Folklorist, Folksong Collector
After receiving a music diploma from McGill University in 1915 and graduating from Halifax Ladies' College in 1916, Helen Creighton spent brief stints as a social worker, journalist and children's radio host in Halifax, and as a teacher in Mexico. In 1928, while researching a journalistic project on pirates, she interviewed people who knew stories and songs from pirate days. Realizing that Nova Scotians were a rich source of folklore, she set about collecting and transcribing songs and stories throughout the province, sometimes travelling on foot or by boat to reach isolated communities, and pushing her metre-long melodeon (reed organ) in a wheelbarrow. In the 1930s she recorded on wax cylinders, later switching to acetate discs and tape as they became available. She collected songs and stories for the Library of Congress in 1943-44 and 1948, and for the National Museum of Canada from 1947 to 1967.
Her collection of over 4,000 songs and many stories, in English, French, Gaelic, Micmac and German, includes some from the 13th and 15th centuries, as well as the now-popular Farewell to Nova Scotia. Many of the songs have been commercially recorded and have become the basis of ballet, opera and symphony scores. A recognized authority on folktales, particularly ghost stories, Creighton published a number of anthologies of stories and songs.
She was a Member of the Order of Canada, and among her many awards were six honorary doctorates and the Canadian Music Council Medal.
Her memory is kept alive through the Helen Creighton Folklore Festival in Dartmouth, and the Helen Creighton Foundation. Her collection is at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia.
Creighton, Helen. — The best of Helen Creighton. — Selected and introduced by Rosemary Bachman. — Hantsport (N.S.): Lancelot Press, 1988. — 143 p. — ISBN 0889993785
Edwards, Barry et al. — "Collecting the lore of maritime folk". — Fugue. — Vol. 2, no. 4 (December 1977). — ISSN 07028393. — P. 18-19, 27
Sclanders, Ian. — "She's collecting long lost songs". — Maclean's. — Vol. 65, no. 18 (September 1952). — ISSN 00249262. — P. 14-15, 54-57
You can listen to an excerpt of Farewell to Nova Scotia (1.12Mb) sung by Catherine McKinnon. This folksong was collected by Helen Creighton. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, ©1975)