Helen Creighton and the Folk Song in Nova Scotia

Chris Greencorn
22 min readFeb 2, 2018


Chapter Two, The Folk Song in Nova Scotia and Stan Rogers’ Fogarty’s Cove

“Mr. Grace Clergy, Mr. Freeman Young, Mr. Bernard Young, at East Petpeswick” [1952, Creighton seated at right] (E.A. Bollinger Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1975–317/52160–7)

A revised version of my honours thesis at Saint Francis Xavier University, accepted April 2016. I was supervised by Dr. Laurie Stanley-Blackwell (StFX), and my second reader was Dr. Ian Rocksborough-Smith (now of University of the Fraser Valley). If you have feedback you’d like to share, feel free to write me at chris.greencorn [at] mail.utoronto.ca or find me on Twitter (@chrisgreencorn).

On October 15, 1975, a year an a half before the release of his first LP, Stan Rogers appeared on John Allan Cameron’s CTV television special, a musical variety show broadcast out of Montreal. At twenty-five years old, Rogers was already losing much of his hair and sporting a large beard, which made him appear much older than his host. Slinging a Guild dreadnought guitar, Rogers was sheepish delivering the scripted dialogue, but came around when he and Cameron played the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” leading into the first commercial break. During the rest of the program, Rogers played two songs — “Acadian Saturday Night” and “Watching the Apples Grow” — with friend and guitarist Paul Mills, brimming with the energy that would mark his later performances. For the final number, the three men lined up at the front of the set.

“Let’s see if everybody remembers this song,” was Cameron’s introduction.

Screen capture from John Allan Cameron’s CTV program, October 15, 1975 (link)

“Calling the tune” was unnecessary. Cameron, with his characteristic lisp and Cape Breton lilt, started into the first verse of “Farewell to Nova Scotia,” the quintessentially Nova Scotian song published by the folklorist Helen Creighton in her 1950 collection, Traditional Songs From Nova Scotia.¹ Rogers sang the second verse, Cameron the third, and the three men — Rogers, Cameron, and Mills — joined in together on the final two choruses. Rogers harmonized and Mills played some nimble bluegrass licks, before Cameron ended the song with a tag of the last line of the chorus, a flourish of natural harmonics, and a celebratory whoop. Cameron then closed the show with an appeal to the audience to “have fun and be good to one another,” and to join him and Rogers in the chorus of his trademark song, “Lord of the Dance.”²

As it appears in Creighton’s 1950 publication, entitled the “Nova Scotia Song,” “Farewell to Nova Scotia” is a composite of songs from seven different singers. The tune to which Creighton’s version was set was provided by one of these sources, Mrs. Dennis Greenough. In Creighton’s introduction, she says that the song was taught in schools in Petpeswick and in neighbouring Chezzetcook, and popular among the people Creighton interviewed, but that the song’s author was not known.³ Linda Christine Craig’s article “The Scottish Origins of ‘Farewell to Nova Scotia’” (1978) traces the song back to the Scottish “weaver-poet” Robert Tannahill and his “The Soldier’s Adieu” (1808), through a few intermediary broadside and chapbook publications. Although clearly the product of the trimming and alterations common to orally transmitted culture, “Nova Scotia Song” is remarkably similar to Tannahill’s song.⁴

In the 1960s, Catherine McKinnon popularized the “Nova Scotia Song”/“Farewell to Nova Scotia” on CBC Halifax’s Singalong Jubilee, and it became the show’s theme song quickly after its debut.⁵ Having received little individual attention among Creighton’s other songs prior, Singalong Jubilee broadcast “Farewell to Nova Scotia” into the homes of thousands across Canada. Likely more than any other factor, Singalong Jubilee cemented the song in the national consciousness as an expression intrinsically representative of Nova Scotia. By the mid-1970s, it was a natural choice of song for Cameron, a Cape Bretoner, and Rogers, who sang primarily about Nova Scotia, to sing together.

