From the 1960s on an indigenous popular music with important connections to local folk music has developed. Based on a synthesis of Irish popular folk, North American country and western, and local traditions, it owes much to the work of Harry Hibbs and Dick Nolan, and by the early 1990s had found its popular expression in the work of the duo Simani (Bud Davidge and Sim Savory). With the accordion in the foreground, this vocal-instrumental ensemble genre usually includes guitar, drums and bass, some or all of which may be electronic. This form, now the most popular type of dance music in rural Newfoundland, draws from Newfoundland's storehouse of traditional lyrics and melodies and contributes new songs on local topics.

From the 1970s on folk revival activity centred in St John's has rekindled local interest in Newfoundland's folk music through a folk club, annual folk festivals, and other activities, many of them organized by the St John's Folk Arts Council. This has led to the popular recognition of older representatives of Newfoundland's traditions such as fiddlers Rufus Guinchard and Émile Benoit, and to important roles as presenters and performers for younger interpreters such as Figgy Duff, Jim Payne, and Kelly Russell. This activity has been considerably influenced by ideas from the folk revival movements of Great Britain and Ireland. Most recently considerable attention has been paid to the revival of the complex old dances.

See also 'The Anti-Confederation Song'; Ballads; 'The Banks of Newfoundland'; 'The Blooming Bright Star of Belle Isle'; Disaster songs; 'Hard, Hard Times'; 'Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor'; 'Lukey's Boat'; Occupational songs; 'She's Like the Swallow'; 'Squid-jiggin' Ground'; 'We'll Rant and We'll Roar like True Newfoundlanders'.


Buffet Double. Baxter Wareham. 1989. Pigeon Inlet PIP-7324

Outport People. Simani. 1986. SWC Productions SD-785A

Songs and Ballads of Newfoundland. K. Peacock. 1956. Folk FG-3505

Songs from the Newfoundland Outports. 1966. Folk FE-4075

Songs from the Newfoundland Outports. 1984. Pigeon Inlet PIP-7319

Tradition: A Sampler of Newfoundland. Guinchard, Benoit, Figgy Duff, et al. Pigeon Inlet PIP-7316

See also Émile Benoit; Omar Blondahl; Figgy Duff; Rufus Guinchard; Harry Hibbs; Ed McCurdy; Alan Mills; Dick Nolan; Ignatius Rumboldt; Arthur Scammell.


Peacock, Kenneth. 'The native songs of Newfoundland,' Contributions to Anthropology, 1960, Part II, National Museum of Canada (Ottawa 1963)

Szwed, John F. 'Paul E. Hall: a Newfoundland song-maker and his community of song,' Folksongs and Their Makers (Bowling Green, O, 1970)

Casey, George J., with Rosenberg, Neil V., and Wareham, Wilfred W. 'Repertoire categorization and performance-audience relationships: some Newfoundland examples,' Ethnomusicology, vol 16, Sep 1972

Mercer, Paul. The Ballads of Johnny Burke (St John's, Nfld 1974)

Taft, Michael. '''That's two more dollars'': Jimmy Linegar's success with country music in Newfoundland,' Folklore Forum, vol 7, 1974

A Regional Discography of Newfoundland and Labrador 1904-1972 (St John's, Nfld 1975)

'A reference list on Canadian folk music,' compiled by Barbara Cass-Beggs and Edith Fowke, CFMJ, vol 1, 1973; rev enlarged vol 6, 1978; rev enlarged vol 11, 1983

Mercer, Paul. Newfoundland Songs and Ballads in Print 1842-1974: A Title and First Line Index (St John's, Nfld 1979)

'Interview: Jim Payne,' Canada Folk Bulletin, vol 3, Jan-Feb 1980

Cox, Gordon S.A. Folk Music in a Newfoundland Outport (Ottawa 1980)

Thomas, Gerald. 'Contemporary traditional music in Newfoundland,' CFMB, vol 15, Fall 1981

Madison, R.D., ed. Newfoundland Summers: The Ballad Collecting of Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf (Madison, Wisc 1982)

McNaughton, Janet. 'Variation and stability in two murder ballads of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland,' CFMJ, vol 12, 1984

