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Nova Scotia Folklore Collections of Helen Creighton Report (Assessment)


The Beaton Institute archive is the major cultural heritage center that is obligated to preserve historical information. The archive contains vital historical reports that provide diverse information ranging from social, economic, ethnic, political, and cultural records originating from the Cape Breton University. The institution upholds the required standards that govern the description and arrangement of archive materials. Beaton Institute archives additionally support the development of research tools while concentrating on the provision of the recommended reference services. The foundation is a home for vast collections of manuscript collections, photographs, sound recordings, books, maps, and plans. In this regard, the archive is an excellent center for local, regional, and international research (Gordon 12). This paper intends to focus on folklore collections from the Beaton Institute. The collector’s bibliographical information, the individual responsible for depositing folklore collections to the archive, historical context, and the significance of the collection will be discussed.

Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia

The collection includes songs authored by Helen Creighton. The publication contains songs of love, songs of the sea, and those of the battlefields. It bears its repository at the Beacons Institute archive. The assortment has humorous songs that are aligned with the theme of the nursery and Irish and native songs originating from North America among other destinations. This collection is unique because it comprises both the words and music in each song (Buchan 34).

Bibliographical information about the collection

The publication was produced in 1932. The writer of the collections was Helen Creighton who was a prominent Canadian folklorist. Dover Publications in New York City published the collection, which was later republished in 1966.

Who is Helen Creighton?

Helen Creighton was a famous Canadian folklorist. She was born on September 5, 1899, and died on 12 December 1989. During her time, she made a huge collection of traditional materials that were deposited at the Beacon Institute archive. Her active career spanned over decades with remarkable contributions being noted. She collected approximately four thousand songs, myths, and stories. During her career, the folklorist received several awards, including an honorary degree due to her contributions in the fields of arts and literature. Most of the books and articles that Helen was able to publish are related to the Nova Scotia folk songs and ballads. The folklorist by Dr. Henry Munro, who was the superintendent in charge of education, was the source of interest that Helen portrayed in the folklore together with the idea to search for ballads and literary materials (Gordon 66).

In 1930, Helen together with the English folklorist Doreen Senior established a partnership. The parties made frequent travels in the entire Nova Scotia. The aim of their visit was to gather the maximum number of folk songs. Various informants were sought before the commencement of the recording of the song lyrics. Doreen’s role was to steer the transcription of the songs. By 1941, the pair was able to record twelve songs that had originated from Nova Scotia (MacKinnon and MacKinnon 62). Creighton was later granted the opportunity to travel to the Summer Institute of Folklore that is located in India. The skills received at Summer Institute gave Creighton more exposure to the vast scope of folklore, thereby inflating her collection interests. Creighton’s home return was characterized by increased efforts of seeking more informants.

Due to the interest that the folklorist portrayed, Creighton became very popular in Canada. The majority of the songs she had previously collected began to be reworked. Ballets, operas, and plays were constructed from the collected materials to form programs in radio and television stations. Creighton also became a judge in the first Miramichi Folksong Festival that was staged in Newcastle in 1958. During the judging sessions, the folklorist collected over one thousand songs that were later deposited in the Beacon Institute archive (Buchan 63).

A detailed description of what Helen Creighton collected

Creighton is deemed the pioneer of collecting folk songs in Nova Scotia. Although most of the teachers had tried to convince their students to harness folk ballads and songs, their efforts were negligible in terms of making the collection exercise a success. Creighton made remarkable progress in collecting the bits and pieces of the literary work from the oral traditions of the time. Many other songs had been collected before Creighton began her collection with the example of “ballads and sea songs from Newfoundland” that had been published by Englanders (Fielding 37).

The collections made by Creighton can be distinguished from those made by other people because she was a maritime native who made her publications for several decades. The folklorist stayed with the informants as opposed to others who only visited the respondents when collecting the songs. Consequently, Creighton was in a position to obtain a wide variety of first-rate folklore due to her extensive knowledge and affection for the people. Most of her collections provide rich information that is available in the Beacon Institute archive. The publications depict the author’s perseverance in the area of scholarly research.

