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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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1. We imagine that there will be general agreement with the numerous views expressed to us that Canadian folklore forms an important though neglected part of our history and of our traditions. The work of the National Museum and, more specifically, of Dr. Marius Barbeau in collecting and in publishing Canadian folklore over the last forty years, as we remarked in an earlier chapter, is well known. As a consequence of these activities there exists, although largely in unpublished form, a very great collection of Indian, French-Canadian and English-Canadian folk-songs, including some 12,000 texts of folk-songs in French, 6,000 recordings of melodies of French-Canadian songs, many hundred texts and tunes of English-Canadian folk-songs and, in addition, some 3,000 Indian songs from all parts of Canada. Moreover, the National Museum has collected many thousands of written records of myths, folk-tales, stories and popular wit, together with detailed descriptions of games and of dances. This material, as indicated above, exists very largely in unclassified or unpublished form since the collection of these materials has far exceeded the Museum's capacity to publish the results of the extensive work which has now been going on for nearly two generations.

2. Probably less well known than the work of the National Museum in the field of folklore, at least in English-speaking Canada, are the activities of the Department of Folklore of Laval University where a chair was founded in 1944, the first such chair in Canada. This chair was founded at Laval so that the manners, customs, beliefs, institutions, language and literature of Canada on a popular level could be studied, described, explained and compared with the folklore of other parts of the world. The Department at Laval has undertaken the compilation of a bibliography of Canadian material which involves a careful search of books, reviews and newspapers published in Canada or about Canada. This Department has also collected a large manuscript library and obtains transcripts of important documents preserved in other institutions. Many original manuscripts have been discovered and are being preserved, including books of songs, recipes and popular remedies.

3. So far as limited funds permit, the Department of Folklore also collects relics of the past that were once in common use and are now or soon will be obsolete, such as tools, furniture, handicraft implements


and so on. In the subject of folklore, however, the most important and the most valuable source of information is found in the memories and in the experience of people still alive. For this reason, under the direction of the Department, exhaustive inquiries are made covering the entire domain of folklore in those parts of the country where traditional customs are still maintained. In various regions of Quebec studies have been conducted dealing with costumes and with children's games and dances. Studies also are made of popular music, and still others deal with traditional stories and songs, with popular festivals and with folk-customs. We have been informed that more than 1,000 original stories or popular songs not hitherto collected have been recorded by students and specialists working under the direction of this Department of Folklore at Laval.

4. Apart from the very great work of collecting and classifying this material, the Department of Folklore gives formal courses of instruction and, as a consequence of these researches, it has been possible to arrange specialized courses on such matters as dialects of French-Canadian speech in comparison with the mother dialects in France. These and other courses have attracted students from the United States and from English-speaking Canada.

5. This Department of Folklore since 1946 has published with assistance from the National Museum a semi-annual volume entitled Archives de Folklore. The Department has established and maintains close contact with folklore organizations in some twenty countries. Although the Archives de Folklore has been welcomed and enthusiastically received in countries abroad, there has been relatively little encouragement for this venture in Canada. The Department of Folklore would like to be able to complete its library and to undertake more systematic collections for its folklore museum. It is also anxious, as is indeed the National Museum, to make readily available in published form the results of its field activities which it would like to extend.

6. In Manitoba, we learned with interest of the work of the St. Boniface Historical Society which is making an effort to gather together the remnants of popular history and of folklore from the pioneers, both French and Métis, who are still familiar with the early history of Manitoba. It is sometimes forgotten that it is more than 200 years since the French came to what is now known as Manitoba; and songs and stories among these Manitoba French have been discovered which are not found elsewhere in Canada or the United States. We were also told that in New Brunswick there is still a large body of local tradition, of folklore, and of old French and British songs which have not yet been collected. Through a private benefaction, some effort is now being made to collect this traditional material before it is lost or forgotten.

7. We are sympathetic to a point of view frequently suggested to us


that folklore forms an essential part of Canadian culture; indeed, for many of our people, the traditions of folklore are stronger and more productive than the more formal type of Canadian history taught in our schools and colleges. It is, of course, true that in many parts of the world national culture has its strongest roots in and draws much of its sustenance from folk-music, folk-dances, folk-tales and, in general, from popular traditions; and it would seem to us an unfortunate and even a great national loss if the background in music, in art, in craft skills and in the popular traditions generally of our varied peoples in Canada should, through neglect and indifference, be forgotten.

8. We are informed that there are now in Canada at least seventy-five local historical societies and that some of their work falls within the wide and somewhat ill-defined field of folklore. Much, however, of what has been accomplished and of what now is in progress is too little known to Canadian citizens generally; even those societies interested in such matters are all too often unaware of what others in the same field are doing. Canadian folklore, though regional in character, is a matter of general interest and could be an important element in increasing our sense of national community and of national neighbourliness. It is suggested that means be found to make known the very considerable material that has been collected but not published. Canadians have reason to be grateful to the societies and individuals who have with great devotion but little recognition saved for the future much that is both valuable and appealing in our varied national traditions.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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