Quigley, Colin. Close to the Floor: Folk Dance in Newfoundland (St John's, Nfld 1985)

Hiscock, Philip. 'Newfoundland folklore and language: a bibliography,' RLS, 12, Dec 1989

Folksong Collections

Hutton, Charles. Newfoundland Folio of Over Fifty Old Favorite Songs (Springfield, Ill 1906)

Greenleaf, Elisabeth Bristol, and Mansfield, Grace Yarrow. Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland (Cambridge, Mass, 1933; repr Hatboro, Pa, 1968)

Karpeles, Maud. Folk Songs from Newfoundland (Oxford 1934). New version (London 1971)

Doyle, Gerald S. Old-Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland (St John's, Nfld 1940, 1978)

Leach, MacEdward. Folk Ballads and Songs of the Lower Labrador Coast, National Museum of Man (Ottawa 1965)

Peacock, Kenneth. Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, 3 vols, National Museum of Man (Ottawa 1965)

Ryan, Shannon, and Small, Larry. Haulin' Rope and Gaft (St John's, Nfld 1978)

Songs of Labrador (Northwest River, Labrador 1982)

Lehr, G., ed. Come and I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Song Book (Toronto 1985)

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

Folk music in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick has come largely from five ethnic sources: British, Acadian-French, Gaelic, Mi'kmaq, and black. The largest proportion is in the British group. W. Roy Mackenzie has published 162 songs with 42 tunes, Helen Creighton 689 with tunes for all, and Louise Manny 101, also with tunes. Folkways have published two ethnic records from the Creighton collection, Folk Music From Nova Scotia (1956, Folk FM-4006) with 25 songs and Maritime Folk Songs (1962, Folk FE-4307) with 19 songs. There are four flexi-discs in the pocket of her Folksongs From Southern New Brunswick, 1971, which contain 17 songs in the voices of the traditional singers. From Manny's New Brunswick collection Folkways issued a record (1962, FM-4053) with 10 songs entitled Folksongs of the Miramichi, and Folk Legacy issued a recording by one of her Folk Song Festival singer's, Marie Hare (1962, Legacy FSC-9), with 11 songs.

Traditional Anglo-Canadian songs tell mostly of love and adventure, and many have a sea motif. Of the ancient dramatic songs known as Child ballads (named after the collector Francis James Child, whose five-volume work The English and Scottish Popular Ballads was published 1882-98), 49 have been found in Canada, many with variants. Songs of local origin throw light upon life at sea, in the lumber woods, and in the mines where most of the men worked, and many were inspired by tragedy. Those in lighter vein satirize persons or events and whether sad or gay are largely personal in expression. For beauty of words and music the traditional songs are far superior, although many indigenous songs have borrowed tunes from the older imported songs.

Songs in English are usually narratives involving action, unlike Gaelic songs, which often tell about the beauty of a maiden or the charm of the singer's home countryside. The singers perform unaccompanied, and it is characteristic of the 'old timers' to embroider their melodies, the extent of ornamentation depending upon the inspiration of the moment. A singer speaks or shouts (rather than sings) the last word of a song to indicate it has ended. Many singers adopt individual styles and when a song has been introduced by one singer others will not sing it in his presence. In the old days songs seldom were performed in public but were used to pass the time away in the home, at sea, and in the lumber woods. Many went to great length, prolonging a good story to as many as 78 verses. If a line was forgotten a singer would omit it rather than improvise and break with tradition.

Collecting began in 1909, when W. Roy Mackenzie discovered that the type of ballad he was studying at Harvard U was still sung near his birthplace on Nova Scotia's Northumberland Strait. He and his young wife spent many summers writing down songs usually of Scottish, but also of Acadian-French origin. The Scots' church at one time had frowned upon the singing of secular songs, but not before their French neighbours had committed them to memory. The Quest of the Ballad (Princeton 1919) tells the story of the Mackenzies' collecting and gives examples. The book was followed in 1928 by Ballads and Sea Songs From Nova Scotia (Cambridge, Mass), a scholarly book with copious commentary. This work became the pattern used by subsequent folksong scholars on this continent for many years, and it has remained on the curriculum of many universities. It contains 162 songs. Mackenzie memorized many of the tunes and sang them later to a friend, who wrote down 42 of them. At that period words were considered more important than music, and the book did not make the widespread impact on performers that had been hoped, but as a textbook it has been invaluable.

