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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Dan Calder Helen Creighton Collection (8) Helen Creighton Collection 07 Jan 99

A while back someone was searching for information on Helen Creighton. I just came across this, and thought it might be of some interest.

Enjoy, Dan

"As Many Songs As There Are Stars in the Sky"

the Folk Song Collection of Dr. Helen Creighton

In 1928 a young writer named Helen Creighton, was asked to research a story about Nova Scotia's pirates. She had never heard any local pirate stories, so she drove from her home in Dartmouth to the mouth of Halifax Harbour, at Eastern Passage. There she met Enos Hartlan, who not only told her pirate stories, but sang pirate songs. "That," said Helen, "is when the light went on." She reasoned that if this one person knew so many songs, imagine what was out there left to be discovered. Thus began the life's work of the woman known as "Canada's First Lady of Folklore". Until her death in 1989, Helen Creighton worked to collect the largest individual folklore collection in Canada - a collection which includes approximately 16,000 songs that reflect the diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds of Nova Scotians.

These include Mi'kmau songs from Chief William Paul at the Shubenacadie Reserve, Acadian songs from West Pubnico and Cheticamp, and ancient British ballads. She recorded German songs in Lunenburg County and Gaeiic songs from singers of Irish and Scottish heritage.

William Riley of Cherrybrook sang songs of slavery like "No More Auction Block for Me" and told Helen Creighton, "I knew this song since I was able to walk."

She found sea songs. Captain Arthur Hilton and seven other sea captains from Yarmouth sang shanties, without the aid of what the old salts used to call rusty water (dark rum). They were all members of the local Temperance Society.

Helen Creighton found songs of the supernatural, like "The Ghostly Sailors", still believed by many to be bad luck to sing at sea - or on shore.

Nova Scotians made up songs about their own lives. They sang songs about the tragic "Springhill Mining Disaster" and "The Halifax Explosion".

But it was the singers who breathed life into these songs. They willingly shared these treasures with Helen Creighton. People like Nathan Hatt of Middle River, Lunenburg County, who sang one song for each of his 86 years; Charles Owens, who at the age of 101 sang spirituals at his home in Bridgetown, and Ann Greenough, of Petpeswick, who first sang "The Nova Scotia Song" for Helen Creighton in 1933. It is now our province's unofficial anthem.

And these folk songs continue to be sung and enjoyed. Children learn them in school; they are performed at folk festivals around the province; and Clary Croft, who worked closely with Dr. Helen Creighton, continues to perform the traditional songs collected by his mentor. Artists like Ashley MacIsaac and Mary Jane Lamond and the Nova Scotia Mass Choir take the songs around the globe.

Helen Creighton gave Nova Scotia a rich folk song legacy. In fact, when she would ask how many songs a singer knew, she was frequently told, "as many songs as there are stars in the sky!"

The Helen Creighton Collection is at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax.

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