The story of “Farewell to Nova Scotia” encapsulates a number of themes that will be explored in this chapter. It helps to introduce the essentialist framework that drove Creighton and her predecessors to find “true” folk music sheltered from the corrupting influences of modernity. It also highlights the difficulties in defining authenticity and authorship of folk songs, as well as the prevalence of popular forms like the broadside in the canon of Nova Scotian traditional music. Finally, and most importantly, it makes clear the highly permeable barrier between popular music and folk song in the twentieth century. This chapter will examine Helen Creighton’s folk song collecting and publishing activities between 1928, when she found her first traditional ballad, and 1975, when her autobiography, A Life in Folklore, was published, in order to isolate her prescriptive definition of “folk song,” which will then be used to contextualize Stan Rogers’ Fogarty’s Cove.

Helen Creighton was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in 1899.⁶ She was a sixth-generation Haligonian, in one of Halifax’s oldest families: A sixteen-year-old James Creighton was reputedly the first to step off Lieutenant General Edward Cornwallis’ ship at Kjipuktuk in 1749.⁷ “The family [had] never been wealthy,” she wrote in 1975, “but [had] always been able to live comfortably.”⁸ Their existence was comfortable enough to send young Helen to the Halifax Ladies’ College, where she studied from April 1914 until the spring of 1916. After graduating, Creighton enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and served as a driver for personnel in the last six months of the First World War. In 1920, she drove with the Red Cross in a public health caravan. However, her aspiration was to write.

“Robert, Carlos, Margaret, Helen C., Doyla, Guadalajara” [1923] (Helen Creighton/ Nova Scotia Archives Album 12 no. 307)

The journalistic career that would bring Creighton to Devil’s Island, at the eastern tip of Halifax Harbour, in 1928, began in 1923 when her brother, Thomas McCully (“Mac”) Creighton, invited her to Mexico where he had opened a medical practice in the capital city. She obliged, and after some time took a position teaching at a girls’ school in Guadalajara. There began writing for Maclean’s magazine as a foreign correspondent. She attracted the positive attention of some publishers, and at the end of her teaching contract returned to Nova Scotia to pursue writing seriously. In 1926, Creighton read from her own stories under the pseudonym “Aunt Helen” on CHNS, Halifax’s Canadian Radio Broadcasting Corporation (CRBC) station. An invitation to the Canadian Authors’ Association convention later that year and some counsel from Douglas MacKay, then the parliamentary press secretary, convinced her to relocate to Ottawa, but by 1928, she was back home in Dartmouth. Motivated by the popularity of her Nova Scotian-themed stories in Ontario, she returned to be closer to the source of her inspiration. The reality of keeping up her fledgling career from afar, however, was less romantic.

Seeking guidance in this pursuit, she turned to Dr. Henry Munro. In her autobiography, Creighton wrote that she could not remember why she called upon him specifically, but Croft, in his biography of Creighton released in 1999, stated that Munro was Nova Scotia’s Superintendent of Education at the time and had developed an educational radio program for CHNS to “keep alive the local and national songs of the people of Nova Scotia.”⁹ “Munro,” Croft continued, “saw a young writer in need of direction.”¹⁰ Perhaps aware of Creighton’s success with writing on Nova Scotia for an Upper Canadian readership, he pressed a copy of W. Roy Mackenzie’s brand new Ballads and Sea Songs of Nova Scotia into her hands. Creighton recalled Munro’s advice was that “[she] might do for the rest of the province what Dr. Mackenzie had done for the River John and Tatamagouche areas,” and make her fortune in the process.¹¹

As luck would have it, shortly thereafter Creighton was invited to dinner in Eastern Passage (southeast of Dartmouth, at the end of the western shore of Halifax Harbour) where, during an evening stroll on the beach, she met Mike Matthews, a local and her first informant. “[I]n that easy way one does in the country,” she struck up a conversation, and eventually asked, “Has treasure ever been found along this shore?”