In 1928, inspired by the Mackenzie books, Helen Creighton explored near her home in Dartmouth and thus began a career in folklore that continued for nearly 60 years, 19 of them without sponsorship. For 20 years she was employed by the National Museum, Ottawa (Canadian Museum of Civilization), to collect and record folklore in the Maritime provinces. Eventually she collected approximately 4000 songs, of which at least 3000 were in English. Realizing the importance of music, she preserved the tunes of all her songs, at first using a portable melodeon, then a dictaphone. For a few summers an English musician, Doreen H. Senior, accompanied her in the field and transcribed directly from the singers. Later Creighton used a Presto recording machine lent to her by the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, for which she recorded 1943-4. In 1948 she recorded again, this time sponsored jointly by the Library of Congress and the National Museum. In 1949 the museum acquired its own tape recorders and gradually amassed 2227 of her songs in English in its archives. Other transcriptions were done from these tapes by Kenneth Peacock and are to be found in Creighton's later books and in manuscript in Ottawa and Halifax. Her research was extended to include the three Maritime provinces and other ethnic groups mentioned at the beginning of this article.

From 1958 to 1970 Louise Manny conducted the annual Miramichi Folk Song Festival in Newcastle, NB. The festival survived, and singers from lumbering and fishing communities continued to compete in performing traditional and indigenous songs. The festival not only has made known songs which otherwise would be lost, but also has encouraged singers to replenish their own stocks from those of friends in more remote areas and has given scholars an opportunity to study singing styles. Other collectors, notably Edward D. Ives (collector and singer, b White Plains, NY, 4 Sep 1925; author of several books on Maritime songs) and Helen Creighton, made tape recordings later deposited at the University of Maine, Orono, and the National Museum of Man. Other Manny recordings in English are in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. With James Reginald Wilson, who transcribed the music, Manny published Songs of Miramichi (Fredericton 1968), 101 songs with extensive notes on the history of lumbering and the value and use of the songs. In Barry, Eckstorm, and Smyth's British Ballads From Maine (New Haven, Conn 1929) 195 texts are from southwestern New Brunswick near the border. Ives also has collected there. Throughout the Saint John River valley songs in English seem to have been neglected.

The fiddle has been the chief instrument for country dancing. Many tunes, traditional and local, have been recorded, principally by Don Messer's orchestra. (See also Fiddling.) Drums, mouth organ, piano, and chin music often have accompanied the fiddle. The guitar and banjo as popular instruments came later.

The style of folk singing has changed with the times, and there are many songs composed in the folk idiom. Nevertheless the traditional songs so long beloved continue to be heard, although seldom unaccompanied in the old way.

See also Ballads; Disaster songs; 'The Ghost of Bras D'Or'; 'I'll Give My Love an Apple'; 'The Jones Boys'; 'The Nova Scotia Song'; Occupational songs; 'Peter Emberley'; Trade union songs. For information on the Gaelic Language and Folklore Project see St Francis Xavier University; for Gaelic music see also Scotland.

Prince Edward Island

The Anglo-Canadian folksong tradition of Prince Edward Island differs very little from the traditions of the rest of the Maritimes. Most collections made in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick (or, for that matter, Newfoundland) could represent the Island. In fact such collections are almost all an Island singer would find for his use, since relatively little field work has been done in this smallest of the provinces. Helen Creighton has published a few songs in Maritimes Folk Songs (Toronto 1962, 1972). The Dibblees published a collection in 1973 that makes no claim to scholarly editing but serves the song lover well. Edward Ives' book, though scholarly, is limited to 21 songs from one tiny section of the Island (West Prince County). Christopher Gledhill's volume is another practical rather than scholarly compilation. Yet even these few samples provide some surprises, two in particular worth remarking.

First, one would expect that the traditions of such a small area, and an island at that, would be homogeneous. In fact, however, the traditions of Prince County turn out to have more in common with those of Miramichi and the communities of the nearby eastern shore of New Brunswick than with those of King's County, which in turn have much in common with those of Nova Scotia. It is as if Charlottetown and the Hillsborough River and Bay have divided the island into two. The difference is apparent when the same songs are sung to different tunes in the two areas, and when eastern King's County songs are not known at all in western Prince County.

