Ticket to the First Miramichi Folksong Festival, held in Newcastle September 3, 4, and 5, 1958.

MIRAMICHI FOLKSONG FESTIVAL Beaverbrook Theatre and Town Hall Newcastle September 3, 4, and 5 SPONSORS - NEWCASTLE ROTARY CLUB Secretary - Miss Louise Manny MASTER OF CEREMONIES - Ken Homer of CBC Radio Caravan Prizes for Folksongs wll be awarded to Northumberland County Singers as follows: 1. Oldest singer 2. Best man singer 3. Best woman singer 4. Best junior singer (under 25) 5. Best singer of a folksong in French 6. Best Indian singer of a song in Micmac Also: A prize for the best Guest Singer (from outside Northumberland County) SEASON TICKETS, Good for any or all days, $1.00 Each entrant will be given six Complimentary Tickets, for Relatives and Friends. Use the handy Entry Form, or write Miss Louise Manny, Newcastle.

Susan Butler
c. 1958
New Brunswick, CANADA
New Brunswick, CANADA
© 2007, Susan Butler Collection. All Rights Reserved.


Commentary on Miramichi Folksong Festival  by Helen Creighton

In 1958 Dr. Louise Manny of Newcastle, New Brunswick, originated a Folk Music Festival which has been held annually ever since. Participants were from the adjacent lumbering and fishing communities on New Brunswick’s north-eastern shore. The Festival was held in a large hall and prizes were given for a variety of reasons. One man for instance whose singing didn’t really merit a prize was given one because, as Dr. Manny said, he had a large family to support and he should have had some reward.

For the first five years I acted as one of the three judges, and for me this was a high spot in the season’s fieldwork. Competitors would telephone and ask if they could sing such and such a song. If it was not familiar to Dr. Manny she would ask our opinion and we often heard her say, “No, you can’t sing that one; the judges say it is not a folk song.” In this way we established the stipulation that songs must be in the traditional style. Many valuable songs were saved through these festivals, and we who had tape recorders were permitted to use them. Read More

Commentary on Miramichi Folksong Festival  by Helen Creighton

In 1958 Dr. Louise Manny of Newcastle, New Brunswick, originated a Folk Music Festival which has been held annually ever since. Participants were from the adjacent lumbering and fishing communities on New Brunswick’s north-eastern shore. The Festival was held in a large hall and prizes were given for a variety of reasons. One man for instance whose singing didn’t really merit a prize was given one because, as Dr. Manny said, he had a large family to support and he should have had some reward.

For the first five years I acted as one of the three judges, and for me this was a high spot in the season’s fieldwork. Competitors would telephone and ask if they could sing such and such a song. If it was not familiar to Dr. Manny she would ask our opinion and we often heard her say, “No, you can’t sing that one; the judges say it is not a folk song.” In this way we established the stipulation that songs must be in the traditional style. Many valuable songs were saved through these festivals, and we who had tape recorders were permitted to use them.

There are Acadians along this coast, so it was a rare festival that did not have one or two songs in French. One of the most prolific singers is Allan Kelly who is fluently bilingual and I am told by Ronald LaBelle (who has written the notes for this publication) that he still sings there. He is a happy person and many of his songs are humorous: others can be tragic. His contributions were full of surprises, and just as he followed a sad song with one that had the audience laughing, he would change from French to English. 



- La Fleur du Rosier: Acadian Folksongs, 1988. Collected by Helen Creighton/ Edited by Ronald Labelle, p. ix

© 1988, University of Cape Breton Press. All Rights Reserved.

Singers seated onstage at the 1961 Miramichi Folksong Festival

Larry Hughes plays the banjo while Master of Ceremonies Ken Homer and various singers including Allan Kelly, John Holland, Johnny Gilks, Arthur MacDonald, Nick Underhill, and Wilmot MacDonald look on.

Unknown
New Brunswick Museum, Saint John
c. 1961
CANADA Northern New Brunswick, New Brunswick, Northern New Brunswick, CANADA
989-108-304
© 2007, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, N.B.. All Rights Reserved.


This year, the 25th annual Miramichi Folk Song Festival will be held between July 1st and 3rd in Newcastle, New Brunswick. Although after 25 years, the festival should have become a vital well established institution in the Miramichi area, the reality is that it is now in decline. Each year there are fewer of the old ballad singers present. Their place is often taken by local singers who do not possess the rich and unique repertoire of their elders. The festival is slowly being transformed into an annual local amateur concert. The crowds that used to flock to the festival are also becoming thinner. Five years ago it was standing room only in the Newcastle Town Hall where the Festival is held. But attendance has decreased each year and in 1981 the hall was only half filled.

