Edith Fowke was one of Canada’s leading folklorists, dedicated to revealing ‘the hidden submerged culture lying in the shadow of the official civilization about which historians write.’
From 1950 to 1972, she hosted CBC radio programs such as ‘Folksong Time,’ ‘Folklore and FolkMusic,’ ‘Folk Sounds,’ and ‘The Travelling Folk of the British Isles.’ She joined the English Department of York University in 1971 until 1984.
In the 1980s, Fowke also taught folk music in the University of Calgary’s Kodaly program and was president from 1985 to 1986 of the Folklore Studies Association of Canada. Fowke received many honours, including honourary doctorates from four Canadian universities, Companion of the Order of Canada in 1978, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1983 and a Lifelong Achievement Award from the Folk Alliance conference.
Edith’s interest in folksong and her disappointment in the small quantity of Canadian songs published and recorded led her to begin her own research in the mid-1940s. Among Fowke’s more than twenty publications were topics of folksongs, including Folksongs of Canada (1954, with Richard Johnston), Traditional Singers and Songs From Ontario (1965), Lumbering Songs From the Northern Woods (1970), The Penguin Book of Canadian Folksongs (1973), and Sea Songs and Ballads From Nineteenth-century Nova Scotia (1982).
On non-musical folklore she collected the chants and rhymes of children for the popular ‘Sally Go Round the Sun’ (1969) which won a bronze medal from the Association of Children’s Librarians, ‘Ring Around the Moon’ (1972), and ‘Red Rover! Red Rover!: Children’s Games Played in Canada’ (1988). Her folklore collections include ‘Folklore of Canada’ (1976), ‘Folktales of French Canada’ (1979), ‘Tales Told in Canada’ (1986), and ‘Legends Told in Canada’ (1988). Fowke’s ‘Canadian folklore’ (1988), in ‘Oxford’s Perspectives on Canadian Culture Series’, is a brief but valuable and wide-ranging survey of the subject. Fowke was a founding member of the CSMT (Canadian Society for Musical Traditions) and became the editor of its publication, the ‘Canadian Folk Music Journal’, in 1973. Edith is also well-known for recording the songs of traditional singers O.J. Abbot, LaRena Clark and Tom Brandon.
Fowke’s dedication to preserving Canada’s folk music has been widely recognized both by scholars and by folk musicians, who often turned to her for repertoire. Her field recordings have been deposited at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa and at the York University library. Her archives are held by the University of Calgary and her copyrights are owned by The Writers’ Union of Canada, of which she was a proud and loyal member.