Second, local tradition remained strong on Prince Edward Island long after it was weakening in Maine, USA, and the rest of the Maritimes. Two manifestations support this statement. During the silver age of lumbering the thousands of Island boys who went to Maine to work in the woods usually were acknowledged to be the best singers, the ones who sang the most, and the ones who knew the most songs; and around the turn of the century there still were local songmakers on Prince Edward Island composing songs on the old models - men like Lawrence Doyle, Hugh Lauchlan MacDonald, and Larry Gorman, 'the man who made the songs'. Representative titles in the 'come-all-ye' tradition are 'The Flying Cloud,' 'John Ladner,' 'Mantle So Green,' and 'Susan, the Pride of Kildare'.

Although the English-language folksong tradition on Prince Edward Island never has been collected in any depth, the collecting that has been done demonstrates a strong and vital tradition in which the sub-traditions of the two ends of the island had less in common with each other than with neighbouring mainland traditions. Islander Records (Charlottetown) had produced 15 recordings of traditional and contemporary folk music by 1991. See also Don Messer and His Islanders; Occupational songs.

Ontario and the Prairies

Folksongs in English sung in Ontario include a great many that the early settlers brought over from Great Britain. Among these are some old English, Scottish, and Irish popular ballads, many later broadside ballads (songs printed on one side of a single sheet and sold for a penny), and a variety of love songs, laments, comic ditties, drinking songs, lullabies, and children's singing games.

Most native Ontario songs stem from the lumbercamps. Men who farmed in the summer and worked in the woods in the winter came home each spring with a new batch of songs they had learned from men from other districts, as well as some composed in the woods. Thus the camps not only fostered new songs but also preserved and spread older ones. Another important group of Ontario songs featured the ships and sailors of the Great Lakes, some of which also were sung by the shantyboys (lumbercamp workers; see Occupational songs).

Historical and local events inspired other Ontario songs. Two ballads about General Wolfe circulated, 'Come All You Bold Canadians' celebrated General Brock's victory over General Hull at the Battle of Detroit, both a 'Fenian Song' and an 'Anti-Fenian Song' recalled the raids of 1866, and other ballads described the burning of 'The Sir Robert Peel' and 'The Battle of the Windmill' in 1838. 'The Poor Little Girls of Ontario' lamented for the boys who headed westward about 1900. Still other songs described jails - 'The Banks of the Don,' 'Johnston's Hotel,' 'The Soo Ste Mary's Jail' - and murders - Birchall killing Benwell, Michael Lee killing Maggie Howie.

Collecting in Ontario came later than in eastern Canada. F.W. Waugh and Eileen Bleakney had reported a few songs in a Canadian issue of the Journal of American Folklore in 1918, and Maud Karpeles printed five British ballads from a Peterborough woman in the Journal of the Folk Song Society in 1930. Franz Rickaby's Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy (Cambridge, Mass, 1926) and W.M. Doerflinger's Shantymen and Shantyboys (New York 1951) both included some lumbering songs from Ontario singers. Extensive collecting began only in 1957, when Edith Fowke started recording singers in the Peterborough area. There descendants of the colonists Peter Robinson brought over in 1825 had preserved many old Irish songs and also many lumbering ballads. Over the next few years Fowke located other singers in the Ottawa valley, the Haliburton region, Glengarry county, and scattered pockets throughout the province. She found that people of Irish ancestry had preserved more traditional songs than those from England or Scotland, although singers in Glengarry county remembered some old Scottish songs. The 300 singing games and rhymes in her Sally Go Round the Sun were collected mostly from Ontario children.

Reviewing Folk Songs of Ontario (1958, Folkways FM-4005) in Midwest Folklore in 1959, Kenneth Goldstein wrote: 'Mrs. Fowke's informants are among the best traditional singers to be heard anywhere on this continent. In addition to voices of excellent quality and intonation, these singers have some of the best-shaped tunes and texts found any place in the English-speaking world'. The finest of these informants, 85-year-old O.J. Abbott of Hull, Que, knew well over 100 songs. Reviewing his Irish and British Songs from the Ottawa Valley (1961, Folkways 4051) in the Journal of American Folklore in 1962, D.K. Wilgus noted: 'Abbott is a great singer, in quantity and in quality. He sings in a beautiful old Irish style, often with declamando endings'.