His response was comical at first, but then piqued Creighton’s interest. “Yes,” Matthews said, telling one story he had heard from the “old people” about a boy finding a golden “double loon [doubloon],” and then another of talking oxen frightening their owner to death for prophesying his demise. Matthews told Creighton that the “old people” sang songs, too. Creighton asked of what sort, and Matthews’ exhilarating response was “pirate songs.”¹² He directed her to Hartlan’s Point, farther up along the coast. The answer to Creighton’s question was to become manifestly clear: “I asked [Matthews] to advise the Hartlans of my coming, little realizing that a great new door had been opened and that the Eastern Passage road had become my path of destiny.”[13]

The Hartlans were of German descent, and in A Life in Folklore, Creighton describes her first visit to their compound of small wooden houses and outbuildings primarily in terms of the patriarch’s superstitious preoccupation with witches and ghosts. However, on a return visit, she and Dr. Stanley Walker (“later President of the University of Kings College”) were more successful and coaxed out a unique tune, “When I Was a Young Man I Took Delight in Love,” which in 1975 had neither been collect from another source nor published in any books other than her own. Nevertheless, Creighton, in the spirit of ballad collectors before her, was most interested in Child ballads. The Hartlans provided, producing “Turkish Lady,” “Flying Cloud,” and “When I Was in my Prime,” a variant of “The Seeds of Love.” But for all their songs, they repeated: “You should go to Devil’s Island and get Ben Henneberry to sing. That’s where you’d get the songs.”¹⁴

“Ben Henneberry, Devil’s Island” [ca. 1928] (Helen Creighton/Nova Scotia Archives Album 14 no. 1)

The Henneberrys, along with the Faulkners and the Youngs, seem to have been the only families on Devil’s Island, and between the three tended two lighthouses. The island itself was little more than a thinly vegetated rock jutting slightly above sea level, and hardly more than a mile in circumference. Situated off the western shore of the mouth of Halifax Harbour, ten miles as the crow flies from Citadel Hill, Creighton wrote that “[i]t seemed unreal, this setting so near home, yet so remote… It was like stepping into a different world.” Taken readily into the homes of the families she found there, the trip to Devil’s Island furnished Creighton with her first experience of W. Roy Mackenzie’s “total effect.” She recalled in A Life in Folklore Ben Henneberry’s rendition of “Meagher’s Children”:

Like wraiths they slipped between fish houses and sat on barrels, lobster pots, or wherever they could find a perch, and sometimes Aunt Jane [Faulkner]’s high quavering voice would join the singer’s. They were torn between sympathy for the lost children and pride in their singer. Then Mr. Gordon Young sang about the Ghostly Sailors who, when the boat that rammed their vessel next sailed over the spot where they had drowned, had come aboard and taken over.¹⁵

Neither “Meagher’s Children” nor “The Ghostly Sailors” were Child ballads, but Creighton would certainly have recognized that this was the very same phenomenon that Mackenzie described in Quest of the Ballad, and that she had found a mother lode within sight of the city of Halifax. She returned many times before the residents of Devil’s Island were relocated during the Second World War.¹⁶ From Ben Hennebery alone she collected more than ninety songs.¹⁷

Nevertheless, Creighton dithered about committing to folk song collecting as a “vocation.”¹⁸ Her decision-making was more than likely helped along by the encouragement of Archibald MacMechan — W. Roy Mackenzie’s professor at Dalhousie University, and former president of the Canadian Authors’ Association — who seemed interested, if not exactly enthusiastic, and recommended she seek out his colleague and fellow folklorist M. M. MacOdrum to provide scholarly notes for the songs.¹⁹ Duly, she sent away her work to MacOdrum at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. In July 1929, she wrote to J. Murray Gibbon, CPR publicity agent and organizer of numerous cultural festivals across the country, who was organizing a Sea Music Festival in Vancouver that year.²⁰ Gibbon’s response was prophetic: “The market for this picking up of folksongs,” he wrote, “is not, I fear, remunerative in itself, but if you can weave a good story around it, you can sell anything.” In the end, he bought six “pirate songs” from her at ten dollars a piece (or roughly $850 CAD, inflation adjusted, just before the onset of the Great Depression).²¹