It seems Canada’s oldest annual folk festival will continue its decline as more of the old singers disappear. The most famous of the Miramichi ballad singers, Wilmot MacDonald, may be absent this year because of failing health. Among the excellent singers that folklorists used to travel hundreds of miles to hear, only a few remain, such as Allan Kelly and Marie Hare.
Read More
This year, the 25th annual Miramichi Folk Song Festival will be held between July 1st and 3rd in Newcastle, New Brunswick. Although after 25 years, the festival should have become a vital well established institution in the Miramichi area, the reality is that it is now in decline. Each year there are fewer of the old ballad singers present. Their place is often taken by local singers who do not possess the rich and unique repertoire of their elders. The festival is slowly being transformed into an annual local amateur concert. The crowds that used to flock to the festival are also becoming thinner. Five years ago it was standing room only in the Newcastle Town Hall where the Festival is held. But attendance has decreased each year and in 1981 the hall was only half filled.

It seems Canada’s oldest annual folk festival will continue its decline as more of the old singers disappear. The most famous of the Miramichi ballad singers, Wilmot MacDonald, may be absent this year because of failing health. Among the excellent singers that folklorists used to travel hundreds of miles to hear, only a few remain, such as Allan Kelly and Marie Hare.

When people talk about the festival these days, they often reminisce about past festivals and how the event has lost its vigour. The absence of the old singers is always mentioned as the cause of the decline, but there are perhaps deeper problems affecting the festival. The event has always been strongly identified with the Miramichi area. Nearly all the performers are from the region and they sing about a way of life that was common to the people there. Local ballads tell of the lumber-camps, of log-driving on rivers, and of adventures at sea.

Today, the Miramichi has lost its importance in the field of forestry and shipping. Institutions founded in Chatham have either closed their doors or moved elsewhere. The area suffers from neglect and decline, as young people leave in great numbers. The pride that was once the Miramichi has obviously suffered because of these problems.

The Miramichi Folk Song Festival was a reflection of the cultural richness of the region. Like the other truly authentic folk festivals in Canada, it represented a regional culture and expressed the pride felt by members of the culture. It seems the festival has become another casualty in the decline of the Miramichi.

The participation of the younger members of the community is important to the vitality and success of a festival. Young people of the Miramichi have not taken an interest in their cultural heritage and it seems that local ballads will only be preserved by outsiders who come to collect them. One rare exception to this is Mrs. Germaine Smith, daughter of Allan Kelly, who knows many of the traditional songs in her father’s repertoire. As the years go by, the Miramichi festival is drawing near to its close. Mrs. Maisy Mitchell, the organizer, hopes each year to find a younger person to take over her duties. She has so far failed. At 83 years of age, Mrs. Mitchell is understandably concerned about the lack of a successor.

The question may be asked why New Brunswickers in general care so little about their only folk festival. Both French and English speaking New Brunswickers hold numerous local events such as summer festivals, fiddle contests and fairs but no attempt is made to establish an annual folk festival with a wider significance. Many cultural events are organized by the French language population but folk music has often only a marginal importance in these festivities. The “Frolic Acadien”, an outdoor concert which was held every summer in a field in Cape Pele, was disbanded in 1980 because of organizational and administrative problems. The “Frolic” was both a folk and rock festival, and suffered from the same problems that plagued festivals of the kind elsewhere. The “Festival Acadien” in Caraquet has taken on importance in recent years as a focal point for Acadian culture in New Brunswick, but folk music is not given a predominant role among the festivities which serve to highlight Acadian nationalism. Since 1980, the “Foire Brayonne” has become a cultural festival for the people of the Madawaska area in north-western New Brunswick, but there again folk music is only one of many elements in the festivities which are intended to show that the “Republic of Madawaska” has an identity of its own.

It would be hoped that organizers of the festivities marking the 200th anniversary of New Brunswick in 1984, will be able to organize an event to unite New Brunswickers in a celebration of the rich and varied folk traditions of the peoples inhabiting the province. If that were to take place, perhaps the decline of the Miramichi festival would be succeeded by the birth of a provincial folk festival. Such a festival would prevent authentic New Brunswick folk music from disappearing from the public stage. 