Traditional singers sang unaccompanied, but fiddle music was used commonly for step dancing and square dancing. George Proctor described 'Old-Time Fiddling in Ontario' in National Museum Bulletin 190 in 1963, and the Shelburne Canadian Open Old Time Fiddlers' Contest draws well over 100 participants each summer.

By 1980 few Anglo-Canadian songs had been collected in the three prairie provinces. Most prairie songs came west from eastern Canada or north from the USA. Some cowboy ballads made their way up from Texas, and a few homesteader ditties were borrowed from US sodbusters (see Occupational songs). However, 'The Red River Valley', long thought to be of US descent, probably originated in the Canadian west.

Margaret MacLeod's Songs of Old Manitoba (Toronto 1960) contains interesting Métis songs, but the few in English are of doubtful value. Barbara Cass-Beggs produced a pamphlet, Eight Songs of Saskatchewan (Canadian Music Sales 1963), and a record, Folksongs of Saskatchewan (1963, Folkways 4312). A US folklore student, Michael Weiss, noted a few 'Songs from Western Canada' in the Canadian Folk Music Journal in 1973, and Robert C. Cosbey has collected children's skipping songs in Saskatchewan.

See also Ballads; 'The Black Fly Song'; Tom Brandon; LaRena Clark; Disaster songs; Fiddling; Wade Hemsworth; Tom Kines; Lakes; Rivers; 'Saskatchewan'; Trade union songs; Wars, rebellions, and uprisings.

British Columbia

Settlement in British Columbia did not favour the transplanting of regional folkways from the British Isles as in some parts of eastern and central Canada. Nevertheless, traditions and attitudes rooted in the folk song and dance of England, Ireland, and Scotland have played a part in British Columbia's life from the colonial period, 1849-71, to the present.

The tradition is traced most easily in the social dance music in areas where fiddlers and other musicians kept alive the tunes and rhythms of jigs, reels, and other country dances as they became part of the 'old time' and western square-dance music. In addition to fiddling, folk musicians in rural communities made dance music with mouth organ, jew's harp, banjo, mandolin, concertina, piano accordion, and piano. The dominant style of fiddling in British Columbia is akin to that in Ontario and the Maritimes and still can be heard at the fiddling contests held annually at some half-dozen centres throughout the province and at the British Columbia championships each August in Prince George. Old-time dances, including western square dances, were common in rural British Columbia until the 1940s, but for a number of reasons they declined after World War II and have all but disappeared. The tradition continues in some form in modern urban square-dance clubs, but about 1960 these groups began to use commercially recorded music from the USA.

Folksongs in the English language in British Columbia fall into two groups: first, traditional songs and ballads brought by migrants mainly from other parts of Canada and the USA and, second, locally made songs.

The first group includes ballads found in the Child collection ('Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight'), broadside ballads ('The Lady Leroy'), songs of the eastern lumberjacks ('The Jam on Gary's Rocks'), cowboy songs ('The Dying Cowboy'), sea songs and shanties ('The Sailor's Alphabet'), humorous songs ('Braking on the Trains'), and children's songs ('Will You Come Along, John?'). Although these songs form part of British-North American lore, in their distinctive versions they are geographically and to some extent culturally British Columbian. In this group may be included a few traditional songs which were adapted to western settings. For example, 'The Wexford Girl' became 'The Lethbridge Girl' and 'The Lake of the Pontchartrain' became 'The Banks of the Similkameen'. Some 50 traditional songs have been collected as sung in British Columbia prior to 1920. Some singers learned their songs orally in the province, but others brought theirs with them. It appears that after 1920 very few songs of this type were passed on to the following generation.

