The Young Man from Canada

The Young Man from Canada cd coverPhil Thomas ~ This CD features the collecting work of Phil Thomas, a folklorist deeply attached to the historical and cultural roots of his native province. The PJ Thomas Collection, now housed in the Provincial Sound Archives, comprises the material he himself collected between 1954 and 1975. Some of the material saw print in the publication of Songs of the Pacific Northwest (Saanichton: Hancock House Publishers, 1979: 2nd revised and enlarged edition, 2007) and more was released on his LP, Where the Fraser River Flows (1980).

The European development of BC occurred very late in the history of traditional folk music, and much of the material Thomas collected was not at first glance folk music at all. Where were the Child ballads and the love lyrics, so ubiquitous in the eastern provinces? In their place, Thomas presented a mélange of Tin Pan Alley and hymn tunes, with textual reworkings from the same sources, often so full of technical talk (see Taku Miners) as to be all but incomprehensible.

Young British Rancher 2:26
The Truckdriver’s Song
(M.K. Papov) 2:04
Taku Miners 2:54
Stormalong 1:31
Song of the Sockeye
(Cumbers & Thomas) 3:55
Gold Rush Songs
I’m a Young Man from Canada 3:36
Old Faro 2:20
Know Ye the Land? 3:15
Teaming up the Cariboo Road 1:51
Klondike! 1:32
Logging Songs
Way Up the Ucletaw 2:00
listen to mp3
The Greenhorn Song (Pollard) 3:01
The Oda G. (Stanley G. Triggs) 2:48
Railway Songs
Drill Ye Tarriers Drill! 1:52
The Kettle Valley Line (Ean Hay) 2:31
The PGE Song (Keith Crowe) 2:19
Banjo and harmonies — Bob Webb
Piano — Murray Shoolbraid
Concertina — Bob Webb and Rika Ruebsaat
Viola — Keith Malcolm
Guitar – Rika Ruebsaat
Recorded in 1979 by Hal Beckett at Entmoot Studios. Remixed and Know Ye the Land? recorded in 2003 by Jim Woodyard at Creation Studios.
Cover photo of fishing boats in Bella Coola by Nola Johnston.
sailor carrying pot of tar
hunter with dog
clip of train in exciting forced perspective
But what Thomas showed in his collection was that the history of folk song in this most westernmost province was a history of struggle: the struggle to harvest and mine the natural resources (fish, timber, coal and metals), the struggle between the early capitalists and their work forces, and the struggle with the landform itself, allowing such easy access from the south and resisting it from the east.
That this material was folk song was not quickly accepted, and Thomas argued that the same characteristics (anonymity, wide dispersal, variant texts) are found both in traditional folk song and in the songs he himself collected in BC. He looked to the functional reasons for these characteristics: a work force that was mobile, that was more attuned (because of its mobility) to industrial organization than what the Wobblies called the home guard, and that was familiar with the world of commercial song. It was natural that they should themselves remake these songs to speak of new conditions.
The songs in his collection are in the main from logging camps, from fishermen and from the constantly roaming hard rock miners, men who until just yesterday formed the overwhelming majority of the male working population. To these categories might be added songs of transportation–of railways, tugboats and wagon roads–songs of the armed forces (mostly rude squibs about military conditions) and songs made by Wobblies (the BC name for the Industrial Workers of the World, a union/party made by and for those who did not fit the polite labour unionism of the time). The songs he collected are overwhelmingly male-made and -sung. If there was ever a body of material made by women of their equally hard but much more lonely work, Thomas never found it.
Rika & Jon with Phil Thomas (centre), 1982. (Henk Piket) Thomas himself led three very rewarding and interesting careers: as an art teacher, dedicated to the notion that art was something for the masses, not the classes, and the first President of the BC Art Teachers Association: as a collector, until his death in 2007 the Honorary President of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music; and as a creative singer and musician, who in 1959 was one of the founders of the Vancouver Folk Song Society, the oldest such society in Canada and one of the oldest in north America. His insistence that BC’s heritage of folk song should not simply moulder on paper in books and archives, that it is a living and creative force, and an expression not simply of the province’s past but also of its present, has animated many singers, not least the two who, under his guidance and with his blessing, made in 1980 the radio series titled Songs and Stories of Canada, sixteen half-hour shows for schools, from which the songs on this CD are drawn. We hope that we have done the songs justice.
The Songs
The European settlement of British Columbia took place primarily in the nineteenth century. The musical traditions on which songmakers drew were those of that period–popular songs of Tin Pan Alley and religious songs. The songs on this CD reflect that tradition. Many of them have melodies borrowed from well-known songs of the day.
The Young British Rancher
A reworking of Kipling’s Young British Soldier. Sons of well-to-do English families, supported with regular cash transfers from ‘home’, were called remittance men. They were able to ‘play-act’ at being ranchers, much to the annoyance of their hardworking neighbours.
The Truck Driver’s Song
M. K. (Mutt) Papov, a logging truck driver from Nakusp, made this song in the 1960’s to share his feelings about trucks and driving them.
Taku Miners
