The sixteen songs in this selection include two by American songwriters, five that deal with primarily American subjects, seven that are intentional cross-border comparison-contrasts, three on universal themes and two on First Nations Ones.
- The Eagle and the Beaver – Two creatures who live throughout North America and ended up being adopted by the countries on either side the border: one because it’s at the top of the airborne food chain, the other because its pelt ended up dominating the clothing market of high society Europe, leading to trade and political warfare between the European peoples who duked it out under William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc.
- The Yin and the Yang – This is a comment on the spirit of the two countries of North America. It does not equate exactly with the countries on either side of their shared border. One can find evidence of both Yin and Yang in both societies, though with less population and larger wilds in Canada the Yin has decidedly a greater strength here. More than politics, nationality or gender, the Yin-Yang polarity reflects the functioning of the two hemispheres of the brain (see Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight). Our task is to hold these in harmony and balance.
- Across the Great Divide (Kate Wolf) – This song is more about time than space but in the quantum perspective the two are vectors of a continuum. Kate was a gifted, sensitive and prolific (200+) songwriter from California who understood and embodied the Yin of the North American Spirit in balance, as Stan Rogers’ personified the Yang with a developed Yin strain. Like Rogers, she was with us for a relatively short time and died of leukemia at 44, three years after Stan’s death in an aircraft fire. She played at festivals in Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver in the last years of her life, and she overlapped with Stan in Calgary for the last year of his. Musically these two artists showed some of the best of the Canada-US cross-border flow.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2Kn3j7o2yY
- Medicine Wheel (Kate Wolf) – One of many songs that show Wolfe’s attunement to First Nations that transcend borders and have much to teach later arrivals here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qOXmtM5w18
- California (Stan Rogers) – Stan shared the stage of the Calgary Folk Festival with Kate Wolf the summer before he died. She was a Californian who sang in Canada, he a fervent Canadian who sang States side but refused to relocate as many Canadians had done. Here he explains the southern pull, his ambivalence and resistance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vInoSI8EZhY
- The COHO – A US registered ferry that’s been crossing Juan da Fuca Strait from Port Angeles, WA, to Victoria BC for almost 60 years “cross-stitching a border and two countries, bringing their peoples together.” Her life has been dependable, without incident operationally, and her whistle 2-3 times daily in the Inner Harbour is as dependable as a city clock.
- William Phipps and Frontenac – Before there was a US and Canada, New England and New France raided across what is now the border. Their parent countries and corporations drew North American First Nations into Euro-tribalism. Frontenac and Phipps were opposing proxy warriors at a time New France included not only land along the Saint Lawrence but down the Mississippi to its mouth. It was the one time when the more northerly of the two North American countries was dominant on the continent, thanks to military reinforcement from Louis XIV. This song recounts a famous incident where Canadian bluff and bravado triumphed sent the future Americans scurrying back to their New England base. It contains a little known appendix of how Frontenac’s victory had a softening effect on the witch trials at Salem to which Phipps returned.
- William Cornelius Van Horne – The first General Manager and later CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway was an American who became the youngest rail superintend in the world States side, then came to Canada to build the world’s longest railway line at the time. In competition with American transcontinentals south of Forty-Nine, he was rigorous in enforcing the “Canadian all the way” policy, including sidelining Canadian J.J. Hill who had hired him but was in conflict of interest as a builder/shareholder of Great Northern. Van Horne chose to remain in Canada, placing his mark on the country and turning down offers to return States side for a larger salary.