The second group, the locally made songs, are the most distinctively British Columbian. Most reflect life in the logging, mining, fishing, construction, and transportation industries. They often are topical, arising from specific incidents or situations, but a number mirror general conditions of life and work. A common theme is the acceptance of one's destiny as a miner, fisherman, or other labourer, despite the hardships. Minor trials often are made a grim joke in songs of place: the cold winters of the east Kootenays, the incessant rains of Ocean Falls or Holberg on the west coast. The bitter struggle of miners fighting for the right to have their own unions produced several songs, one of which was recorded 50 years after the events which sparked its creation. The tunes and forms of the songs sometimes are parodies, eg, 'Bring Back My Gillnets to Me'. Generally they use known tunes, such as 'Villikens and His Dinah' (best known on this continent as 'Sweet Betsy from Pike') and 'The Strawberry Roan'. Other tunes, such as 'Climbing up the Golden Stairs' ('Teaming up the Cariboo Road') and 'Are You from Dixie?' ('Are You from Bevan?'), originated in Tin Pan Alley. In all there are some 200 of these songs, some preserved only in manuscript, but many still sung in 1990.

With the revival of interest in the roots of society and a redefining of racial and cultural identities, increasing numbers of these songs are being included in school curricula. Traditional folk music is also the stylistic basis for many contemporary pop artists on the west coast including Spirit of the West, Stephen Fearing, Ferron, Pied Pumpkin, Roy Forbes, and Valdy. The Philip Thomas collection of some 500 songs recorded in British Columbia has been deposited at the British Columbia Archives. See also Ballads; Fiddling; Klondike; Occupational songs.


Breakwater. Lennie Gallant. 1988. Revenant LGC-101 (cass)

Ceildh at the Irish Hall. various artists. 1990. CRO-2

Forerunner. Teresa Doyle. 1991. Bedlam TD-1991

Good Old Maritimes. Jacinta MacDonald. Islander SVC-03590

Island Folk Festival. various artists. 1985. Fox House FH-001

Prince Edward Island, Adieu. Teresa Doyle. 1987. Bedlam TD-1987

Prince Edward Island Fiddlers, vols 1, 2. Islander Records. SVC-002 and SVC-001387

'When Johnny Went Ploughin' for Kearon' and Other Tradtional P.E.I. Folksongs. T. Banks, J. Cousins. 1976. PEI Heritage Foundation


Ives, Edward D. 'Twenty-one folksongs from Prince Edward Island,' Northeast Folklore, vol 5, 1963

- Larry Gorman: The Man Who Made the Songs (Bloomington, Ind 1964)

- Lawrence Doyle: Farmer Poet of Prince Edward Island (Orono, Me 1971)

Dibblee, Randall and Dorothy. Folksongs from Prince Edward Island (Summerside, PEI 1973)

Gledhill, Christopher. Folk Songs of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown 1973)

MacKinnon, Rollie and Belsher, Gordon. The Prince Edward Island Music Series, Vol 1 (Garden Music 1991)


Far Canadian Fields: Companion to the Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs. 1975. Leader LEE-4057

Folksongs of Saskatchewan. 1963. Folk FE-4312

Jigs and Reels: Square Dances without Calls. Folk FW-8826

LaRena Clark: Canadian Garland. 1965. Topic 12T-140

Old Time Couple Dances. Folk FW-8827

Ontario Ballads and Folksongs. 1962. Prestige/International INT-25014

Ontario: 200 Musical Years. Tamarack. 1984. SGB Productions SGB5-1984 (cass)

Songs of an Ontario Family. LaRena Clark. Clark QC-903

Songs of the Canadian North Woods. W. Hemsworth. 1955. Folk FW-6871

Square Dances with Calls. Folk FW-8825

Scatter the Ashes: Music of Old Ontario. Muddy York. 1984. Boot BOS-7244

Tom Brandon of Peterborough, Ontario. 1963. Folk-Legacy FSC-10/CFMS 5-8502 (cass)

Who Liveth So Merry. Paddy Tutty. 1986. Prairie Druid PA-02

See also Discography for Occupational songs.


See also Writings of Edith Fowke; Bibliography for Occupational songs.

