Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia

Ballads Cover 1

Front Cover Illustration by Reginald Knowles for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Helen Creighton, a  then-budding musicologist, set about criss-crossing Nova Scotia to collect songs peculiar to the province.  In 1933 she published 150 of these songs in Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia, the first of her many song collections.

I had the good fortune recently to come across a lovely first edition of this book and have enjoyed thumbing through it, while marvelling at the laborious effort reflected in its pages.  Here may be found songs of the sea, of love and its missing, of battle, of children’s play, as well as connections to the English, Scottish, French, Acadian and Mikmaq influences on this rich local music.  The book’s front and back covers are graced with an exquisite woodcut by the noted illustrator, Reginald Knowles, and depict scenes suggestive of the songs within.

Title Page

Title Page, Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)


Homeward Bound

“Homeward Bound,” from Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)


Devil's Island Scene

Frontispiece Illustration by R. Wilcox for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)


Ballads Back Cover 1

Back Cover Illustration by Reginald Knowles for Helen Creighton, Songs & Ballads from Nova Scotia (1933)

35 responses

  1. My favourite publication by Helen Creighton, is ‘Bluenose Ghosts’. I read the original hardcover one summer in Scott’s Bay, NS; a place known for its ghosts. The family homestead, a century old now was the perfect atmosphere to appreciate the tales – one of two of which came from that locale 🙂

  2. The Helen Creighton Society in Nova Scotia does a fantastic job of preserving and disseminating the work of their namesake. That cultural heritage is so vibrant, and so fragile. I recently was in Halifax, and found myself at “What The Folk” – a twice-monthly open session hosted by the Society where all comers can share folk songs, folk tales and so on. Worth checking out if you’re there!

  3. Helen must have been a woman of great foresight. I wonder what prompted her to take on the task of preserving this music? Was she able to see that the burgeoning recorded music industry of her era, was threatening musical diversity country wide? Does the book reveal her motivation?

    • Kate, I believe she was equipped with both foresight and resourcefulness, as were many of what we’d now call ethno-musicologists. The foreword to her book notes the recommendation by one of her former college professors to pursue the collection of this largely traditional music before another generation passed on. She then explored the province far and wide with quite a bit of fortitude as travel around the backroads of Nova Scotia then was quite challenging (it is even so today in parts!).

      • Fascinating. Thanks Brett. She sounds a formidable woman. The whole world needs to be grateful to people like her who are preserving/have preserved cultural diversity in the form of music, language, clothing etc. I will check the link one of your other readers, has added. The ghost stories sound wonderful.

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