Fowke, Edith Fulton (1913-96)

Canada’s pre-eminent scholar of English-language traditions, Edith Fowke published more than twenty books of and about folklore, mainly traditional songs, stories, and games of Canada. Born on April 30, 1913, in Lumsden, Saskatchewan, she wrote poems and stories for the Regina Leader-Post’s Saturday magazine during adolescence, and collected Saskatchewan oral traditions that five decades later appeared in her Folklore of Canada (1976). While studying at the University of Saskatchewan (BA, English and History, 1933; MA, English, 1937), Fowke met J.S. Woodsworth and became actively involved in the CCF, editing the party’s newsletters, and later a selection of Woodsworth’s essays (1948), before breaking with the party in the early 1950s. Also, as a young Saskatchewan schoolteacher, she edited the Western Teacher from 1937 to 1944. On marrying and moving to Toronto, she used her private collection of folksong recordings as the basis of her CBC radio shows Folk Song Time (1949–63) and Folk Sounds (1963–74). From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Fowke collected in rural Ontario and among Toronto children most of the folklore for her anthologies and recordings. Meanwhile, she had become a major and highly energetic figure in the North American folk music revival, was appointed to York University’s English Department as a folklore specialist (1971), and founded and edited the Canadian Folk Music Journal (1973–96). Nonetheless, she still took time during this period to write and publish Saskatchewan: The Sixtieth Year—Historical Pageant, a set of short musical plays for schools, theatre groups, and community organizations. She also helped Barbara Cass-Beggs’s early efforts at collecting Saskatchewan folksongs, and compiled with her the first comprehensive reference list for Canadian folksong research (1973).

A recipient of several honorary doctorates (Brock, Trent, York, Regina), Fowke became a Fellow of the American Folklore Society (1974), a Companion of the Order of Canada (1978), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1983), a life member of Canadian Folk Music Society (1984), and was posthumously honoured by a Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance (2000). Although her main folksong collecting had been concluded by the late 1960s, she continued to publish scholarly studies of previously collected items and to do fieldwork with her favourite Canadian singer, LaRena Clark, which resulted in her last book, A Family Heritage, published when she was 81. She died in Toronto on March 28, 1996.

Joe Ralko

Further Reading

Fowke, E. 1976. Folklore of Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.