From the singing of Bill and Audrey Lore, Tahsis, 1972. The chorus describes the process of drilling holes for blasting. The verses describe the placing of the explosives in the drilled holes and the counting of the shots to ensure they are all fired properly. During the song, Frank Columbus of the Britannia Mine describes drilling and blasting procedures.
A pumping and capstan shanty learned from the singing of Capt. Charles Cates (1899-1960) of North Vancouver, who most probably had it from his friend Capt. George W. Robarts (1870-1952). Accompanying the song is the fall of the capstan’s pawl as the capstan is turned.
Song of the Sockeye
This song, originally a poem made in 1939 by Ross Cumbers, and with a tune from Phil Thomas, describes the life of gillnet sockeye fishers in the 1930’s. The fishers, who worked in small, cramped boats, often started (and ended) the season in debt to the canneries.
Gold Rush Songs
The Young Man from Canada
During the Cariboo gold rush of the 1860’s, many young men came from Canada (what is now Ontario and Quebec) to the goldfields, sailing around Cape Horn to San Francisco, up the coast to Victoria and thence to the head of Harrison Lake. From there, they hiked the Douglas Way, over the mountains via Lillooet to the Cariboo. This song, which ‘sends up’ the experiences of many would-be miners, is from Sawney’s Letters and Cariboo Rhymes, with a final couplet by Phil Thomas. “Div” in the last-but-one verse is dividend, and Wake Up Jake’s a well-known destination for a miner in search of a ‘bully square’, a good square meal.
Old Faro
Also from Sawney’s Letters and Cariboo Rhymes. Phil Thomas noted that the professional gamblers with their faro and monte tables lived off the miners, and nothing effectively hampered their games in Barkerville until in 1868 a magistrate’s order prohibited them from operating in any room attached to a public saloon–thus this mock elegy to the game. A gambler could afford a clean “paper collar” in contrast to the miner’s muddy, sweaty rags. To “freeze me out” in the fifth verse means to outbluff.
Know Ye the Land?
Words from a manuscript in the Provincial Archives, tune adapted by Phil Thomas from an 1835 hymn. This song is surely one of the most graphic and bitter musical tributes to the Cariboo gold rush. “Trusting to jaw” (short for ‘jawbone’) means selling on credit. Matthew Baillie Begbie was the first judge of the new colony of British Columbia from 1858 and through the Cariboo gold rush.
Chilcotin region of B C
Teaming up the Cariboo Road
A reworking of the Tin Pan Alley minstrel song Climbing up the Golden Stairs. The Henry Currie referred to in the song drove freight wagons on the Ashcroft-Barkerville road. The ball at Clinton refers to a great mid-winter get-together where the song was no doubt heard.
From the singing of Capt. Charles Cates, Vancouver, 1959, and learned from his father. The song was popular in the English music halls of the time. Moodyville was the location of Sue Moody’s sawmill in what is now North Vancouver.
Logging Songs
Way up the Ucletaw
From the singing of Ed Dalby, Campbell River, 1959, with the first stanza by Phil Thomas. Ucletaw is the Yuculta Rapids, up the coast from Vancouver. Loggers supplied their own blankets. Pitchbacks are Douglas fir, so called because the bottom of the tree collects pitch. The early loggers stood on springboards, often several meters above the ground, so they could chop above the pitch. The song is preceded by the sounds of a two-man saw at work and shouts of timber! and down the hill! drawn from Robert Swanson’s aural archives.
The Greenhorn Song
By Dick Pollard of Argenta, BC who logged in ‘that Duncan country’, the area north of Kootenay Lake, before the Duncan Dam was built. High lead logging is a method of getting felled trees out of the tangle of a cut block. A ‘spar tree’ (a tall, strong tree from which all limbs are chopped) is rigged with blocks and cables. The cables are connected to an engine, steam- or diesel-driven. From the cables hang sixteen-foot choker cables, which the chokerman hooks around the logs. The whistle punk signals the donkey-puncher, who throws the engine into gear. The cable lifts the choked logs off the ground and hauls them in to the ‘cold deck’ at the base of the spar tree. The donkey engine sounds here are again drawn from Bob Swanson’s archives.
The Oda G.
By Stanley G. Triggs (and on his Folkways album Shanties & Forecastle Songs of the Northwest FG 3569). Stan worked on tugboats (including this one) in the 1960’s.
Boats docked in Bella Coola, B C
Railway Songs
Drill ye Tarriers Drill!
There are many versions of this song throughout North America, referring to many different railways. Many of the workers who built the railway were Irish. The work was hard and dangerous, and the conditions in the BC mountains so vile that some workers risked their lives trying to escape down the Fraser Canyon. Premature explosions were common.
The Kettle Valley Line
About the railway running from Hope, BC to Lethbridge, Alberta. Ean Hay made the song from the experiences of his father at the end of the First World War. From the 1880’s to the 1930’s, it was common practice for workers to travel throughout North America in this way, looking for work. ‘Railway bulls’ (railway police) often kicked men off the trains and threw them into ‘the local stir’ (jail).
The PGE Song
Another railway song, about the Pacific Great Eastern (later called BC Rail) which runs from Vancouver to Prince George This song was made by Keith Crowe, who worked on the Dease Lake extension of the PGE at Summit Lake in 1949. The railway was begun in 1912 and was not finished by 1949, so people provided new words for its initials — “Past God’s Endurance”, “Please Go Easy”, “Prince George Eventually” and the like. The expression “When the PGE goes through” became a byword for interminable procrastination.