Shortly after the Music Festival wrapped up earlier this month, Laura started talking about song choices for next month. While I was tempted to ask her to change the subject after weeks and months the practicing, rehearsing, and performing, I was happy to see her excited about the festival and interested in finding some new and different songs.
For a while now I’ve been looking for a good source of Canadian folk music, because the songs are part of my children’s heritage and because they’re such a fascinating way to study history. But it’s not a particularly popular subject for some strange reason. Finally, poking through the library system’s database, I stumbled across “A Folksong Portrait of Canada”, an out-of-print three-CD set of songs compiled by Samuel Gesser, the impresario and record producer who had been the Canadian distributor for Folkways Records in the fifties and sixties, now part of Smithsonian-Folkways (which has a nifty Tools for Teaching page for educators). The songs had all appeared on such LPs as “Canada’s Story in Song” by Alan Mills and Edith Fulton Fowke, “Songs and Ballads of Newfoundland” by Ken Peacock, “Folksongs of Ontario” by Edith Fowke, “Folksongs of the Canadian North Woods” by Samuel Gesser and Wade Hemsworth. Many of these can still be found and purchased as CDs at, or downloaded from, Smithsonian-Folkways, but for us the three-CD set through the library is an easier, more affordable option, especially after factoring in the exchange rate and shipping.
The CDs are arranged geographically, with songs of the Atlantic Provinces and of Quebec on the first disc, songs of Ontario and of the Prairie Provinces on the second disc, and songs of British Columbia & Yukon of Native Peoples on the third disc. The three discs include 94 songs by 70 singers, including Alan Mills, Wade Hemsworth, Kenneth Peacock, and Hélène Baillargeon (the star of the celebrated early Canadian children’s television show, “Chez Hélène”).
The set (Smithsonian-Folkways, 1994) is delightful, perfect for anyone with an interest in folk music, Canadian history, and Canadian singers. Check your library when you have the chance. And a belated thanks to Mr. Gesser, who died about a year ago at the age of 78, for his efforts to preserve, protect, and promote Canadian music and Canadian history.