MacOdrum, grieving the death of his wife, was unable fulfill her request. On the advice of Marius Barbeau, a well-known Francophone folklore collector at the National Museum of Canada, Creighton retrieved the manuscript and set about doing them herself. She was directed by the president of the Canadian Author’s Association to Dr. John Robins, professor of English at Victoria College, University of Toronto. Robins showed the enthusiasm that MacMechan had not, and found Creighton a spare office at the College, provided her with his personal library of folk song collections and directions on citing them, and checked her work, and as well arranged borrowing privileges for her at the Toronto Public Library. This considerable intervention was instrumental in the publication of Creighton’s first book, Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia (1932).²²

Yet a formidable obstacle hindered Creighton: her relative lack of musical training, which prevented her from quickly taking down the tune to the songs she collected. Until the publication of Songs and Ballads of Nova Scotia, Creighton made use of a friend’s melodeon — a reed organ of a similar size and outward appearance to the Indian harmonium — to pick out the melody, note by note, and thereafter write down the melody, once she had learned to play it. This cumbersome process had its flaws, which Creighton admitted in her introduction to Songs and Ballads of Nova Scotia: “To the musician whose ear is trained so that he can write the notes on paper without need of musical instrument this must seem a very strange method of collecting, but untrained for this task as I was, I had to do the best I could.”²³ In spite of this solution to the immediate problem, Creighton’s transcriptions were often erroneous. She called upon a contact in Halifax, Campbell McInnes, who enlisted the help of Healey Willan of the Royal Conservatory of Music and the soon-to-be-knighted composer, conductor, and organist, Ernest MacMillan, to rectify her notation.²⁴

“Walter Roast and Doreen Senior noting tune of ‘The Kangaroo’” [ca. 1935] (Helen Creighton/ Nova Scotia Archives Album 14 no. 34

A breakthrough on this front came in the fall of 1932 when, after the Nova Scotia Summer Institute, Creighton was introduced to their invited instructor Doreen Senior. Senior was an accomplished musician and, as a member of the English Folk Song and Dance Society, shared Creighton’s interest in ballad collecting.²⁵ Following the 1932 and 1933 Summer Institutes, the two made trips, the first throughout the mainland of Nova Scotia and on to Cape Breton, and the second up the Atlantic coast northeast of Halifax to Chezzetcook and Petpeswick.²⁶ During the 1932 trip, they collected the “Nova Scotia Song,” though both “were so steeped in the English tradition that [neither thought] anything locally composed could have much value, and,” perhaps throwing her new friend “under the bus,” so to speak,“[Senior] didn’t consider it a folk song.”²⁷ Senior was always constricted for time before her inevitable return to England, but her musical training allowed her to transcribe the singers by ear, rapidly increasing the number of songs that could be collected in one trip as well as the quality of the transcriptions. Senior would return in 1937 and 1939 to collect with Creighton, but the onset of the Second World War in September 1939 saw her premature departure on the latter trip.²⁸

In 1942, Creighton attended the Institute for Folklore at Indiana University with the assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation. The following year, she returned to Nova Scotia with some training in folklore studies and an acetate disc recorder from the Library of Congress, which she utilized through 1943–44.²⁹ In 1945, she had prepared some research notes for the songs she had collected with Doreen Senior to present to Marius Barbeau at the National Museum, which were well received. In 1947, she began work at the National Museum under Barbeau, and by 1949, the manuscript for Traditional Songs from Nova Scotia, including transcripts that had been provided by Senior at least ten years prior was under consideration at Ryerson Press.³⁰ It was published the following year.