Canadian Journal of Traditional Music, Volume 16.3 (1982)
© 1982, Canadian Journal of Traditional Music. All Rights Reserved.

The Miramichi River is the second longest river in the Nortwestern part of New Brunswick. Its branches, the Nor-west and the Sou-west, with their tributaries, the small rivers which empty into the main Miramichi, form a water network which covers the county of Northumberland.

Pronouncing the name “Miramichi” is a problem for those who make its acquaintance in print for the first time. It is accented on the first and last syllables. The last syllable is pronounced “shie”. It is said to be the oldest Indian place-name still used in North America. There have been many meanings given to this name, but none are accurate. The name may refer to the river and its branches; however, no one knows the real derivation of the word.

The Miramichi for many years was a haven for sportsmen, especially for salmon fishing. Lumbering was one of its main industries.

This area has long been referred to as “A ballad hunter’s paradise”. The late Lord Beaverbrook, one of New Brunswick’s greatest benefactors and statesmen, grew up on the Miramichi. It was he who laid the groundwork for what was to become one of the longest Read More
The Miramichi River is the second longest river in the Nortwestern part of New Brunswick. Its branches, the Nor-west and the Sou-west, with their tributaries, the small rivers which empty into the main Miramichi, form a water network which covers the county of Northumberland.

Pronouncing the name “Miramichi” is a problem for those who make its acquaintance in print for the first time. It is accented on the first and last syllables. The last syllable is pronounced “shie”. It is said to be the oldest Indian place-name still used in North America. There have been many meanings given to this name, but none are accurate. The name may refer to the river and its branches; however, no one knows the real derivation of the word.

The Miramichi for many years was a haven for sportsmen, especially for salmon fishing. Lumbering was one of its main industries.

This area has long been referred to as “A ballad hunter’s paradise”. The late Lord Beaverbrook, one of New Brunswick’s greatest benefactors and statesmen, grew up on the Miramichi. It was he who laid the groundwork for what was to become one of the longest running Festivals in North America., the Miramichi Folksong Festival. His slogan as a young boy was “We lead – let others follow who can.” In regards to the following local folklore, Miramichiers have done that for the past forty years.

In 1947 Lord Beaverbrook approached the late Dr. Louise Manny, a local historian and personal friend. “Why don’t you go out and collect New Brunswick folksongs?” he asked her. “I’ll send you a fine recording machine.” Louise was very sceptical. “I don’t believe there are any songs out there,” she said. Beaverbrook reassured her one would be surprised what was out there. He would sing her a few lines of “The Jones Boys” –

“Oh! The Jones boys, they built a mill
On the side of a hill,
And they worked all night, and they worked all day
But they couldn’t make the gosh-darned sawmill pay.”

This was one of his favourite folksongs which he took with him through life, as a publisher and a builder of a newspaper empire. He taught the song to his oldest and closest friend, Sir Winston Churchill, who in turn taught it to many noted statesmen.

Louise Manny and a friend, Bessie Crocker, set out on their mission to collect folksongs. They were amazed at what they found. Gaelic and French songs, medieval ballads, eighteenth century broadside ballads, songs of Maine and other parts of the United States. There were local songs as well. This first collection of folksongs was classified as the Beaverbrook collection. Later Manny collected her own folksongs. Louise Manny became a firm believer in the preservation of folklore. She began having a weekly radio program on the local radio station in the late forties. It consisted of people whom she had contacted previously and who were willing to sing their music on the air.

In 1958 Louise Manny, with the assistance of the New Brunswick Travel Bureau, the Province of New Brunswick, the Newcastle Rotary Club, and other private donations, opened the first Miramichi Folksong Festival. It was held at the Lord Beaverbrook Town Hall in Newcastle, NB. The Festival ran with three evening performances. Later a children’s show was held in the afternoon. Many of the performers appearing were those who had been recorded in the late forties for the Manny and Beaverbrook collections.

Miramichi folksongs are sung with absolutely no accompaniment. The singer relies upon the unaided voice, the melodic line, and the sheer human impact of the song for their effect. Those who have been brought up with the eight-tone scale, harmony, and musical accompaniment may find the songs monotonous. When you learn to understand them, you are struck by their sincerity and charm. One should not put emphasis on the singer, but rather on the song. Each song has a story to tell.

The Festival is held in early August and has been serving as a tourist attraction for twenty-eight years. There is nothing fancy about it, just people from near and far who like to gather each year and sing the songs that helped to mould the culture of the Province.

