July 1, 2013
Song: “Walter Mullin”
Singer: Marie Hare
Town: Subject lived in Whitney, NB; collected in Miramichi, NB
Collector: Lee Swearingen
Date: August 1972
July 1st is Canada Day (or Fête du Canada), a federal holiday celebrating the anniversary of the July 1, 1867 enactment of the British North America Act (today called the Constitution Act), which united three colonies into a single country within the British Empire. The occasion marks the joining of the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (divided into Ontario and Quebec) into a federation of four provinces. Canada became a kingdom in its own right on that date, but the British parliament maintained limited political control over Canada. This power was shed by stages over the years until the last vestiges were surrendered in 1982, when the Canadian government fully separated from British authority. Originally called Dominion Day, the holiday was renamed in 1982 following passage of the Canada Act.
Canada Day observances take place throughout Canada as well as among Canadians internationally. Celebration of Canada is generally decentralized, and the question of whether or not traditional celebrations have emerged is a little fuzzy. The “official website of Canada Day” (www.canada-day.ca) provides a list of suggestions for activities on the holiday. From an American perspective, the list reads much like a to-do list for the 4th of July. However, several suggestions stand out: go to a local brewery, go for a ride in a hot air balloon, go to a citizenship ceremony, and – wait for it – go on a bear watch. On second thought, those suggestions would fit well for Maine Day, too.
The NAFOH does not contain any songs or stories directly relevant to Canada Day, but we do have some materials that fit the theme of the holiday. “Walter Mullin” is a patriotic ballad from Canada. Written by Wallace Travis about a friend who died in World War I, the ballad never ranged far from Whitney, New Brunswick (the song uses the town’s older name, Whitneyville). The song was included in Louise Manny’s Songs of Miramichi, but has not been published anywhere else. It was, however, a popular song in the early years of the Miramichi Folksong Festival. It was likely based on a poem “The Graves of a Household,” by Felicia Henmans (1793-1835).
Lyrics (some of the lyrics were difficult to understand and our best guesses are marked in brackets):
They grew in beauty side by side, they filled one home with glee,
But now one sleeps beneath the sod, across the dark blue sea.
That same fond mother oft times watched her children at their play,
She never dreamt that one dear boy, would go so far away.
But that dear mother can be proud, she raised a son so brave;
He faced the deadly cannon, his country for to save.
Oh, Whitneyville, my native home, the land that gave me birth,
When but a boy thou was to me, the dearest place on earth.
You sent one gallant hero forth, across the raging main,
Where the cannon sing [the song of kill], and the bullets fly like rain.
Did he hang back, afraid to go, when he heard his country call?
He was brave, he was true, and he knew what it meant, if the dear old flag should fall.
He loved his native country, and his heart was true and brave,
So he changed his home in Whitneyville, for a Canadian soldier’s grave.
Oh, my heart it was so very sad, when I heard my comrade fell,
For he and I were close schoolmates, and we loved each other well.
We sat together side by side, in the dear old country school;
It was there we did the best we could, to obey the Golden Rule.
Oft times we teased the little girls, and made the teacher mad,
But we took the bitter with the sweet, and a jolly time we had.
When our country called for volunteers, my comrade he did go,
Across the angry [billows,] to fight old England’s foe.
He reached the angry battlefield, where the [shot there did fly,]
And there he faced the enemy, with a keen and a steady eye.
The bullets whistled by him, and close to him did go,
At last the fatal one is landed, my comrade was laid low.
Oh, how it grieved his mother dear, when the news came from afar,
That her son was killed in action, in the European war.
But as the sad years rolled along, she can the story tell,
That her son took part in that great war, and in the battle fell.
Oh, Whitneyville, my native home, why are you holding back?
Why don’t you go and do your bit, to save our Union Jack?
I know it is nice by the fireside, on a cold and wintery night,
And a cozy bed looks snug and warm, but what about the fight?
Are you going to sit in your old arm chair, and let others do it all?
Is it nothing to you if we win or lose, or in the battle fall?
You have feasted on the honey, of our native land,
Now you are wanted at the front, and you will not take your stand.
Oh, why can’t you be like Walter Mullin, a man so true and brave?
Who laid down his life on the battlefield, your country and mine to save.