Creighton’s last publication of folk songs prior to 1976 was a collection of Gaelic material with Major Calum MacLeod of St. Francis Xavier University, and another highly collaborative project. The source material was both acetate disc and magnetic tape recordings of Gaelic-speaking singers in Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, and the northeastern mainland of Nova Scotia, collected between 1943 and 1956.³¹ Creighton was entirely unable to translate to or from Gaelic, so she sought the help of Maj. MacLeod, a piper, Gaelic speaker, and professor of Celtic Studies. Macleod translated her recordings and provided the annotations for the songs. Creighton also asked Kenneth Elloway, Harold Hamer, Kenneth Peacock, and Eunice Sircom to provide transcriptions of the recorded music.³² In much the same way as in Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia (1932), and even Traditional Songs from Nova Scotia (1950), others better qualified to interpret and analyze the collected material conducted a substantial amount of the scholarly work.

As far as her publications of folk song are concerned, Creighton was primarily involved in collection and curation, and relied on the support of others to provide the bulk of the notation, annotation, and, where necessary, translation. What then motivated Creighton’s selection of suitable material for presentation to folklore scholars and the public? Two works tackle this question: Ian McKay’s monograph, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia, and Clary Croft’s biography, Helen Creighton: Canada’s First Lady of Folklore.

McKay’s Quest of the Folk is in a sense the Canadian corollary of David Harker’s Fakesong: The Manufacture of British Folksong, 1700 to the present day and Georgina Boyes’ The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology, and the Folk Revival.³³ Harker makes no bones about his ideological standpoint, and, fittingly, Fakesong reads like a tract against bourgeois appropriation of proletarian culture written “from the committed position of a member of the [Trotskyist] Socialist Worker’s Party.”³⁴ However, despite its political motivation and, as C.J. Bearman pointed out in “Cecil Sharp in Somerset: Some Reflections on the Work of David Harker,” some questionable scholarly practices,³⁵ Fakesong was an important release because it confronted directly the hagiographies written by Karpeles and others. Boyes’ approach was more invested in cultural theory than Harker’s “carpet-bombing,” to use David Gregory’s terminology, but it offered a similar and needed criticism of folk song collecting by Sharp and his ilk.³⁶

In the same vein, Quest of the Folk, confronted shibboleths in Nova Scotian folklore studies head-on. McKay’s position on Creighton placed her in

an international matrix of words and things that defined the true Folk and the authentic ballad. The folklorist was the person who could separate the gold from the dross, the genuine from the spurious, the ballad from the broadside. The politics of cultural selection entailed in this refining became very significant when, as in Creighton’s case, the operation became an enormously popular way of thinking about history and culture.³⁷

His analysis, combining the Marxist predisposition of Harker with the cultural theory of Boyes, was, and continues to be, polarizing. On the one hand, The Globe and Mail columnist, Bronwyn Drainie, declared that

[t]his attack on Helen Creighton is the old Canadian no-star system raising its envious little head again … McKay seems to be convinced that all Nova Scotians automatically bought the Creightonian portrait of themselves … But he has no evidence of this, only the cultural theory he’s flogging.³⁸

On the other hand, Del Muise, in “Who Owns History, Anyway? Reinventing Atlantic Canada for Pleasure and Profit,” noted that the backlash “shows just how pervasive the mythologies she perpetrated were [and] the central place she had come to occupy in peoples’ sensitivities.”³⁹ Ultimately, the answer to questions about the source of Creighton’s motivation is ideology, and with Quest of the Folk McKay provided a substantial basis for interpreting Creighton’s work.