Creighton attempted to collect music and associated song texts. The folklorist wound at times takes the melodeon of collecting ventures and later engage in the working out of tunes with the help of the informants. The collections were particularly rewarding since they provided precise instructions to the post-World War II song collectors (Gordon 26).

Creighton’s collections also comprised stories. The stories were supernatural in nature while others emanated from her personal experiences. The stories were published in North America. Hence, they received significant recognition. In her collection of songs and ballads from Nova Scotia, Creighton demonstrates her personal belief in the foresight. The folklorist belief and the revelations emanating from personal experience made significant contributions towards the success of folklore collection. Creighton made numerous collections concerning the superstitious belief by treating the supernatural phenomena from a personal viewpoint. In the collections, the folklorist aims to focus on the psychological truth of the unfounded stories without agreeing or refuting the existence of supernatural powers. According to Creighton, individuals will only give stories when they believe or think that something has occurred (Fielding 97).

The Canadian folklorist made numerous collections of folk beliefs and legends. However, some of the collections are deemed misleading to the Canadian people because they fail to reflect the principal folkloristic interests of the natives. Additionally, Creighton also made several tape recordings in the renewed career phase. The initiation of the exercise was later accompanied by several reel-to-reel tape recordings that comprised traditional singers and storytellers. The collection incorporated a wide variety of participants who originated from the entire Nova Scotia region and the southern New Brunswick. The tape recordings were later compiled to form publications such as the “maritime folk songs” (MacKinnon and MacKinnon 43).

The historical context of the collection

The collection of folklore by Creighton can be traced back to 1928. The famous folklorist made a return to Nova Scotia with the sole objective of doing a thorough search of literary materials. Creighton met Dr. Monro who motivated her to continue with the aspirations of finding more songs. Munro demonstrated to Creighton a sample from the sea songs and ballads as a highlight of what the collection entailed. Later in the year, Creighton embarked on a rigorous collection of folklore. The groups included songs, tales, and customs that most people in Nova Scotia cherished (Gordon 72).

The materials collected had varying origins, ranging from England, Germany, and Africa among others. Most of the activities that Creighton was engaged in included sailing and traveling to the remote areas where key informants resided. During the visits to meet the respondents, the folklorist would push a meter long melodeon in a wheelbarrow to portray her interest in folk songs and affection for the people. Among Creighton’s significant historical discoveries is the traditional Nova Scotia song that was widely known as the “Farewell to Nova Scotia” (Buchan 58).

Between 1942 and 1946, the Rockefeller Foundation decided to accord the folklorist fellowship that was to enhance the exercise of song collection in the Nova Scotia region. The Library of Congress loaned the equipment that was used to harness the songs. Creighton formulated recordings for the Canadian Museum of Civilisation in the period between 1947 and 1967. The folklorist also made excursions beyond Nova Scotia that included the folk songs from the southern New Brunswick, although she never preferred areas where fellow researchers had explored (Buchan 67).

Creighton collected numerous other songs from Nathan Hatt in 1952. The collections led to the subsequent publications following the information gathered from the assortment. Creighton developed a rapport with the informants through the affection she demonstrated to the Canadian people. Creighton’s field exercises that were conducted in southern New Brunswick showed remarkable success in the folklore expeditions. The reason for success is affiliated with prolific and talented singers in the region. Creighton recorded English folk lyrics, sea songs, Scottish and Irish songs, and a mixture of broadside and child ballads. Southern New Brunswick emerged as one of the most critical regions where the folklorist made many collections (Fielding 86). The oldest of Creighton’s findings is known as “the False Knight upon the Road” which became popularised in the 1960s. Creighton deposited both the folk songs and the superstitious stories in Beacons Institute archive.

The significance of Creighton folklore collection

Several factors act as vital ingredients in the existence of any ethnic group. Some of these factors include history, sense of humor, language, values, customs, and folklore. However, most societies tend to sideline the significance of folklore, especially among contemporary societies. Folklore is multi-faced in nature. Thus, it encompasses what people love to hear, say, or sing by incorporating the senses and talents that different individuals possess. The work of Creighton is of great essence to the Canadian people. The folklore collection brings about a sense of identity to the society that has popular songs and stories. Folklore creates commonality, thereby giving joy and unity to the community. Sharing similar folk songs makes individuals feel at home, thus enhancing the spirit of teamwork and oneness. Through the efforts of Creighton in collecting songs and stories, the identity of Nova Scotia people was being reinforced (MacKinnon and MacKinnon 40).

