Come to Me in Canada

Come to Me in CanadaThis album contains a selection of Canadian songs, many of which speak directly of life in this country. The songs can be divided into three rough categories: traditional songs, composed songs that have entered the oral tradition, and composed songs whose makers are known.

The oldest traditional songs in Canada are those that were sung in the old country and survived in the new world. The earliest of these are many of the songs of French Canada, passed on over the course of nearly four centuries. The Scottish and Irish immigrants to the Atlantic provinces also came with a wealth of songs such as “The Unquiet Grave” and “The Kangaroo”. Life in the new world made its mark on the songs as they began to reflect new conditions. A song of lost love gains a chorus and becomes a paddling song in the fur trade. A song about a prisoner of war (“Prison de Londres”) is sped up and becomes a dance tune. Often new songs about life in Canada are made to traditional melodies. The loggers in the eastern lumbering woods were predominantly Irish and French-Canadian and carried with them many songs and tunes. Out of their experiences grew such songs as “The Lumberman’s Alphabet” and “Nous sommes trois frères”. Songmaking in the west, on the other hand, was influenced by American musical traditions, giving rise to such songs as “’Twas Out in Alberta”, to the tune of “Sweet Betsy from Pike”.

The Logdriver’s Waltz (Wade Hemsworth) 2:08
Nous sommes trois frères (trad.) 1:25
Willie Drowned in Ero (trad. Child 215) 4:04
Peter Amberley (John Calhoun) 2:09
Dondaine la ridaine (trad.) 2:13
The Lumberman’s Alphabet
(trad) 3:44
listen to mp3
The Kangaroo (trad.) 1:39
The Ballad of Springhill Disaster
(Peggy Seeger) 2:59
’Twas Out in Alberta (anon.) 1:39
Dans la prison de Londres
(trad.) 1:39
Henry Hudson (Chris Rawlings, Cooking Fat Music) 2:41
Mussels in the Corner (trad.) 2:31
The Unquiet Grave
(trad. Child 78) 2:22
Come to Me in Canada (anon.) 4:24
Le sirop d’érable (tune: Ward Allen,
words: Jean Pierre LaChance) 2:06
Piano – Murray Shoolbraid
Concertina – Bob Webb
Viola – Keith Malcolm
Button accordion & chorus singing
– Fred Weihs
Guitar and clogging – Rika Ruebsaat
Bass – Paul Newman
Recorded in 1979 by Hal Beckett at Entmoot Studios. Remixed and “Nous sommes trois frères” and “The Unquiet Grave” recorded in 2003 by Jim Woodyard at Creation Studios.
Cover photo taken by Rika Ruebsaat, Saint-Casimir, near Trois Riviéres, PQ.
young farmhand with scythe
farmworkers harvesting wheat
three masted sailing ship
Sometimes songmakers made such good songs that the song was passed on orally and its source was forgotten. “Peter Amberley” is such a song.
Contemporary songmakers are still composing songs that reflect life in Canada. The best of these was Wade Hemsworth (1916-2002), maker of such songs as “The Black Fly Song”, “The Wild Goose” and “The Logdriver’s Waltz”. Without the aid of frequent radio play and record sales, Wade’s songs have been widely sung and passed on for decades, because they speak plainly and eloquently about life in this country.
Songs of the Lumbering Woods
Four of the songs—“The Logdriver’s Waltz”, “Peter Amberley”, “Nous sommes trois frères” and “The Lumberman’s Alphabet”—reflect the early days of logging in eastern Canada. Logging was a task of winter; in the summer, many loggers worked on their farms, worked in town or signed on as seamen on the tall ships. In the fall, they headed up to the logging camps (les chanquiers). Trees were felled with axes and saws and the logs loaded onto horse-drawn sledges and pulled along ice “roads” to the riverbank. All winter, the piles of logs along the river rose higher and higher. When the ice went off the rivers in the spring, the logs were rolled into the water and floated downstream to the sawmills. This was the log drive (la drave) and the most dangerous part of the season’s work. With their pike poles and peavies in hand, the loggers often had to walk out on the floating logs to keep them moving. When the logs got caught up, the loggers had to “turn over” the logjam, a dangerous and often fatal job. This method of logging was carried out all over eastern North America throughout the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century.
The Logdriver’s Waltz
This song by Wade Hemsworth describes the light-footedness of the loggers who walked on the logs as they floated downstream. It was said that a logdriver who was really light on his feet on the river could “ride the bubbles to shore”. The song was the origin of and music to a famous NFB short film. “Burling” means keeping your balance on a rolling log.