Fowke, Edith. 'American cowboy and western pioneer songs in Canada,' Western Folklore, vol 21, Oct 1962

- 'Folk songs in Ontario,' Canadian Literature, vol 16, Spring 1963

- 'British ballads in Ontario,' Midwest Folklore, vol 13, Fall 1963

Cass-Beggs, Barbara. 'Folk song collecting in Saskatchewan,' Sing and String, vol 3, Winter 1964

Fowke, Edith. Traditional Singers and Songs From Ontario (Hatboro, Pa 1965)

- 'A sampling of bawdy ballads from Ontario,' Folklore and Society, ed Bruce Jackson (Hatboro, Pa 1966)

Archer, Violet. 'Alberta and its folklore,' CFMS Newsletter, vol 2, Jul 1967

Cass-Beggs, Barbara. 'Saskatchewan and its folksongs,' ibid

Fowke, Edith. 'Ontario and its folksongs,' ibid

- 'Folk songs of the county,' Peterborough: Land of Shining Waters: An Anthology (Toronto 1967)

Heath, T.G. 'Protest songs of Saskatchewan,' Saskatchewan History, vol 25, no. 3, 1972

Weiss, Michael. 'Songs from western Canada,' CFMJ, vol 1, 1973

Doucette, Laurel. 'An introduction to the Puckett collection of Ontario folklore,' CFMJ, vol 3, 1975

Fowke, Edith. 'Songs of a Manitoba family,' CFMJ, vol 3, 1975

Sarjeant, William A.S. 'Folk music in the Canadian prairies,' Folk R, vol 5, May 1976

Rogers, T.B. 'Is there an Alberta folk music?' CFMJ, vol 6, 1978

Canada Folk Bulletin, issue devoted to folk music in Alberta, vol 1, May-Jun 1978

Hendrikson, C.J. 'English language folk music in Alberta,' CFMJ, vol 10, 1982

Spalding, David '"What we sang down on the farm": a forgotten manuscript on western Canadian singing traditions,' CFMJ, vol 13, 1985

Rahn, Jay 'Guidelines for harmonizing English-language folk songs,' CFMJ, vol 14, 1986; vol 15, 1987

- 'An introduction to English language folk song style: metre, phrasing, rhythm and form in LaRena Clark's traditional songs,' CFMJ, vol 17, 1989


Bunkhouse and Forecastle Songs of the Northwest. S. Triggs. 1961. Folk FG-3569

The Canadian West Coast Sound. Schiehallion. 1982. Schiehallion Records 6RC-02C (cass)

The Vancouver Collection of Scottish Music. Shehallion. 1978. Schiehallion Records SRC-01 (cass)

Where the Fraser River Flows - and Other Songs of the Pacific Northwest. P. Thomas. Skookumchuk Records SR-001


Thomas, Philip J. 'B.C. songs,' B.C. Library Q, vol 26, Jul 1962

- 'The Cariboo wagon road 1858-1968: the opening of a frontier, documents in song,' booklet accompanying tapes of song in a teaching unit on the Cariboo gold rush (Jul 1964)

McTaggart, Margaret Sargent. 'A preliminary survey of folk music in British Columbia, 1965,' CFMS Newsletter, vol 2, Jul 1967

Thomas, Philip J. 'British Canadian folk music in B.C'. British Columbia Music Educator, vol 18, Spring 1975

-'Where the rivers flow,' CFMJ', vol 3, 1975

- Songs of the Pacific Northwest (North Vancouver 1979)

Canada Folk Bulletin, issue devoted to folk music in British Columbia, vol 2, Nov-Dec 1979


Atlantic Folk Festival. 1978. Boot BOS-7202

The Barra MacNeils. World WRC1-4689

Cape Breton Violin Music. John Campbell. 1976. Rounder 7003

Celtic Guitar. David MacIsaac. 1986. Unity U-1002

The Dances Down Home. Joseph Cormier. 1975-6. Rounder 7004

Fare Thee Well Love. Rankin Family. 1990. RF-9001 (CD)

Folk Songs of the Miramichi. 1959. Folk FM-4053

Gaelic Folklore of Cape Breton Island. Rodeo RLP-60

Highland Melodies of Cape Breton. Winnie Chafe. 1979. Rounder 7102

Joseph Cormier: Scottish Violin Music from Cape Breton Island. 1974. Rounder 7001

