Rika Ruebsaat ~ I grew up singing German folk songs with my family. My dad played guitar and sang songs he’d learned from his dad who was a singer and a collector of traditional songs in Germany. When we came to Canada in 1952, folk songs in English became part of our family repertoire, learned mostly from Burl Ives records. In 1960, we began attending the Folk Song Circle, which, except for a five-year interruption while traveling and working in repertory theater, I have been attending ever since. In the mid 1970’s I sang and toured with Jack Nissenson and by myself, singing Canadian folk songs (see Singing in Fernie.
Jon Bartlett ~ My singing history begins with being a choirboy in a high Anglican church, followed shortly thereafter by hearing singers on the Aldermaston to London anti-bomb marches of the early sixties. The songs I learned there, mostly Scottish parodies of American folk tunes, drew me to British folk clubs, my local being the Stanford in Brighton. The first song I ever led there was “Solidarity Forever!”. I found the Vancouver Folk Song Society within weeks of emigrating to Canada in 1968, and I’ve been a member ever since. It was through the Folk that I met and began to work with Phil Thomas, on his collection of BC songs, and then on his book, Songs of the Pacific Northwest.
Jon and Rika met at the VFSS, where they were (and still are) active as singers. They were made Honorary Life Members in 2000 for their years spent as organizers and board members. They began singing together in 1976. At the time they focused primarily on Canadian folk songs and presented workshops to teachers and students from Kindergarten to the post-graduate level. Their educational work culminated in 1979 with the production of Songs and Stories of Canada, a sixteen-part radio series for the CBC schools’ broadcast. In 1980 they produced The Green Fields of Canada, an LP of Canadian folk songs extracted from the radio shows.
During this time Jon and Rika were active in Canadian folk songs on a national level. They sang at folk festivals and folk clubs across the country and in the US. They published Canada Folk Bulletin, a bi-monthly national magazine about folk music. They were active in the Canadian Folk Music Society, Jon serving as president and Rika as secretary, and were editors of the Society’s magazine, The Canadian Folk Music Bulletin.
Frustrated by the beginner-level educational workshops they were continually forced to give because of limited schools budgets, Jon and Rika decided in 1981 to train as teachers so they could pursue the incorporation of Canadian folk songs into the curriculum (see “Songs and a Sense of Place”). Rika became a Music specialist and then a classroom teacher in Surrey, BC (from where she retired in 2007) and Jon became a classroom teacher in Vancouver and later a researcher on First Nations issues.
Jon and Rika have incorporated singing into political action. Over the years they have sung at many marches, demonstrations and picket lines. In the early eighties they were involved in BC’s Solidarity movement against Bill Bennett’s budget cuts. They were founding members of Cultural Workers Against the Budget (CWAB), which organized the 70,000 strong march and rally of October, 1983.
From 1991 to 1999 Jon and Rika were involved in organizing CityFest, a cultural festival presenting the music, dance, visual and spoken arts of Vancouver area ethnic and community groups. Jon was co-ordinator of the festival for its last four years.
Jon and Rika have always had a great interest in the singing and study of traditional ballads. They have put together an archive of cassettes of the traditional ballads from the F.J. Child collection and for two years they ran a ballad study group. They presented a paper about the origins and meanings of the ballad Lamkin (Child 93) at the International Ballad Commission conference in 2002 at Austin, TX, and occasionally give guest lectures at local universities.
Following their move to Princeton in June 2007, they founded and organized the annual Princeton Traditional Music Festival, held each August.
They are also active in their local Museum, where they researched for the CD Now It’s Called Princeton: Songs and Stories of BC’s Upper Similkameen (2008), a fundraiser for the Festival, and their book on local vernacular culture Dead Horse on the Tulameen: Settler Verse from BC’s Similkameen Valley (2011). The Museum was also a major source for their history of the 1932-33 Princeton miner’s strike, Soviet Princeton.
In 2009, Jon and Rika carried out research at Selkirk College, Castlegar, into local vernacular culture in the West Kootenays. They collected over 3,500 items of poems and songs from over sixty newspapers published between 1891 and 1916.