Songs of Wilbert Coffin – Article in Canadian Folk Music

Dear readers,

It’s been a while! I’m deep in the writing phase of my PhD dissertation on music, media, and memory in the English-speaking communities of the eastern Gaspé. This—along with car troubles and extensive travelling since last May—is largely why things have been so silent lately.

A while back, some of you will remember I did a post about a local song written by Barachois’ Milton McGregor and featuring a powerful rendition by Claude Rehel of Belle-Anse from the early 1960s. Earlier this year, I was asked by the publication Canadian Folk Music to contribute something for their special issue for the Canada 150 commemorations. I immediately thought of the Wilbert Coffin story and all the songs about it that I have encountered in our archives by local Gaspesian songwriters and musicians. I wanted to share this article with the readers because I know there are quite a few people in the community who collect materials written about the case: this is my humble contribution which I hope you might also appreciate.

Here is the article which you can also download.

Here is a playlist featuring the three of the four songs in the article:

This article features two compositions about the Coffin story by Milton McGregor ( just last week I found out that he composed at least one more); one from Barachois-West songwriter Keith Chicoyne; and another more contemporay offering by Dale Boyle from his first commercial solo release. You can hear all of these songs through links on the article. Here are two images from a lyric sheet prepared by Keith Chicoyne in his careful script.

At times, you might find the article is written in an academic language which can be a little less accessible than my writing here on the blog. If you read it and have any questions, feel free to send me a message or leave a comment. If I got anything wrong, again please leave a note; the same if you have any additional information or experiences to share. But the basic task of my article was the following:

  • Describe four songs about the Wilbert Coffin story and consider the “tools” used by the songwriters to tell the story through music.
  • Think about why the Wilbert Coffin story is so important in Gaspé and how the story circulates in the community and remains a part of the so-called “collective memory” of the region.
    • I also ask: Will the Wilbert Coffin story continue to circulate in the community 25, 50, or even 100 years from now? Will it still be told among family and neighbours as it is today? What role might these four songs play in keeping the memory of Wilbert Coffin alive and how might the archives I’ve setup with Vision help?

If you want to read more about the songwriters and musicians featured, take a look at my article.

Dale Boyle’s article and song on the Wilbert Coffin story is here. A performance of this same song on a 2007 episode of Enjeux produced by Radio-Canada is here. I also encourage everyone to check out Lorne Cotton’s fine rendition of McGregor’s “The Prospector’s Last Letter”  on his ReverbNation page.


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