“‘Singers of Folk Songs’ for MacLeans” [Helen and unidentified man, ca. 1952] (E.A. Bollinger Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1975–317/52160–115)

His argument, distilled, was that Creighton’s “labour of description and redescription constructed a particular kind of Folk in Nova Scotia: the Folk who were as unchanging and as natural as the rockbound shores surrounding them — and almost as politically and socially inert.”⁴⁰ In Creighton’s eyes, he wrote, “[t]he Folk were traditional, somewhat reclusive, relatively uninterested in protest or in politics, fiercely superstitious, family-centred and respectful of conventional moralities.”⁴¹ But that was not all:

Creighton represented an extreme example of the construction of rural Folk within and for an urban gaze. The twentieth-century invention of the Folk required the emergence of specialized intellectuals who could marry international theories of folklore with a reconceptualization of local evidence. These semi-professionals slowly acquired a position of cultural authority. What they defined as folklore, filtered through a grid of middle-class aesthetics and political values, came to constitute a canon.⁴²

The evidence supports this conclusion, whether self-reported in her autobiography, A Life in Folklore, or presented in Quest of the Folk, based on McKay’s scouring of the Creighton fonds at the Nova Scotia Archives. From photographing a bagpiper in South River, Antigonish County, from the knees up — he had put his kilt on over his trousers — to collecting songs from a charming merchant and bed & breakfast owner at the foot of Kelly’s Mountain rather than from miners in Glace Bay, Dominion, or New Waterford, Creighton actively curated the image of rural Nova Scotia she presented in her publications.⁴³

Clary Croft’s biography, Helen Creighton: Canada’s First Lady of Folklore, was understandably much less critically oriented, but Croft did address Creighton’s personal beliefs on “the Folk” and the role that played in her folk song collecting. His was perhaps the most qualified to make an assessment on this, having overseen the archiving of her collection for the Nova Scotia Archives, consequently been granted access to restricted material in the collection (like Creighton’s personal diaries), and, above all, known her well. He defended her deftly against McKay’s more personal remarks, most often with the argument that her conservatism, aesthetic preferences, and, often, naiveté were products of a different era. To Croft’s credit, his argument is solid and supported by his sources. Unfortunately, the personal details are ultimately a red herring as far as one is concerned with McKay’s theoretical assertions. It is likely that Croft sought not to challenge McKay’s text but rather to do justice to his mentor.⁴⁴

With McKay’s general argument still standing, and buttressed by Creighton’s own writing, correspondence, etc., the task of determining what exactly “Canada’s First Lady of Folklore” considered a folk song remains to be completed. Since Creighton did not state explicitly what criteria separated “gold from the dross” in any of her own publications, the task is made no easier by poring over Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia, Traditional Songs from Nova Scotia, Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia, or any of her journal articles. In much the same way as her predecessor, Francis James Child, the clearest articulation of the collector’s philosophy is presented in an entry Creighton contributed to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, on Anglo-Canadian folk music in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. She wrote that:

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 … 49 have been found in Canada, with many 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


The singers perform unaccompanied, and it is characteristic of the ‘old timers’ to embroider their melodies, the extent of ornamentation depending on the inspiration of the moment… Many singers adopt individual styles, and when a song has been introduced by one singer others will not sing it in his or her presence. In the old days songs were seldom performed in public but were used to pass the time away in the home, at sea, and in the lumber woods.⁴⁵

Creighton’s definition was easily as problematic as Child’s: Child ballads, removed from any immediate relevance, were preferable and more aesthetically pleasing than local songs, which, generally occupational, documentary, or satirical, never political, but frequently derivative, nevertheless made up the bulk of ballads sung. The performance style and context were critical as well, but implicit was the distinction that that environment was a thing of the past, lost to the “coming of mechanical music,” in the words of Doreen Senior.⁴⁶

The delineation between ballad, broadside, and local song was ambiguous. Creighton, like Child, presumably acknowledged that they provided a useful vehicle for the true folk songs to pass on from generation to generation, deleterious as the medium might be. Unfortunately, the substantial majority of the songs that appeared in Creighton’s publications (and likely countless others that did not make it to print) were not Child ballads, but broadsides, a choice medium for the rabble of Britain. A related complication is the absolutely vast number of broadsides that were printed in England from the sixteenth century onward, whose subjects ranged from pastimes to politics to the outright profane.⁴⁷ It is entirely conceivable that many of the songs discarded by Creighton, especially the particularly ribald or bawdy ones, were broadsides. And as it turned out, some songs, originally thought to be local, were traced back to British broadsides — “Nova Scotia Song/“Farewell to Nova Scotia” being a prime example.

