History
Music
Music Mondays
st-patrick-header
St. Patrick depicted in a stained glass window at St. Benin's Church, Ireland (image by Andreas F. Borchert)

St. Patrick depicted in a stained glass window at St. Benin’s Church, Ireland (image by Andreas F. Borchert)

St. Patrick’s Day is March 17, the date of Patrick’s death. While it has come to be a secular celebration of Irish culture and, perhaps, more identified with nationalist and Republican sentiment, it began as a religious feast day. It was an official Protestant holiday in Ireland beginning in 1783. Probably by no coincidence it came during Lent where an exception to the prohibition on celebratory eating and drinking alcohol was welcomed and led to the embrace of St. Patrick’s Day by all. Four Christian denominations observe the holiday: Anglican, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran.

St. Patrick himself, the patron saint of Ireland, goes back to AD 387-461 and the arrival of Roman Catholic Christianity in Ireland. Then there’s the thing about the snakes but we won’t go there.

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History
Music
international-womens-day
women_workers_strike

Women’s Worker’s Strike in 1912.

International Women’s Day is one of the few celebrations observed in Canada that is the product of dissident or reform movements. Its origins go back to 1909 when the American Socialist Party held an event honouring the 1908 garment worker’s strike in New York, where women protested against gruelling working conditions in the city’s factories. The following year there was a women’s conference in Copenhagen and from a motion by two German socialist women, International Women’s Day was declared.

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Music
Music Mondays
Chinese New Year
Dancers in the 2010 Chinese New Year Parade, Vancouver (courtesy Vancouver Sun).

Dancers in the 2010 Chinese New Year Parade, Vancouver (courtesy Vancouver Sun).

Sunday, February 10 marks the Lunar New Year. For others it has already been the new year for some time. For Jews, the year 5774 will begin on September 5. For Thais, Cambodians and Laotians the new year will be celebrated in April.

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History
Music
Things//Choses
africville-library-and-archives-canada

Music historian Gary Cristall explores the history and music of a segregated, ignored, and later, demolished, community in Nova Scotia.

Music
Music Mondays
underground railroad
Advertisement from the Halifax Gazette, 30 May, 1752. Slavery was an accepted part of 18-century life in the colonies. Most slaves worked as domestic servants (courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

Advertisement from the Halifax Gazette, 30 May, 1752. Slavery was an accepted part of 18-century life in the colonies. Most slaves worked as domestic servants (courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

The Underground Railroad was a network of conspirators working to help slaves escape the United States to find refuge in the British Empire and other places where slavery was illegal. In 1850, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which helped slave owners recapture their escaped human “property.” The act put escaped or free Blacks living in non-slave states in danger. Freedom was found through the underground railroad. 

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Music
Music Mondays
TheCremationOfSamMcGee

It’s January and the depths of winter most places in the country. I was thinking about winter songs. I was going to mention a few contenders but then I figured I’d cut to the chase as they say. My hands down favourite winter song is a kind of extended groaner of a joke by one of Canada’s iconic poets, Robert W. Service.

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History
Music
Music Mondays
mummers
Mummers. Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 264, fol 21v.

Mummers. Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 264, fol 21v.

On a wall in my home is a print by David Blackwood. It features a line of humans dressed in various swaths of fabric, masked and guided by lanterns. It is titled, “Mummers Group at Pound Cove”. It is an eerie picture that conjures up images of medieval, Breughelesque, ceremonies. Mummering goes back to medieval times and, according to some scholars, to the back of beyond. No one really knows for sure. What we do know is that mummering, done by mummers, arrived in what is now Canada with the first English and Irish settlers and remains part of the Christmas tradition in at least Newfoundland and Labrador, although a friend from Prince Edward Island tells me it is still happening there, too.

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Music
Music Mondays
Maccabbee Rebellion
An engraving depicting the Maccabbee Rebellion (public domain).

An engraving depicting the Maccabbee Rebellion (public domain).

I grew up in Toronto in a militantly secular Jewish environment. My parents and their friends – comrades, really – were Communists. This meant that they were atheists. It also meant that they were passionately committed to a Jewish culture without religion. Our “temple” was the United Jewish People’s Order hall (UJPO) on Christie Street. It was a cultural Mecca, as it were. It was situated across the street from the park, Christie Pits. In August of 1933 a baseball team of Anglo Saxon Protestants flew a swastika flag – the emblem of the Hitler regime that had recently come to power in Germany.

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Music
Music Mondays
taiko

Asia is big! Technically it begins in Turkey and ends not far from Alaska in the north west or Singapore in the south west. That’s a lot of turf and hundreds of cultures. Many of them are represented by significant communities in Canada, from Koreans to Armenians to Lebanese to Punjabis to Tamils to Vietnamese to Chinese and Japanese.

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In the News
Music
Music Mondays
police-week-header
Police week music

A man sits at Queen and John Sts. in front front of a line of riot police during G20 protests in Toronto on June 26, 2010. (Image: Steve Russell, Toronto Star)

When I discovered that there is a National Police Week that runs from May 7 through 15 in Canada, I was delighted. There are so many songs that deal with the bad behavior of the police over many years, and this gives me the opportunity to share a few. It is probable that the first song about the unjust behavior of the police was written within days, if not hours, of the establishment of the first police force.

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Music
Music Mondays
Vancouver Public Library photos #8796 & 8788, via Lorne Brown, When Freedom was Lost (Black Rose Books, 1987)
may day vancouver

In Vancouver, in 1935, as many as 30,000 demonstrators paraded from the Cambie Street Grounds to a rally in Stanley Park. Vancouver Public Library, via Lorne Brown, When Freedom was Lost (Black Rose Books, 1987)

While May Day is celebrated widely just about everywhere except North America, its roots are firmly in the United States, in Chicago to be precise. It is also a product of the struggle of workers for the eight-hour day, one of the key demands of workers during the late nienteenth century and much of the twentieth. While May Day is known as the day of international workers’ solidarity, there is no one song associated with it. “Solidarity Forever”, “Joe Hill, Hold The Fort” and “The Internationale” are all widely sung in Canada as is “Bread and Roses”.

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History
Music
Music Mondays
Titanic-header

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I thought it was appropriate to revist some classic shipwreck songs, from the Jack-Johnson-inspired “Fare Thee Well Titanic” to a vibrant toast about escaping the Titanic’s sinking, and a popular Stan Rogers’ song about the fictional wreck and rebuilding of the the Mary Ellen Carter.

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