Generally singers range in age from the teens to the late eighties. We have with us still two performers who appeared at the first Festival in 1958. Allen Kelly and Marie Hare could be considered the King and Queen of the Miramichi Folksong Festival. They know a wide variety of folk music and each has recorded an album. Marie has been featured at many Festivals over the years in both Canada and the United States. Allan was also a great hit at the Newfoundland Folk Festivals.

With any Festival, there are always pitfalls along the way. It was felt at one time that the Miramichi Folk Festival would fold. Our biggest obstacle was the performers. After twenty-five years, many of our veteran entertainers had died. There did not seem to be any interest shown from the younger generation. For a few years the Festival existed with only a few people. The promotional end had also ceased. In the early eighties the Festival saw rejuvenation. Young blood got involved. They saw the need and value of keeping this living museum going. The Miramichi Folksong Festival got a face lift after twenty-five years. The young people started learning the songs. Some of them could imitate the deceased singers in such a way that you would think they had come back from the grave.

The Festival now runs for five days. The first three days are strictly Miramichi, with a featured guest each evening. The remaining two days consist of a special Folk Concert held in the neighbouring town of Chatham. The concert is performed by one noted person or group. The last performance puts emphasis on theatre. This is generally held in open air and deals with the history of New Brunswick.

The Festival has changed to a certain degree, but that old flavour is still there. Much of the music is still performed unaccompanied. Some performers use guitars. There is always a step dancer, and a number of fiddlers on hand. At the closing of each show, all performers and audience gather for coffee. There is a guest book in the lobby of the hall, which everyone signs. This allows the organizers to have some idea where our audience is from. The emcee generally asks if there is anyone from out of the Province or from the United States. On doing so, the audience gives their guests a rousing applause as a Miramichi welcome.

The 28th Festival entertained people from Ontario, Florida, Boston, Vancouver, England, to name just a few. The Miramichi Folksong Festival has never been a money-making venture. It survives solely on the generosity of the local organizations and the news media. Each performer, excluding the featured performer, is given a small honorarium for his or her contribution to the Festival.

The Festival Committee consists of a board of twelve members, who volunteer their time to produce a yearly show. The objectives of the group are:
1. Keep alive the work of the late Lord Beaverbrook and Dr. Louise Manny.
2. Educate youth with workshops in the schools.
3. Keep the simplicity and style to which the Festival is accustomed.
4. Open the door for neighbouring folk artists to visit and exchange their music.

I have been asked many times “Why would you be interested in folk music? That’s old fashioned.” I believe there is something concrete in this kind of music. We should not forget that folk music has served and will continue to serve as a foundation for much of our modern day music. Folk music has been around for centuries.

In our area tourists seek out Festivals in order to hang on to roots or heritage. They continually like to hear the songs their fathers or grandfathers sang years ago.

In organizing a Festival one should start on a small scale. Seek out the need for it – have objectives, find people who keep the old songs. In our area, Louise Manny, after studying her findings, compiled a book of songs, “Songs of the Miramichi”. She was assisted by James R. Wilson, a noted Ethnomusicologist, who looked after the music presentation. It was Miss Manny’s dream to have all that she acquired published in a book. She lived to see the fruits of her labour, only to die a short time later.

From August 4th to 8th, 1986, the Miramichi Folksong Festival will open its doors for the twenty-ninth season. That record speaks for itself. Miramichiers believe in keeping alive their heritage. Come visit with us this summer and share the past. 



Canadian Journal of Traditional Music Volume 20.2 (1986)


© 1986, Canadian Journal of Traditional Music. All Rights Reserved.

Susan Butler, Director of the Miramichi Folksong Festival, Order of Canada

Susan Butler is a committed volunteer, gifted performer and custodian of traditional music. She has organized and performed in countless benefit concerts to raise funds for charitable initiatives at the local, provincial and national levels. As volunteer executive director of the Miramichi Folksong Festival Inc. for more than 20 years, she has expanded its scope and relevance, inviting celebrated musicians to join local talent in performing traditional and contemporary folk music. Over the years, she has amassed a great wealth of regional songs and folklore, which she hopes to publish in the near future to preserve the musical heritage of the Miramichi.

Susan Butler
c. 2006
New Brunswick, CANADA
© 2007, Susan Butler Collection. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

Learners will understand how the folk music legacy of New Brunswick has been kept alive for present and future generations.

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