- The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (Gordon Lightfoot) – One of Lightfoot’s two historic epics (Canadian Railroad Trilogy is the other), this describes the tragedy of the American freighter that foundered in a gale on Lake Superior November 10, 1975. The vessel was bound for Detroit and Cleveland on her last voyage of the season with a load of iron ore pellets from Superior, Wisconsin. When launched, the Fitzgerald was the largest carrier on the Great Lakes and the first to carry more than a million tons of ore through the Soo Locks. The vessel, her crew, cargo and destination were all American though she sank in Canadian waters. The universal popularity of the song—almost at the top of both US and UK charts on the first two anniversaries of the wreck—shows the timeless sense of identification “with those in peril on the sea.” All 29 crew went down with the ship. Lightfoot considers this song his greatest work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vST6hVRj2A
- Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) – The “both sides” can refer to Mitchell’s personal story, growing up in Saskatchewan, going to art school in Calgary, living for a time on the BC Coast and finally settling in California. This song was written in Calgary in March 1967 and recorded later that year by Judy Collins. It appeared on Mitchell’s 1969 album “Clouds.” The song has been recorded hundreds of times by male and female vocalists in many languages. Interpretations in French Je n’ai rien appris” include versions by Marie Laforêt, Robert Goulay, Christine Longet, Christine Charbonneau, Nana Mouskouri and Françoise Hardy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOoMlsNR-1U
- City of New Orleans/Salut les Amoureux (Steve Goodman) – This song was popularized by Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie who gave us “This Land is your land” and became a classic on both sides of the border. https://www.youtube.com Seventeen years after Goodman wrote the song in 1971, the Illinois Central Railroad was purchased by Canadian National, giving CN a link south along the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. This addition was painted as part of a map on the sides of CN locomotives, creating a T-shape (the cross-bar is the Canadian transcontinental line) and replacing the former black-and-white zebra stripe CN paint scheme. The rail line has re-established the Canadian Connection created when LaSalle sailed down the Mississippi, building forts on route and claiming the territory for New France! A French song to the tune, “Salut les Amoureux” (1972 Joe Dassin) is about parting lovers, with nothing to do with the railway. It has been recorded by a number of Québécois singers including Roch Voisine who often sings French and English versions back to back.
- The Wild Rose and Yellow – This song highlights the celebrated parallels between the cattle-and-oil province and its US counterpart. It was written when Alberta’s Wildrose Party was in full bloom. Events since 2015 can either be seen to date the song or in fulfillment of its last verse “And women may lead as they once did before.” The tune (“The Wild Rover”) is well known in pubs; those who may not recognize the title may recall the chorus (“No, Nay, Never”) A you tube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt6zxMK6JFI&list=PLAIluY1Vw2nUZNHMC4h__IBw_GG30yeOQ&index=6
- The Universal Soldier (Buffy Sainte-Marie) – A true citizen of the world, Buffy Sainte-Marie was born in Piapot, Saskatchewan, grew up in New England where she received an advanced degree in English and became a leading activist in the 1960s which she describes in this introduction to her international anti-war song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGWsGyNsw00
- The Hudson and the Saint Lawrence – Westerners are challenged to differentiate our two countries, more than people in the east. The Great Central Plain is a north-south feature of both countries, easy to cross and crossed frequently by Canadians before 1962 completion of the Trans-Canada Highway. Easterners especially in Ontario are held apart from Americans by the Great Lakes, despite the easy crossings at Niagara and Detroit. But distinguished historian H. A. Innis pointed out that the two main rivers of eastern North America created separate and competing economies for which the later railways were transcontinental extensions. This song takes that idea and traces it back to a time before the Saint Lawrence. It takes two other pairs of rivers, one empting in the Pacific and the other in the Arctic Ocean, as symbols of the parallels and points of departure between the two countries that share the North American continent.
- Go Carry It On (Buffy Sainte-Marie) – Sainte-Marie’s planetary and First Nations anthem where she blends the various strands of her life and work with the cosmic themes of childhood, nature and stewardship they intersect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08gyjR0Sk4s
16. The Fort and the Port – There are two Vancouvers 480 km/300 mi les apart on the Pacific coast on opposite sides of the Canada-US border. The US city is much smaller but older, built on the orders of Hudson’s Bay Company Governor Sir George Simpson at a time when it appeared that the Columbia River would be the boundary line between the two countries. This song explores the parallel tales of the two cities.”