S2E3: History in Songs

March 12, 2019


About the Episode

As George Jellinek once said: “The history of a people are found in its songs.”

Our hosts Robin and Nick are joined, once again, by guest host Nick Johnston, as they explore how Canadian history has been depicted in songs.

Songs like The Bridge Came Tumbling Down sought to tell the story of specific events, while songs like The Long Drivers Waltz sought to convey a feeling of nostalgia.  Then you have songs like The Northwest Passage which sought to compare and contrast the past to our present.

All of these are songs with history as the central theme.  But what role do songs have in teaching history?  How accurate can a 3-10 minute song be?  How do songs compare to other mediums in preserving our history?

Come sing with us as we notice the history in songs, and debate who is Canada’s most prolific folk hero: Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gordon Lightfoot, Stan Rogers, or someone we have not mentioned.

“I think folk music helps reinforce your sense of history.  An old song makes you think of times gone by.” – Pete Seeger

Fun Facts

  1. View the short film The Log Divers Waltz here
  2. One of Stompin’ Tom Connors lesser known songs, The Marten Hartwell Story, is the story of bush pilot Marten Hartwell who was saved by David Kootook, a 14 year old Inuit youth, after his plane crashed in 1972. Hartwell was flying Kootook (who had appendicitis) and several other passengers to a hospital in Yellowknife. The crash broke both of Harwell’s ankles.  Despite his illness, the -37C degree weather, and his weakening energy, Kootook built a shelter out of sleeping bags, started a fire, and found food.  Unfortunately, David Kootook did not survive, but Hartwell was found 31 days after the crash.


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Bulanda, George, “Mariners’ Church of Detroit: The downtown house of worship acknowledges the 35th anniversary of the sinking of the ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’.” Hour Detroit, October 11, 2010. Accessed July 22, 2018. http://www.hourdetroit.com/Hour-Detroit/November-2010/Mariners-rsquo-Church-of-Detroit/ 

Crawford, Blair. “Fifteen Canadian stories: The epic tale of Marten Hartwell’s Arctic Survival.” The Ottawa Citizen, July 26, 2017. Accessed July 24, 2018. 

Dawson, Joanna. “The Disaster Song Tradition.” Canada’s History, April 8, 2012. Accessed July 24, 2018. http://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/arts,-culture-society/the-disaster-song-tradition 

DeYoung, Bill, “If you could read his mind: A conversation with folk music legend Gordon Lightfoot.” Connect Savannah, March 2, 2010. Accessed July 22, 2018. https://www.connectsavannah.com/savannah/if-you-could-read-his-mind/Content?oid=2132451 

Gains, James R. and Jon Lowell, “The Cruelest Month.” Newsweek, November 24, 1975.  Accessed July 22, 2018. https://www.scribd.com/document/85568639/The-Cruelest-Month-Edmund-Fitzgerald-Newsweek-November-24-1975 

Levy, Joel. “The History of the Log-Driver’s Waltz.” Toronto Guardian, December 8, 2016. https://torontoguardian.com/2016/12/nfb-history-log-drivers-waltz/ 

Martin, Sandra. “Stompin’ Tom Connors, Canada’s troubadour, sang of everyday lives.” The Globe and Mail, March 8, 2013. Accessed July 22, 2018. 

McBain, Roger. “Gordon Lightfoot tells why he changed lyric to Edmund Fitzgerald.” Evansville Courier & Press, January 26, 2014. Accessed July 21, 2018. https://www.therecord.com/whatson-story/4599797-gordon-lightfoot-tells-why-he-changed-lyric-to-edmund-fitzgerald/ 

Montour, Lindsay. “A brief evolution of Indigenous protest music.” CBC Music, July 15, 2017. Accessed July 24, 2018. https://www.cbcmusic.ca/posts/18788/a-brief-evolution-of-indigenous-protest-music  

Scanlon, Joseph, Nicholas Johnston, Allison Vandervalk, and Heather Sparling. “101 Years of Mine Disasters and 101 Years of Song: Truth or Myth in Nova Scotia Mining Songs?” International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, Vol. 30, No. 1, (March 2012): 34–60. 

“The Log-Driver’s Waltz” – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Log_Driver%27s_Waltz 

“Timber Trade History,” Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/timber-trade-history/ 

Titanic Joseph Scanlon Allison Vandervalk Mattea Chadwick-Shubat. “Challenge to the Lord: Folk Songs About the “Unsinkable” Titanic.” Accessed July 24, 2018. http://www.canfolkmusic.ca/index.php/cfmb/article/viewFile/486/476 

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Walker, Lance Scott. “The Soundtrack of Canada’s Complicated Aboriginal History: On ‘Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock & Country, 1966-1985.” Noisey (Vice), March 4, 2014. Accessed July 24, 2018. https://noisey.vice.com/en_ca/article/65zbqx/the-soundtrack-of-canadas-complicated-aboriginal-history 

Walton, Ann. Fire in the Belly: A Short Reflection on the Late Stan Rogers. ActiveHistory, July 25, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2018. http://activehistory.ca/2018/07/fire-in-the-belly-a-short-reflection-on-the-late-stan-rogers/ 

About Our Guest

Nick Johnston is an Associate at Know History and frequent researcher for the Notice History Podcast. He has a MA in History from McMaster University, where his studies focused on the history of the Russian Revolution and ensuing Civil War. Nick has a wide array of interests, from the aforementioned Russian history, the stories behind Canadian mining disaster songs, Dungeons and Dragons, cooking, and model painting. So far, Notice History have been kind enough to let him research and talk about several of these topics on the podcast, much to his continuing amazement.




Hosts: Robin Mullins, Nick Bridges, Nick Johnston

Researchers: Nick Johnston, Alice Glaze, Leanne Gaudet, Stacey Devlin

Audio Editing: Anna Kuntz

Web Content: Casandra Masse

Image Credit: Stompin’ Tom Connors. Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN 4369432.