The collection of folklore is important because it helps in the transfer of songs and stories from one generation to the other. The means through which the old generations used to entertain themselves are passed on to the future cohorts. Creighton’s work was recommendable to the Canadian populace because some proverbs, songs, riddles, jokes, and statements from the work are still present in the current society. Folklore was formulated in traditional society to govern the behavioral characteristics of the individuals. Such historical elements played a crucial role in maintaining social order and restoring peace within the social order. When folklores are collected and deposited in the archive, they are easily transferred to the current generation (Fielding 97). Consequently, retaining beliefs that encourage social order amounts to a harmonious culture. Traditional ceremonies are also conserved, thus enabling modern societies to preserve their autonomy and sense of identity.

Tales often accompany the collection of songs to form the fundamental elements of folklore. Songs are essential since they instill values and proper morals to children. Children easily comprehend messages that are contained in songs, as opposed to other sources such as books. Elements of history and traditions can easily be inculcated in children using historical folklore. Further, other elements of culture are incorporated into the song message to enable the young generations to comprehend better the origin of their communities. The collections made by Creighton contained messages that concerned the Nova Scotia society. The process of gathering most songs involved a lot of traveling to get more materials from different respondents, including those who resided by the seashores (Fielding 55). In this regard, the opinion that most children in Nova Scotia comprehend their culture is valid. Songs that were collected and conserved still bear meaning in the current society, especially in the socialization of children.

Language is an essential component that defines people since it acts as the primary channel that helps any social order to pass the folklore from one age group to the other. Songs and stories strengthen language in the community. The different ethnic groups have unique modes of communication that should be adopted by every member of the community. Thus, it is important for folklore to ensure that different languages are preserved. The folklore collections made by Creighton have aided in the restoration of language among the people Nova Scotia (MacKinnon and MacKinnon 56). Their language has become popular because many people can access the songs and stories.


Beaton Institute archive is one of the richest destinations used in the conservation of historical information. The information originates from the diverse fields of politics, economy, as well as the social world. Helen Creighton has made vast collections that have been deposited in the archive. The groups include folksongs, ballads, and stories that originate from the Nova Scotia Society. Based on the expositions made in the paper, it is clear that the folklore collection has various advantages. First, it helps communities to transfer their culture to future generations. Besides preventing the distortion of ethnic languages, it also aids in the socialization of children

Works Cited

Buchan, David. The Ballad and the Folk (RLE Folklore), London, Routledge, 2015. Print.

Fielding, Peter. “A Concordance of Helen Creighton’s Songs and Ballads of Nova Scotia for use with Gary S. Karpinski and Richard Kram’s Anthology for Sight-Singing.”Canadian Folk Music/Musiquefolkloriquecanadienne 46.4(2013): 15-105. Print.

Gordon, Alan. “Museums of History, Personal Histories of Museums.” Acadiensis 44.1(2014): 12-73. Print.

MacKinnon, Richard, and Lachlan MacKinnon. “Travelling in Time to Cape Breton Island in the 1920s: Protest Songs, Murals and Island Identity.” London Journal of Canadian Studies 30.1(2015): 39-63. Print.

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"Nova Scotia Folklore Collections of Helen Creighton." IvyPanda, 20 Aug. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/nova-scotia-folklore-collections-of-helen-creighton/.

1. IvyPanda. "Nova Scotia Folklore Collections of Helen Creighton." August 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nova-scotia-folklore-collections-of-helen-creighton/.


IvyPanda. "Nova Scotia Folklore Collections of Helen Creighton." August 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nova-scotia-folklore-collections-of-helen-creighton/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Nova Scotia Folklore Collections of Helen Creighton." August 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/nova-scotia-folklore-collections-of-helen-creighton/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Nova Scotia Folklore Collections of Helen Creighton'. 20 August.

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