Commentary on the Tunes by James Reginald Wilson

Having been “rared” in Miramichi (as a folksong might put it), I suppose I have always been interested in the folksongs and the folklore of my native country. Certainly as a child it was impossible to be unaware of this facet of rural society. My eldest brothers were woodsmen in their younger years, and my father kept his hands in the lumbering business until his final illness forced him from it.

Our home in McNamee was a sort of mid-way point for men going to and from the local lumbering camps (or elsewhere, for that matter) and, like most children, I was fascinated by their adult conversation. I am back “on the banks of the Miramichi” as I write, and the memory of being too afraid to go to bed after hearing sensational woodsmen’s tales (particularly the one about the wall of the camp falling away revealing the devil in all his satanic glory) is all too vivid!

My father loved to tell me the horrible tale of the murder in the lumbering camp on the Dungarvon near what is now called Whooper’s Spring, but I did not know at that time that his friend Michael Whelan had immortalized that dreadful event in one of our folksongs (THE DUNGARVON WHOOPER). And I don’t need a psychologist today to tell me that my childhood nightmares were a direct result of hearing those lurid tales and ballads. Those who related them could not have found a more attentive audience or a more gullible one. I believed every word.

I did not hear many songs sung at home; they were always recited. We did sing them at school (the favourites being BARBARA ALLEN and BILLY BOY), and on Friday afternoons we recited the ballads we had memorized for the special “recitation” period. The songs were sung at parties and other informal evening gatherings. Of course we didn’t call them folksongs since that word was not in our vocabulary in those days; they were just songs. It never occurred to us to consider their sources. But it seems to me now that the songs were always around us. I remember Ken Miner working in the woodshed, splitting stovewood, and singing a song with a chorus that intrigued me: “O, Skid-e-o, ding-o-day.” I wondered what it meant, and when I discovered from Ken that it didn’t mean anything I was very disappointed. Indeed, it would mean something today if I could find someone who knew that song!

Yes, it was possible to hear a song anywhere. If you hitched a ride on a load of pulpwood on its way to the railroad siding you would hear the teamster singing. And it was under such circumstances that my interest in the musical side of Miramichi songs was brought into focus for the first time.

James Reginald Wilson, Songs of Miramichi, p. 37

James Reginald Wilson
Louise Manny
c. 1940
New Brunswick, CANADA
© 1968, Brunswick Press. All Rights Reserved.

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