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The Music of Our Burnished Axes

Songs and Stories of the Woods Workers of Newfoundland and Labrador

Table of contents

List of Images | ix
Foreword | Beverley Diamond | xv
Acknowledgements | xvii
Abbreviations | xix
1 Lumbering and Logging in Newfoundland and Labrador: A Historical Backdrop for Occupational Culture | Ursula A. Kelly | 1
2 The Occupational Songs, Recitations, Poems, and Stories of the Woods Workers of Newfoundland and Labrador: An Introduction | Ursula A. Kelly | 39
3 Musical Features of the Songs and Tunes of the Woods Workers of Newfoundland and Labrador | Meghan C. Forsyth | 57
4 Songs and Tunes | 63
5 Recitations | 281
6 Poems | 317
7 Narratives and First-Person Accounts | 381
Appendix A
    Annotated List of Migratory Woods Songs | 419
Appendix B
    Titles of Songs and Tunes | 429
    Titles of Recitations | 430
    Titles of Poems | 430
    Titles of Narratives and First-Person Accounts | 431
    First Lines of Songs | 431
    First Lines of Recitations | 433
    First Lines of Poems | 433
Glossary | 435
Reference List | 441
Index | 457
About the Authors | 466

The first collection of the music and writings of the woodworkers of Newfoundland and Labrador creates a portrait of a culture.


While well-known songs such as “The Badger Drive” and “Tickle Cove Pond” provide glimpses into the hard labour and rich culture of woods work in early twentieth-century Newfoundland and Labrador, little has been written about the lives of woods workers and the extent of their enduring cultural legacies. Songs, stories, recitations, poems, and instrumental tunes flourished in the woods camps. Many of them were created locally and reflect the people and experiences of woods work. Passed down by oral tradition in bunkhouses and at work sites, in family kitchens and at community concerts, these songs and stories address a gap in our understanding of this occupational culture and its history.

This book is the first comprehensive collection of musical compositions, recitations, poems, and narratives written by, for, and about twentieth-century woods workers in Newfoundland and Labrador. It analyzes their significance—as both grassroots social history texts and creative and musical contributions—and creates a portrait of a culture shaped by the harvesting of timber. Inside you will find: a history of lumbering and logging; an exploration of the place of song and story in woods work and culture; musical transcriptions of 76 locally composed songs and tunes, with analysis of this musical tradition; complete song lyrics with contextual discussion; more than 70 archival photos; and a glossary of occupational words.


"The Music of Our Burnished Axes. ..offers a way into understanding the interactions between music-making and labor among North American woods workers. It additionally provides a brand-new reference source for those looking to put into sonic context the lives and work of members of this community. "

- Katherine Pukinskis, The Journal of Folklore Research

"[The Music of Our Burnished Axes] is a strong, stirring composition of voices. What a resource; what a trove. "

- Joan Sullivan, The Telegram

"The Music of Our Burnished Axes provides a corpus of material that is ripe for future research. It is commendable both for the breadth of the authors’ research and for the success of their efforts to let the sources speak for themselves. The voices of woods workers in Newfoundland and Labrador resound with great clarity. "

- Lachlan MacKinnon, Newfoundland and Labrador Studies