An email from a reader of the blog from Nova Scotia, who is currently tracing his roots back to Scotland, prompted me to dig out a copy of Helen Creighton’s collection of Maritime Songs.
Helen Creighton was a renowned folklorist who single-handedly compiled one of North America’s largest collection of folklore and music, much of which would have disappeared forever if not for her tenacity, collecting stories and songs from the Gaelic singers of Cape Breton, French Acadians, the Mi’kmaw, and the Black communities of Nova Scotia.
The maritime songs are remembered by an older generation of Canadians, mainly from Nova Scotia, between 1928 and 1954. Many are home recordings, but what they may lack in quality they make up for in authenticity. In addition to songs of the sea, the unaccompanied singers tell of the supernatural, of love and the beauties of the land.
Her name became a household word throughout the fishing villages, towns, and farms. Though sometimes criticised, Helen ironically, in collecting legends, became one herself.
The links between the Hebrides and Nova Scotia / Cape Breton Island are abundant thanks to waves of mass emigration over the years and listening to the songs, including some in Gaelic, you can hear the connections quite clearly in many of them.