Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Erskine Morris (1913 – 1997)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Historic Gaspé Footage and the Keel Row

Awhile back a friend, Marc Bolduc, posted this historic NFB film le Pays du Québec (the Land of Quebec) on Facebook with some wonderful old footage of the Gaspé coast and the cod fishery. The footage is from all around the province but there is definitely a focus on the Gaspé. The filmaker, Laura Boulton, was a prolific American ethnologist and collector of music and instruments from around the world and has a centre named in her honour at Columbia University. She made several films for the NFB in the 1940s, it seems at least partly under the guidance of Canadian folklorists and anthropologists like Marius Barbeau and Helen Creighton.

At about 12 min 30 sec, you get to see the Famille Ouellet from the Kamouraska area tearing up a tune at a house veillée (kitchen party). I immediately recognized the tune as a melody that I had heard on one of Erskine's numerous home-made cassettes. According to Marc, the tune is called The Keel Row or The Kilrow, among many other titles. The tune is believed to have originated in the northeast of England (around Newcastle or Northumberland) and a keel is a type of river boat, apparently particular to the rivers Tyne and Wear.

Here is Erskine's own driving setting of this tune, complete with an additional third part with classic Gaspesian syncopation. He did not have a title for this tune as far as we know.

Hear Erskine play The Keel Row


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