Similarly, the performance context was complicated. By calling upon her informants, generally unannounced, and asking whether they had any songs to sing, or, as she began to use technology that required electricity, inviting singers to houses besides their own, Creighton herself was removing or displacing the songs from their traditional contexts.⁴⁸ Forcing the singers to go through songs line by line while slowly transcribing them had the dual effect of ossifying one version of the tune and discouraging elaboration. When she produced songs for broadcast with arranged accompaniment, or permitted “her” songs to be used in a folk opera, “mechanical music” and the deleterious influence of the radio were not so great a concern.⁴⁹

However, Creighton’s definition of folk song did develop over time. In her article “Canada’s Maritime Provinces: An Ethnomusicological Survey (Personal Observations and Recollections),” the greater portion of the text is devoted to the traditional music of white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant Canadians, but over time — and no doubt in part a result of her training at Indiana University and the National Museum of Canada — she collected from Acadians, the Mi’kmaq First Nations, African Nova Scotians, and a variety of other non-British ethnic groups in the province, which had previously only been peripheral in Nova Scotian folklore studies. While still searching for folk songs in the restrictive and problematic context given above, neither her methodology nor interests remained entirely static.⁵⁰

Nonetheless, and like Child’s before her, Creighton’s criteria for folk song in Nova Scotia became the dominant set, in spite of all their exceptions and ambiguities. They were, to paraphrase the quotation from McKay above, a union of international theories of folklore and a reconceptualization of the local context — strange bedfellows, indeed. The “grid of middle-class aesthetics and political values”⁵¹ through which Creighton interpreted the Folk would, for all intents and purposes, be the same that produced the folk music revival in Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nowhere can one find better evidence for this than in John Allan Cameron’s television special featuring Stan Rogers, which opened this chapter. In the following chapter, Creighton’s representation of Nova Scotian people and music will be contrasted with Stan Rogers’, as presented on his first album, Fogarty’s Cove.

You can read the introduction, first and third chapters, and conclusion of this thesis by clicking through these links.


1. Helen Creighton and Doreen Senior, Traditional Songs of Nova Scotia (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1950), 265.

2. John Allan Cameron with Stan Rogers, John Allan Cameron, October 15, 1975, (Montreal: CTV, October 15, 1975), television episode. (link)

3. Ibid., 264–65.

4. Linda Christine Craig, “The Scottish Origins of ‘Farewell to Nova Scotia,’” Dalhousie Review, Vol. 58, №3 (Autumn 1978), 471–78.

5. Ernest J. Dick, Remembering Singalong Jubilee (Halifax: Formac Publishing, 2004), 7–8. John Allan Cameron would be a regular performer on Singalong Jubilee in the 1967–68 seasons.

6. Where not cited, the following biographical details are from Helen Creighton, A Life in Folklore (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Press, 1975) and Clary Croft, Helen Creighton: Canada’s First Lady of Folklore (Halifax: Nimbus Publishing, 1999).

7. Kjipuktuk is the Mi’kmaq name (cognate to “Chebucto”) for Halifax in the Smith-Francis orthography. Bernie Francis et al., Ta’n Weji-sqalia’tiek: Mi’kmaw Place Names, web, accessed March 12, 2016.

