December 18, 1995
Songwriter Hemsworth releases first CD at
BYLINE: ALAN HUSTAK; THE MONTREAL
Before Gordon Lightfoot gave Canadian introspection an international
voice with songs like the Canadian Railroad Trilogy and
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, there was Wade Hemsworth.
He made history come alive in the '50s with his saga of the
I'm Alone, a Canadian rumrunner that was sunk in the Gulf
of Mexico by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1929.
Other songs, such as The Wild Goose and The Land of
the Muskeg and The Shining Birch Tree, celebrated
Canada's wilderness. Pete Seeger sang Hemsworth's Blackfly
so often that people thought it was an authentic folk tune, handed
down for generations.
Now, at age 79, Hemsworth has released his first CD, The Songs
of Wade Hemsworth. Why did it taken so long?
"The songs are a hobby," Hemsworth says. "I worked
for a living as a draftsman. I've made money from songs from
time to time, but not much. Songwriting is definitely an avocation."
Born in Brantford, Ont., he graduated from the Ontario College
of Art in 1939, just in time to go to war. He enlisted in the
air force and was sent to Newfoundland, where he first heard
home-grown folk songs. At the same time, he discovered American
singer Burl Ives.
"Unless you grow up with the folk tradition, you don't know
that there is such a thing. I talked to Newfoundlanders, and
then I discovered French-Canadian songs. Until then, the only
French song I knew was Alouette," he recalls. "Burl
Ives was certainly an important influence. When I heard him,
I knew we had songs in Canada just as good."
After the war, Hemsworth worked briefly in Toronto and spent
time as a surveyor in the Canadian wilderness, an experience
that affected his material. He moved to Montreal in the '50s
and worked for CN as a design draftsman until he retired 18 years
The few songs that Hemsworth turned out were admired whenever
he performed them, but he rarely performed.
Academy Award-winning film animator John Weldon used Hemsworth's
Log Driver's Waltz, sung by Kate and Anna McGarrigle,
for a National Film Board cartoon in the '80s. And Christopher
Hinton's NFB film based on Blackfly was nominated for
an Oscar in 1992 ("'Twas Blackfly, Blackfly, everywhere,
A crawlin' on your whiskers, a crawlin' in your hair").
But it wasn't until 1990, when lawyer Hugh Verrier edited a handsome
book of Hemsworth's songs, that they caught the public's attention.
Adrienne Clarkson profiled Hemsworth on her national TV show,
an episode that has aired three times.
"Because of the television show, there was an interest in
my work and a demand for a CD," he says. "My wife said,
'Get on with it,' so I did."
The Canada Council helped finance the CD, produced by fan Penny
The Songs of Wade Hemsworth is available, in CD format
only, for $ 17.95 (including shipping) from P.O. Box 385, Morin
Heights, Que. J0R 1H0.
The Montreal Gazette