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Collection info

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Collecting Nova Scotia Gaelic Folklore: An Overview

The first collector of the Gaelic folklore of Nova Scotia to realize the importance of using recording devices was John Lorne Campbell who visited the province on numerous occasions in the 1930s and 1950s expressly for the purpose of familiarizing himself with the Gaelic communities here and to record some of the rich material they had. Helen Creighton, author of Gaelic Songs of Nova Scotia with Calum I. MacLeod, and Charles Dunn, author of The Highland Settler also made important collections in the 1940s to the 1960s. In 1949 MacEdward Leach (see the Memorial University website http://www.mun.ca/folklore/leach/ ) visited the province and made a number of recordings as did Sidney Robertson Cowell and Diane Hamilton in the 1950s. Ralph Rinzler came to Cape Breton in the 1960s and was responsible for having the North Shore Gaelic singers appear at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island in 1965.

In the 1960s and 1970s Sister Margaret Beaton arranged for a number of people, including Joe Lawrence MacDonald, to make recordings of Gaelic in Cape Breton. These recordings are now housed at the Beaton Institute on the campus of Cape Breton University. In 1964 John Shaw first visited Cape Breton and recorded a wealth of material. (A copy of this collection known as the John Shaw Collection is located in the Department of Celtic Studies at StFX). Major Calum I. MacLeod during his years in Nova Scotia recorded Gaelic material and published some of it in Sgialachdan a Albainn Nuaidh. MacLeod’s recordings are housed in the Department of Celtic at the University of Glasgow. Rosemary McCormick made some fine recordings of Gaelic from the 1970s to the 1990s and has produced several commercial recordings such as A Tribute to the North Shore Gaelic Singers. In the late 1970s Kenneth Nilsen started recording Nova Scotians in Boston, Massachusetts. In the 1980s he started recording with videotape and now has an archive of over one hundred hours of interviews with Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers on videotape. Some of this material appeared in the Antigonish weekly newspaper The Casket in the 1980s to 1990s and in a number of academic articles. James Watson has recorded extensively in Cape Breton since the early 1980s. He has published much of this material in Sealladh gu Taobh and in Am Bràighe. Many private collections of Cape Breton recordings consist largely of instrumental music. In this regard, mention must be made of the work of Paul MacDonald, who has amassed a voluminous archive of both Cape Breton instrumental music and Gaelic singing. Mention must also be made of Ron Caplan whose Cape Breton’s Magazine included a substantial amount of material much of which he himself collected. And finally the names of Sister Margaret MacDonell, Father Malcolm MacDonell and Monsignor P.J. Nicholson, all of StFX, must be added to the list, not only for the collecting that they did, but also for the inspiration and assistance they gave to other collectors such as John Lorne Campbell, MacEdward Leach and John Shaw.

The Department of Celtic Studies and the StFX Archives welcome donations of recorded material and will take every effort to see that the material is properly preserved and made available to the public.

Ken Nilsen, April 2006
enCollecting Nova Scotia Gaelic Folklore: An Overview

The first collector of the Gaelic folklore of Nova Scotia to realize the importance of using recording devices was John Lorne Campbell who visited the province on numerous occasions in the 1930s and 1950s expressly for the purpose of familiarizing himself with the Gaelic communities here and to record some of the rich material they had. Helen Creighton, author of Gaelic Songs of Nova Scotia with Calum I. MacLeod, and Charles Dunn, author of The Highland Settler also made important collections in the 1940s to the 1960s. In 1949 MacEdward Leach (see the Memorial University website http://www.mun.ca/folklore/leach/ ) visited the province and made a number of recordings as did Sidney Robertson Cowell and Diane Hamilton in the 1950s. Ralph Rinzler came to Cape Breton in the 1960s and was responsible for having the North Shore Gaelic singers appear at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island in 1965.

In the 1960s and 1970s Sister Margaret Beaton arranged for a number of people, including Joe Lawrence MacDonald, to make recordings of Gaelic in Cape Breton. These recordings are now housed at the Beaton Institute on the campus of Cape Breton University. In 1964 John Shaw first visited Cape Breton and recorded a wealth of material. (A copy of this collection known as the John Shaw Collection is located in the Department of Celtic Studies at StFX). Major Calum I. MacLeod during his years in Nova Scotia recorded Gaelic material and published some of it in Sgialachdan a Albainn Nuaidh. MacLeod’s recordings are housed in the Department of Celtic at the University of Glasgow. Rosemary McCormick made some fine recordings of Gaelic from the 1970s to the 1990s and has produced several commercial recordings such as A Tribute to the North Shore Gaelic Singers. In the late 1970s Kenneth Nilsen started recording Nova Scotians in Boston, Massachusetts. In the 1980s he started recording with videotape and now has an archive of over one hundred hours of interviews with Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers on videotape. Some of this material appeared in the Antigonish weekly newspaper The Casket in the 1980s to 1990s and in a number of academic articles. James Watson has recorded extensively in Cape Breton since the early 1980s. He has published much of this material in Sealladh gu Taobh and in Am Bràighe. Many private collections of Cape Breton recordings consist largely of instrumental music. In this regard, mention must be made of the work of Paul MacDonald, who has amassed a voluminous archive of both Cape Breton instrumental music and Gaelic singing. Mention must also be made of Ron Caplan whose Cape Breton’s Magazine included a substantial amount of material much of which he himself collected. And finally the names of Sister Margaret MacDonell, Father Malcolm MacDonell and Monsignor P.J. Nicholson, all of StFX, must be added to the list, not only for the collecting that they did, but also for the inspiration and assistance they gave to other collectors such as John Lorne Campbell, MacEdward Leach and John Shaw.

The Department of Celtic Studies and the StFX Archives welcome donations of recorded material and will take every effort to see that the material is properly preserved and made available to the public.

Ken Nilsen, April 2006
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