8. Ibid.

9. Richard S. Lambert, School Broadcasting in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963), 19, as cited in Croft, First Lady of Folklore, 32, and Nancy F. Vogan, “Music Education in the Maritimes Between the Wars: A Period of Transition,” in Myth & Milieu: Atlantic Literature and Culture 1918–1939, ed. Gwendolyn Davies (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 1993), 86.

10. Croft, First Lady of Folklore, 32.

11. Creighton, A Life in Folklore, 48–49. Cited in Croft, ibid.; McKay, Quest of the Folk, 4, 55.

12. Creighton, A Life in Folklore, 49–50.

13. Ibid., 50.

14. Ibid., 56.

15. Ibid., 58; “Meagher’s Children [№135],” and “The Ghostly Sailors [117]” were published in Helen Creighton, Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia (J.M. Dent & Sons, 1932).

16. Creighton, A Life in Folklore, xx; 57.

17. Creighton, Songs and Ballads, xiv.

18. Creighton, A Life in Folklore, 53.

19. Creighton, Songs and Ballads, xii.

20. Jonathan Vance, A History of Canadian Culture (Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2009), 299–301.

21. Croft, First Lady of Folklore, 39.

22. Creighton, A Life in Folklore, 61–62.

23. Creighton, Songs and Ballads, xii

24. Creighton, A Life In Folklore, 62.

25. Ibid., 67.

26. Ibid., 66–72; 85–87.

27. Ibid., 87.

28. Ibid., 95; 127.

29. Croft, First Lady of Folklore 87–101.

30. Ibid.,108.

31. Helen Creighton and Calum MacLeod, Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia (Ottawa: National Museum of Canada, 1964), x.

32. Ibid., x-xii.

33. David Harker, Fakesong: The Manufacture of British Folksong, 1700 to the present day (Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press, 1985); Georgina Boyes, The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology, and the Folk Revival (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993).

34. Vic Gammon, “Two For the Show: David Harker, Politics and Popular Song,” History Workshop, no. 21 (Spring 1986), 147. It sounds that way because that’s exactly what it is.

35. C.J. Bearman, “Cecil Sharp in Somerset: Some Reflections on the Work of David Harker,” Folklore, vol. 113, no. 1 (April 2002), 11–34.

36. David Gregory, “Fakesong in an Imagined Village? A Critique of the Harker-Boyes Thesis,” Canadian Folk Music, vol. 43, no. 3 (Fall 2009), 25–26.

37. McKay, Quest of the Folk, 43.

38. Bronwyn Drainie, “Folklorist brings out the worst of the spoilsports,” The Globe and Mail, February 5, 1994. As cited in Croft, First Lady of Folklore, 228.

39. Del Muise, “Who Owns History Anyway? Reinventing Atlantic Canada for Pleasure and Profit,” Acadiensis XXVII, no. 2 (Spring 1998), 129.

40. McKay, Quest of the Folk, 136–37.

41. Ibid., 137.

42. Ibid.

43. Creighton, A Life in Folklore, 114; 69–71.

44. Croft, First Lady of Folklore, 224–43.

45. Helen Creighton, “2. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick,” Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, 2nd edition, s.v. “Folk Music, Anglo-Canadian.” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 474.

46. Doreen H. Senior and Helen Creighton, “Folk Songs Collected in the Province of Nova Scotia, Canada,” Journal of the English Folk Song and Dance Society, vol. 6, no. 3 (Dec., 1951), 83.

47. Roy Palmer, in The Sound of History (London: Pimlico, 1996), gives “early ballad” from 1577, p 18. Palmer’s discussion of the subject matter and social utilities of broadsides is spectacularly comprehensive.

48. Croft, First Lady of Folklore, 234.

49. For accompaniment, Creighton, A Life in Folklore, 123; the folk opera, 166; the nuisance of the radio, 60.

50. Creighton, “Canada’s Maritime Provinces,”404–414.

51. McKay, Quest of the Folk, 137.

© Chris Greencorn 2016, revised 2018