Un Canadien errant (a Wandering Canadian)

One of my sisters found this notebook page inserted in a book, Ireland’s Best Loved Songs and Ballads for Easy Piano, that our mother had given her:

lyrics un canadien errant

Well, that’s pretty much the Ottawa Valley for you: a French-Canadian ballad inserted into the pages of an Irish songbook. The Gallic-Gaelic connection, if you will.

This song is all about the rebellions of 1837 and 1838 (as my mother noted in her beautifully clear script, which my father always called “the nun’s handwriting”).

Un Canadien Errant, as sung by Alan Mills. That “O mon cher Canada!” always chokes me up. I’m sentimental that way.

Wikipedia has a rough translation of the original French lyrics into English.

“A unique musical culture:” the Ottawa Valley

I’m a jolly good fellow,

Patt Gregg is my name,

I came from the Chapeau,

that village of fame.

For singing and dancing

and all kinds of fun,

the boys from the Chapeau

cannot be outdone.

Chapeau Boys

From the logging shanties and the dance halls of the Ottawa Valley: “a unique musical culture.”

The Barley Grain For Me (O.J. Abbott and Pete Seeger)


O.J. [Oliver John] Abbott, Home Child, singing “The Barley Grain For Me” with Pete Seeger, at the Newport Folk Festival, 1959-60:

How/why did this English orphan from Paddington, London know so many of the old Irish tunes? Because when he was sent to Canada, as an 8- or 9-year old boy, he was placed with some of the Irish farmers of South March (and apparently learned some of his songs from the Laheys of March).

(More on O.J. Abbott in a future entry…he is one of Canada’s most notable folk singers).

The best damn fiddler…

Reading Peter Behrens’ The O’Briens, I was reminded (because of the novel’s character of Mick Heaney, a drunkard and a degenerate, and an Ottawa Valley fiddler) of a film I watched many years ago: The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar.

Not that Emery Prometer (the main character of the film, and also a hard-drinking Ottawa Valley fiddler) is anywhere near as awful as the lecherous and child-molesting Mick Heaney. Prometer is not awful at all, really (or not like that, not like Heaney), though he’s certainly an irresponsible husband and father. The film depicts him as a lovable ne’er-do-well, a sympathetic, though obviously flawed, character.

The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar by Peter Pearson, National Film Board of Canada.

Johnny Moran sings ‘The Jolly Tinker’

John Alexander Moran, Ottawa, early 1960s

John Alexander Moran, Ottawa, early 1960s

My dad loved life; and family; and food; and drink; and song: he loved life, he loved it all.

He had a big heart. And he loved life: he loved it all.

As a younger man, when he was hale and hearty, he had a beautiful singing voice too. And he knew so many songs!

He taught us some of the old Irish ballads, and some of the newer Irish tunes too (yes, I can sing ‘The Dutchman’ from start to finish, without a cheat sheet: thanks, Dad!), and some Canadian folk songs, and a couple of dear old French Canadian numbers, as well. He taught us to always have a ‘party piece’ or two with which to entertain the company.

Here his voice had weakened, and he couldn’t remember all the lyrics, so my sister got the lyrics up through google, but he had trouble reading them from the screen. But as sick as he was here, he was game, he was ready to sing, and still his voice  rings true.

So  here he is, loving life while dying of cancer, singing “The Jolly Tinker.”1. He loved life; and family; and song: he just loved it all.


  1. Canadian Thanksgiving, 2012 = October 2012