Maritime Folk Songs. 1962. Folk FE-4307

Miramichi 'Come Alls'. Charlie Slane. 1974. Miramichi Pioneer Production

The Music of Cape Breton. 1978. 2-Topic 12T-353, 12T-354

Nova Scotia Folk Music from Cape Breton. 1955. Elektra EKL-23

Orain Cheap Breatain (songs of Cape Breton). Celtic CX-38

The Rankin Family. 1989. RF-8901

Salute to Cape Breton Island: fiddle tunes and mouth music. Celtic CX-18

Songs and Dances of New Brunswick. P. Lauzon, River String Band. 1984. Iargalon IR-15

Songs from Cape Breton Island. Recorded by Sidney Cowell. 1955. Folk FE-4450

Songs of the Maritimes. A. Mills. 1959. Folk FW-8744

Traditional Folk Songs of Nova Scotia. D. Oxner. 1973. Rodeo RBS-1142

See also Clary Croft; Men of the Deeps


In addition to articles by Creighton listed below, see also Writings for Helen Creighton; Louise Manny.

Mackenzie, W. Roy. 'Ballad-singing in Nova Scotia,' JAF, vol 22, Jul-Sep 1909

- 'Three ballads from Nova Scotia,' ibid, vol 23, Jul-Sep 1910

- 'Ballads from Nova Scotia (continued),' ibid, vol 25 Apr-Jun 1912

MacOdrum, Maxwell M. Nova Scotia Ballads (Halifax, NS 1922)

McCawley, Stuart. Cape Breton Come-All-Ye (Glace Bay, NS 1935, 1966)

Creighton, Helen. 'Ballads from Devil's Island,' Dalhousie R, vol 12, 1933

MacDonald, Alphonse. Cape Breton Songster (Sydney, NS 1935)

Barry, Phillips. 'Songs and traditions of the Miramichi,' Bulletin of the Folksong Society of the Northeast, 3 articles, vol 10, 1935, vol 11, 1936, vol 12, 1937

Creighton, Helen. 'Nova Scotia folk songs,' Nova Scotia J of Education, vol 8, no. 2, 1937

Doerflinger, William. 'Cruising for ballads in Nova Scotia,' Canadian Geographical J, vol 16, Feb 1938

Fahs, Lois Sophia. Swing Your Partner: Old Time Dances of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (Truro, NS 1949)

Senior, Doreen, and Creighton, Helen. 'Songs collected in the province of Nova Scotia, Canada,' J of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol 6, 1951

Creighton, Helen. 'Folk singers of Nova Scotia,' Canadian Forum, vol 32, Jul 1952

- 'The songs of Nathan Hatt,' Dalhousie R, vol 32, Winter 1953

- 'Folk songs in Nova Scotia,' Canon, vol 10, Nov 1956

- 'Songs from Nova Scotia,' J of the International Folk Music Council, vol 12, Jan 1960

Ives, Edward D. 'Satirical songs in Maine and the Maritime provinces of Canada,' ibid, vol 14, Jan 1962

Creighton, Helen. 'Nathan Hatt of Nova Scotia,' Sing Out, vol 13, no. 1, 1963

'A reference list on Canadian folk music,' compiled by Barbara Cass-Beggs and Edith Fowke, CFMJ, vol 1, 1973; rev enlarged vol 6, 1978; rev enlarged vol 11, 1983

Henry, Frances. 'Black music in the Maritimes,' CFMJ, vol 3, 1975

Songs and Stories from Deep Cove, Cape Breton as remembered by Amby Thomas, ed Ron MacEachern (Sydney, NS 1979)

Lobban, Chris. 'Collecting songs in Saint John NB,' Canada Folk Bulletin, vol 3, Jan-Feb 1980

Ruebsaat, Rika. 'Rambles through the Maritimes,' ibid

Fowke, Edith, ed. Sea Songs and Ballads From Nineteenth-Century Nova Scotia (New York 1981)

McCormick, C. 'Maritime folk song as popular culture: an applied study in discourse and social relations,' CUMR, 5, 1984

MacGillivray, Allister. A Cape Breton Ceílídh (Sydney, NS 1988)

Ives, Edward D. Folksongs of New Brunswick (Fredericton, NB 1989)

MacGillivray, Allister. The Nova Scotia Song Collection (Sydney,NS 1989)

External Links