Humanities (HUMN) 424

Canadian Folk Music (Revision 1)

HUMN 424 course cover

Permanently closed, effective June 6, 2017.

Delivery Mode: Individualized study

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Humanities

Prerequisite: None

Precluded Course: This course is cross-listed as MUSI 424: Canadian Folk Music, which is a precluded course. Students may not receive credit in both courses. 

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

Humanities Home Page

HUMN 424 has a Challenge for Credit option.


Canadian Folk Music is an interdisciplinary course that draws principally on the disciplines of ethnomusicology, folklore, and cultural history, while also taking into account perspectives from academics working within the fields of cultural studies, ballad studies, and musicology. Successive units of the course examine the folksongs and instrumental music of the Canadian provinces, from Newfoundland and Labrador in the east to British Columbia in the west, while also paying attention to the music of First Nations and ethnic minorities. While its primary focus is on traditional music, the course also traces the history of the Canadian folk music revival from its 19th century origins to contemporary developments in the 21st century.


The aim of the course is to give students a good grounding in the scholarly literature on the subject of Canadian musical traditions, as well as to provide a systematic introduction to the remarkable variety of Canadian vernacular song and to its historical development since the colonial era. Given the size of Canada and the diversity of its cultural traditions, the course recognizes the need to examine regional and ethnic differences and trace the development of the pan-Canadian folk music revival since World War II. Since it is not possible to study all aspects of Canadian traditional and vernacular music in one semester, the course also seeks to provide students with the opportunity and means to explore in more detail those facets of the subject that particularly interest them.


The course begins with an introduction to Canadian folksong by means of an overview of regions, song-types, and major song-collectors. After discussing the scholarly debate over the legitimacy of concepts such as “folk music” and “vernacular song,” we explore the controversy over the fieldwork of a prominent Canadian folklorist, Helen Creighton, and the variety of First Nations music in Canada. With this background, the course commences a region-by-region survey of Canadian traditional music, moving from the Atlantic provinces through Quebec and Ontario to the prairies and British Columbia. Case studies include a focus on two traditional singers, O. J. Abbott and LaRena Clark, and the oeuvre of two important song-collectors, Edith Fowke and Phil Thomas. After examining the varied music of Canadian ethnic minorities and religious groups, the final section of the course is devoted to the history of the folksong revival in Canada from its late-19th-century beginnings to the contemporary folk music scene. We devote four units to the Canadian folk music revival: one on its beginnings and early stages before World War II, one focused on the boom during the 1950s and 1960s, one on developments during the last quarter of the 20th century, and finally one examining the contemporary folk music scene in Canada since the year 2000.

While much of the reading done by students in the course is from scholarly articles available online in digital databases, the course also utilizes musical scores and recordings on a CD-Rom. These materials will be of particular value to primary and secondary school teachers interested in using folksong as a means of illustrating Canadian history and the diversity of Canadian culture.

The course is divided into the following units:

  1. Introduction to Canadian Folksong: An Overview of Regions, Song-Types and Collectors
  2. Concepts, Terms, Perspectives and Context
  3. The Joys and Pitfalls of Vernacular Song Collecting: A Case Study of Helen Creighton
  4. Music of First Nations
  5. Newfoundland and Labrador: Ballads, Folk Lyrics, and Sea Songs
  6. The Maritimes: Narrative, Occupational, and Gaelic Song
  7. Francophone Song in Quebec and Ontario
  8. Ontario: The Work of Edith Fowke
  9. Two Case Studies: Singers O.J. Abbott and LaRena Clark
  10. The West: Songs of the Prairies
  11. British Columbia: The Philip. J. Thomas Collection
  12. Music of Ethnic Minorities
  13. The Canadian Folksong Revival I: Origins to the Post-war Revival
  14. The Canadian Folksong Revival II: The Boom: The Sixties and Early Seventies
  15. The Canadian Folksong Revival III: The Later Twentieth-Century: Festivals and Famous Names
  16. Folksong in Twenty-first Century Canada: Singer-Songwriters and Disappearing Boundaries


Students are evaluated by means of the following assignments:

Fifteen blog postings for Units 2-16 15%
Timeline 10%
Crosswords 10%
Research Essay # 1 20%
Research Essay # 2 20%
Final Examination 25%
Total 100%

A minimum score of 50 percent on the final examination is required to pass the course, as well as an overall final grade of at least 50 percent. A supplemental final examination is available.

To learn more about assignments and examinations, please refer to Athabasca University's online Calendar.

Course Materials

In addition to reading online scholarly articles through the online periodical databases available through the Athabasca University Library, students are supplied with the following books and CDs in the course materials package:


Thomas, Philip J., & Jon Bartlett, eds. Songs of the Pacific Northwest. Revised edition: Surrey, BC: Hancock House, 2007.

Vikar, Laszlo & Jeanette Panagapka, eds. Songs of the Northern Woods, As Sung by O. J. Abbott and Collected by Edith Fowke. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2004.


Bartlett, Jon & Rika Ruebsaat. Songs and Stories of Canada. New Westminster, BC: Bartlett-Ruebsaat, 2004.

Challenge for Credit Course Overview

The Challenge for Credit process allows students to demonstrate that they have acquired a command of the general subject matter, knowledge, intellectual and/or other skills that would normally be found in a university level course.

Full information for the Challenge for Credit can be found in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Challenge Evaluation

To receive credit for the HUMN 424 challenge registration, you must achieve a grade of at least 50 percent on the examination.

Online Exam (3 hours)

Undergraduate Challenge for Credit Course Registration Form

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 1, April 8, 2016.