Nous sommes trois frères
This song tells the sad story of three brothers who head up to the logging camps to work. One of them is drowned one Sunday morning while running the logs downstream on the log drive. He laments the absence of a priest and the sorrow of his family at his death. Many eastern logging camp songs speak of the very bad luck attending those who worked on Sundays. Marius Barbeau collected the song from Philéas Bédard shortly after World War I.
Willie Drowned in Ero (Child 215)
Ballads are songs that tell stories, and “Child” ballads are those collated by Professor Child and published in the late nineteenth century as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. We learned this ballad (known in Scotland as “Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow”) from the singing of Ian Robb, who had it from the version collected by Edith Fowke from Mrs. Eva Bigrow of Calumet, Quebec in 1964.
Peter Amberley
John Calhoun (1848-1939) of Boiestown, NB, who had known Amberley, made this song. It soon entered oral tradition, and variants have been found throughout the Maritimes. Falling limbs such as the one that killed Peter Amberley were known as “widow-makers”.
Dondaine la ridaine
A traditional Quebecois song about a young woman who refuses a shoemaker’s love because she is afraid he might prick her with his awl. We learned it from the adaptation made by Rêve du Diable’s Gervais Lessard.
The Lumberman’s Alphabet
Versions of this song were sung in logging camps throughout eastern North America, and as the “Sailor’s Alphabet”, by English-speaking sailors all over the world. This one comes from the Miramichi region of New Brunswick. The ’I’ is for ile we burn in our lamps points to its origin among loggers of Irish extraction.
The Kangaroo
Most versions of this song are about a “carrion crow” being shot at by a tailor. Somehow, in the process of oral transmission the crow became a kangaroo. Helen Creighton collected this particular version in Nova Scotia.
The Ballad Of Springhill Disaster
Made by Peggy Seeger, this song describes a coalmining disaster in Nova Scotia. Springhill is a coalmining village and on October 23, 1958, the No. 2 Colliery was the site of a huge explosion, which killed seventy-five miners.
’Twas Out in Alberta
Katy Johnston with dog team in front of her homestead in northern Alberta, around 1943 Most traditional songs from the Prairies complain of the near impossibility of survival in the face of hardships. Vicious weather, pests and loneliness forced many off their homesteads. This song, collected by Jon’s old singing partner Al Grierson (1948-2000) in Vancouver in 1977, was first published in Canada Folk Bulletin I-3, and is typical of the genre.
Dans la prison de Londres
Versions of this song about the prisoner who is freed by the jailer’s daughter have been collected throughout French Canada. In some versions, the prison is in Nantes rather than London.
Henry Hudson
Henry Hudson made four voyages to the Arctic to seek a passage to the Orient. On the final voyage in June 1611, his crew mutinied and cast Hudson adrift in a small boat in the bay named after him. With him were seven “poor, sick, lame men” and his son John. In the early 1970’s, Chris Rawlings saw John Collier’s painting The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, and was moved to make this song.
Mussels in the Corner
One of the most-recorded dance tunes in Newfoundland, there appears to be no trace of it in print until its publication in Canada Folk Bulletin in 1978. Torbay is a town along the coast a few miles north of St. John’s, and you’re a Bayman if you live on the coast but not in St. John’s.
The Unquiet Grave (Child 78)
Grief at the loss of a lover is the subject of many ballads, of which this is one of the finest. Variants of this song have been collected throughout Britain and North America; the Greenleaf and Mansfield Expedition collected this Newfoundland version from Mrs. Rosie White in 1929.
Come to Me in Canada
picture of Dunn CabinWe learned this song from the singing of Walter Pardon of Norfolk, England, thanks to the collecting work of Michael Yates. Walter had heard it from a cousin in the early 1930’s, who had himself learned it before World War I. It was probably composed to be sung in the English Music Halls to encourage immigration to the Canadian west.
Le sirop d’érable
The tune is by Ward Allen of the Ottawa Valley, and has entered the oral tradition among both franco- and anglophone fiddlers. The words, by Jean Pierre LaChance of the group Rêve du Diable, describe a sugaring-off expedition followed by a party.