05 Jul

Georgian Bay Ho Ho

Georgian Bay Ho Ho

Bartender! Fill our glasses up,
There’s time for one round more,
For soon our mudhook we’ll break out,
Off Garden Island shore,
We’ll toss our dunnage right aboard,
And up the Lakes we’ll go,
In an able timber hooker, bound,
For Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!

For Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho! My boys!
It’s lively we do go!
Bound up again and “flying light,”
For Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!

The fores’l, main and mizzen’s made,
Gafftops’ls two also,
Our anchor it is now hove short,
It’s time for us to go.
So man your topsail halliards, boys,
Sheet home! And then belay!
Hoist and back! Forestays’l! jibs!
Up anchor! And fill away!

The wind it is dead aft, my boys,
From the Nor’east it does blow,
So give her the squarefores’l,
And raffees two, also.
Wing out fore, main and mizzen booms!
Square yards! Haul taut! Belay!
O! Watch her tearin’ through the foam,
She’s bound for Georgian Bay.

Now we have made Port Dalhousie,
The Canal we have passed through,
Lake Erie and both “Rivers,”
And up Lake Huron, Blue.
We’re anchored in our loading berth,
While small isles ‘round us lay,
And pine timber floats in booms, there,
‘Way up in Georgian Bay.

Now ship your timber davit, boys,
Reeve off the hoisting gear,
Price up the lower stern ports,
See you heaving cable clear,
Horse-boy, ship your capstan bar,
Hitch on the horses, two,
Soon we’ll load square timber in,
On board of the “Buckaroo.”

The stick it being hooked end on,
To the port sill it does move,
The hooks are then clapped on it,
And inboard it is hove.
The mate he breasts it in to place,
With timber dogs, you know,
And is watchful or he’ll lose some toes,
At Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!

The water now has reached both sills,
Close lower ports! Make fast!
And caulk them up with oakum!
The hold is filled at last.
It’s next the deck ports open,
Then hoist on deck and stow,
‘Till all the deckload is on board,

O, it’s a-rolling, boys, a-rolling,
As homeward bound we go,
All the way down to Garden Isle,
From Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!

This month’s song comes from an incredible, unpublished manuscript compiled by Joseph F. McGinnis. McGinnis was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1867 and was a sailor on the Great Lakes where singing played a similar role to what it did on seafaring vessels. After contributing Great Lakes songs and sea songs to collector Joanna Colcord in the early 1920s, McGinnis enthusiastically set out to add to his own repertoire/collection with songs gathered from other singers. He collected many songs via mail and even corresponded with Minnesota singer Michael C. Dean who sent him song lyrics and (with the help of a friend) transcriptions of song melodies. Sadly, McGinnis fell ill in the late 1920s and never succeeded in publishing his book.

Another of McGinnis’s correspondents was folk song collector Robert Winslow Gordon. It was Gordon that ended up with McGinnis’s unpublished collection, “Songs of the Dogwatch,” which I accessed via the University of Oregon’s archival collection of Robert Winslow Gordon materials. McGinnis’s transcriptions of song melodies are somewhat erratic so I made some educated guesses in writing out the melody above.

McGinnis wrote songs himself and “Georgian Bay, Ho! Ho!” was most likely one of his own compositions, though it fits well into the traditional style. Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay was a key access point to the vast pine forests of Ontario. The sailors in the song set off from (and return to) Garden Island—just outside McGinnis’s native Kingston. Garden Island was the base of a major shipping and lumber operation for most of the 19th century. Logs were squared off in the woods, loaded on ships in Georgian Bay, shipped to Garden Island, gathered into rafts and floated to Quebec City and, finally, loaded on to ships and shipped to Britain. The same timber ships that took Canadian wood to Liverpool transported Irish immigrants to Canada on the return trip.

30 Nov

The Falling of the Pine

Come, all young men a-wanting of courage bold undaunted,
Repair unto the shanties before your youth’s decline,
For spectators they will ponder and gaze on you with wonder,
For your noise exceeds the thunder in the falling of the pine.

The shanty is our station and lumbering our occupation,
Where each man has his station, some for to score and line,
It is nine foot of a block we will bust at every knock,
And the wolves and bears we’ll shock at the falling of the pine.

When the day it is a-breaking from our slumbers we’re awakened,
Breakfast being over, our axes we will grind,
Into the woods we do advance where our axes sharp do glance,
And like brothers we commence for to fall the stately pine.

For it’s to our work we go through the cold and stormy snow,
And it’s there we labor gayly till bright Phoebus does not shine;
Then to the shanties we’ll go in and songs of love we’ll sing,
And we’ll make the valleys ring at the falling of the pine.

When the weather it grows colder, like lions we’re more bolder,
And while this forms grief for others, it’s but the least of mine,
For the frost and snow so keen, it can never keep us in,
It can never keep us in from the falling of the pine.

When the snow is all diminished and our shanty work all finished,
Banished we are all for a little time,
And then far apart we’re scattered until the booms are gathered,
Until the booms are gathered into handsome rafts of pine.

When we get to Quebec, oh, me boys, we’ll not forget,
And our whistles we will wet with some brandy and good wine;
With fair maidens we will boast till our money is all used,
And, my boys, we’ll ne’er refuse to go back and fall the pine.


In 1922, Minnesota singer Mike Dean printed his version of this song (text only) in his songster The Flying Cloud along with the subtitle “Square Timber Logging.” The next year, he sang it for collector Franz Rickaby who transcribed Dean’s melody and noted the singer’s story behind the song. Dean said the song came from the Georgian Bay region of Ontario and dated back to a time (pre-1870) when “shanty boys” squared off the logs in the woods by axe* before binding them into rafts and driving them down river to Quebec City. From Quebec, the timber was often shipped out the St. Lawrence Seaway and over the ocean to Liverpool. Collectors who found other versions of The Falling of the Pine (in Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ontario) noted that it is likely one of the oldest songs to come out of the lumber camp tradition and that it may date to as early as 1825. A fragment collected in Ontario begins, interestingly, “your Irish hearts are wanton.”

The melody above comes not from Rickaby’s 1923 transcription but from my own 2012 transcription based on the recently discovered 1924 recording of Dean’s singing made by Robert Winslow Gordon. Dean’s melody on the Gordon recording is considerably different from Rickaby’s transcription taken down just 14 months previous! Part of the reason is likely some bias in Rickaby’s assumptions about what the “right” notes were. Dean’s singing on the Gordon recording also shows him using a lot of melodic variation between different performances of the same song (two songs were recorded twice on the Gordon cylinders) in addition to quite a bit of melodic variation between verses within songs—a hallmark of a great traditional singer.

Transcription note: Dean, like many traditional singers, makes occasional use of “in between” notes and I mark two of his slightly raised pitches with arrows in the above transcription.

*“Scoring” and “lining” were part of the squaring process.


More detailed information on this song from the Traditional Ballad Index