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Helen Creighton
Born Mary Helen Creighton
September 5, 1899(1899-09-05)
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Died December 12, 1989
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Nationality Canadian
Occupation folklorist, author
Employer Rockefeller Foundation[1 ] Canadian Museum of Civilization[1 ], CBC
Known for Collecting songs and stories in the Maritimes
Parents Charles and Alice (nee Terry) Creighton

Mary Helen Creighton, CM (September 5, 1899 - December 12, 1989) was a prominent Canadian folklorist. She collected over 16,000 traditional songs, stories, and myths in a career that spanned several decades, and she published many books and articles on Nova Scotia folk songs and folklore. She received numerous honorary degrees for her work and was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1976.[3]


Early life

Born on Portland Street in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, she developed an early interest in folklore and the super natural. She had a sister who suffered from a mental disability.[4] Between 1914 and 1916 she attended Halifax Ladies College. In 1918, she joined the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto and by 1920, she had returned to Nova Scotia as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross Caravan.[5]

Song collecting

In 1928, Creighton returned to Nova Scotia in search of literary material, and met with Dr. Henry Munro, the Superintendent of Education for the Province of Nova Scotia. Dr. Munro showed her a copy of Sea Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia by W. Roy MacKenzie and suggested Helen attempt to find more songs.[6] She began to travel around Nova Scotia, collecting songs, tales and customs of Gaelic, English, German, Mi'kmaq, African and Acadian origin. Frequently, she had to walk or sail to remote regions to satisfy her interest, all the while pushing a metre-long melodeon in a wheelbarrow. Among Creighton's many contributions was the discovery of the traditional "Nova Scotia Song", widely called "Farewell to Nova Scotia", which has become a sort of provincial anthem.

Between 1942 and 1946, Creighton received three Rockefeller Foundation fellowships to collect songs in Nova Scotia.[1 ] The second and third of these fellowships was used to collect songs with equipment loaned by the Library of Congress.[7].

She made rare excursions outside of Nova Scotia, notably to New Brunswick from 1954 to 1960 (Folksongs from Southern New Brunswick contains material from that period), however, she preferred not to collect in the places of fellow researchers such as Louise Manny.

Now known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization, she was on staff here from 1947-1967. In her later life she lived at Evergreen House on Newcastle Street in Dartmouth.


Helen Creighton had little formal training in folklore and song collecting and has been criticized for requiring academics to edit the published collections. While regarded as among the most significant collectors in North America, reviews of Helen's published volumes have drawn some criticism. Historian Ian MacKay argues that Creighton was a product of her class and social upbringing and that her folk collections were incorporated and co-opted as part of a broader movement that contributed to the commodification of "Scottishness" in Nova Scotian tourism literature in the late 1930s and later that defied class and historical realities.[8] McKay further suggests that Creighton's work was used by the provincial government of Angus L. Macdonald (and by later governments and influential writers) to create a myth of "hardy fisherfolk" and "Nova Scotia rustics" that actually demean, commidify, and mythologize the realities of working-class lived experience in Nova Scotia. [9]

Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia has been criticized for 'selective editing'.[10] Maritime Folk Songs, a record of nineteen songs from Dr. Creighton's collection, was criticized by some reviewers for its selection of songs.[11]


  • Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia (1932, republished 1966)
  • Folklore of Lunenburg County (1950)
  • Traditional Songs from Nova Scotia (1950)
  • Bluenose Ghosts (1957)
  • Maritime Folk Songs (1962, republished 1972)
  • Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia (1964)
  • Bluenose Magic (1968)
  • Folksongs from Southern New Brunswick (1971)
  • A Life in Folklore (1975)
  • Eight Ethnic Songs for Young Children (1977)
  • Nine Ethnic songs for Older Children (1977)
  • With a Heigh-Heigh-Ho (1986)
  • Fleur de Rosier (1989)


  1. ^ a b c MacGregor, N. & Croft. C. (2008).
  2. ^ NSARM (2008).
  3. ^ NSARM (2008); MacGregor, N. & Croft. C. (2008)
  4. ^ EverGreen House.
  5. ^ Many of the dates found in this article can be found in supporting documents at Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management
  6. ^ Creighton, H. (1975). p. 48.
  7. ^ Creighton, H. (2008). p. 133-135.
  8. ^ Ian MacKay, Quest of the Folk, McGill-Queens University Press, 1994
  9. ^ See also [1]
  10. ^ Wilgus, D.K. (1959), p. 200
  11. ^ Karpeles, M (1963, p. 149)


  • Creighton, H. (1975). A life in folklore. Toronto, Montreal: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
  • Karpeles. M. (1963). "Review of Maritime Folk Songs". Journal of the International Folk Music Council, 15, p. 149.
  • McGregor, N. & Croft. C. (2008). Creighton, Helen. In Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Historica Foundation of Canada. Retrieved February 28, 2008 from
  • Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management. (2008). Helen Creighton - Archival Description. Retrieved February 28, 2008 from
  • Wilgus, D.K. (1959). Anglo-American folksong scholarship since 1898. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

External links



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