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Places - Hope River, PEI “The Boys of the Island”

Song: “The Boys of the Island”
Singer: John O’Connor
Town: Hope River, PEI
NA 65.11      CD 87     Track 6
Collector: Edward D. Ives
Date: August 31, 1965
Roud: 9427

“The Boys of the Island” is about the trials of loggers coming down from Prince Edward Island to work in the woods of Maine. It was common for young men on PEI to go to Maine or New Brunswick to work in the logging industry all winter and then, after the spring drives, head back to the Island to fish or work on their farms. The author of “Boys of the Island” was likely Larry Gorman (1846-1917), himself a native of Prince Edward Island who went back and forth between the Island and the mainland to work before ending up in Maine permanently. Gorman composed a large number of song lyrics and poems during his lifetime, mostly about people he knew and experiences he had. He would set his words to old tunes and the majority of these songs were satirical. Because of his writing, Gorman was well known as “The Man Who Made the Songs,” but not always liked, among people in both Miramichi and Northern Maine. “Boys of the Island” was probably written between 1885 and 1894, or even 1888. It has a wider circulation than other songs attributed to Gorman, having been found all over Maine, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. A couple versions are from as far away as Alberta and British Columbia. This would seem to be evidence of its early composition.

There are, however, some doubts about Gorman’s having been the author of “Boys of the Island”. Ives, in Larry Gorman: The Man Who Made the Songs, wrote that “Many of [his] informants…said that [“Boys of the Island”] was by Larry Gorman, but just as many said they did not know who made it up.” (123) The Fitzgerald brothers, of Waterford, PEI, maintained that “Boys of the Island” was written by “Beaver Jack” McInnis, another Islander who went to Maine. Also, the song is about Bangor of the 1880s, and by that time, Gorman had left Bangor and was in Ellsworth. This is hardly enough evidence to make a solid argument against Gorman’s authorship, however.

The “Kennebecker” mentioned in stanza two is a carpet bag. It acquired its name because men from the Kennebec River were the first ones to bring them into the woods. “Waylock or Clark,” also rendered as “Sherlock or Clark,” were cobblers. A “PI” was a term commonly used by Mainers to refer to someone from the Island. It was easy for the more experienced lumbermen in Maine to recognize a greener man from PEI by his homespun clothing, as homespun was commonly worn by the residents of Prince Edward Island at that time. “Tim Leary,” in the fourth stanza, is Timothy J. O’Leary, a river driver who became a policeman in 1885.

Boys of the Island_John O’Connor NA65.11 CD87 Tr6

You sporting young lads from Prince Edward’s Island,
I pray you attend ‘til I tell you the truth;
A lumberman’s life is of short duration,
It’s mingled with sorrow, hard work, and good grub.
And if you hereafter according to scripture,
The worst of our lifetime is yet for to come.

The boys of the Island, their homes are not happy,
Say, “Boys, let us go; we are doing no good!”
Their mind is uneasy, continually crazy,
To get over to Bangor to work in the woods.
A new suit of clothes is prepared for the journey,
A new pair of boots made by Waylock or Clark,
A new Kennebecker well stuffed with good homespun,
And then the young Islander, he will embark.

Arriving at Bangor he stands at the station –
The bushmen he views ‘em all with a keen eye.
Saying, “Look at the clothes the laddie is wearing,”
And quickly he’ll tell you that you’re a P.I.
“It’s true I’m a native of Prince Edward’s Island,
I left my old home when 18 years old;
It was intention all for to do better,
And return to the Island with handfuls of gold.
It’s true, my brave boys, I’ve earned lots of money,
The curse of a bushmen fell on me also;
My money did go like snow in the June time,
And back to the woods every fall I must go.”

At Bangor they’ll poison the chaps with bad whiskey,
To the devil they’ll fire their brandy and ale,
And when in the corner you begin to get tipsy,
They’ll send for Tim Leary and sack you to jail.
Talk of the laws, by the mother of Moses,
I’ve seen better laws in the heathen Chinese,
Where a man would get drunk, in the morning get sober,
Beneath the green shade of the old elm tree.

Sources: Ives, Edward D. Drive Dull Care Away: Folksongs from Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown, PEI: Institute of Island Studies, 1999, 19-20, 242; Ives, Edward D. Larry Gorman: The Man Who Made the Songs. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Goose Lane Editions, 1993, 122-125; Doerflinger, William Main. Shantymen and Shantyboys. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1951, 218-19; Eckstorm, Fannie Hardy, and Mary Winslow Smyth. Minstrelsy of Maine. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1927, 119; and Manny, Louise. “Larry Gorman: Miramichi Balladist,” The Maritime Advocate and Busy East, XL, No. 3(October, 1949), 5-15.

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