________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 17 . . . . April 25, 2003


A Sigh and a Wish: Helen Creighton’s Maritimes.

Donna Davies (Writer & Director). Kent Martin (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2001.
74 min., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9101 032.

Subject Headings:
Folk songs-Maritime provinces.
Folklore-Maritime provinces.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4

Anyone who spends time in the Maritimes cannot help but come in contact with its lively and distinctive musical style. This video relates the story of one woman who embarked on a lifelong search for folk songs and stories that typify the region.

     Helen Creighton, a freelance journalist, travelled Nova Scotia extensively beginning in the 1920s, interviewing people who shared songs handed down to them from previous generations "to lighten the burden of their daily chores." As traditions like “milling frolics” (pounding woven cloth to tighten the weave to the accompanying rhythm of songs) have died out, folk singers such as Pete Seeger, Raylene Rankin and Mary Jane Lamond acknowledge they "owe a great debt to Helen Creighton" for the collection, a legacy they draw from for the raw material they interpret in songs of today.

     Well-known musician Ashley MacIsaac narrates the video. His introductory remarks, "It is said that folklore is the basis of a culture," set the tone for the images. Present day Nova Scotia scenes are cleverly blended with archival photos and excerpts from Creighton's detailed scrapbooks, field journals and audiotapes. Her collection also includes hundreds of folktales, legends and ghost stories, many of which were published over the years and remain popular. The anthology Bluenose Ghosts, for example, has been reprinted 13 times. Although Creighton came from an upper middle class family, she sought material from various levels of society. While her "class and personal bias limited her collecting from communities outside British descent," she did venture into the Acadian and Black communities in the province where she was well received by those who had a "strong desire to have the songs live on." Her omission of some segments, for example, labor protest songs, gave rise to criticism that her collection was selective where it conflicted with her social conservatism, and thus was not a true reflection of the culture. And the question of ownership is raised with the comment that "honour should not only belong to the folklorist, but also to the folk" who willingly contributed their knowledge without financial compensation in most cases.

     These ambiguities are left for individual interpretation, but the viewer of this video will recognize the fact that a valuable resource may not have survived without Creighton's work. Most acknowledge that "in collecting legends, she became one." If you love Maritime music, you'll be satisfied by the varied sampling of songs both enduring and familiar, eg. Farewell to Nova Scotia, and by the hopeful suggestion that they will live on as long as today's children are exposed to the culture.


Gillian Richardson, who lives in BC, is a former teacher-librarian and a published writer of children's fiction and nonfiction.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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