Land of the Silver Birch

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"Land of the Silver Birch" is a traditional Canadian folk song that dates from the 1920s. The lyrics are sometimes erroneously attributed to Pauline Johnson,perhaps in confusion with her well-known poem, "The Song My Paddle Sings." { <Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag, eds. E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose. University of Toronto Press, 2002>}. It is sometimes sung to keep time while canoeing, and sometimes sung at campfires in a round. It is in Aeolian, or natural minor, but some have performed it with a raised sixth, creating a Dorian feel.

Its subject matter is a romanticized vision of nature and the land from the perspective of an Aboriginal person, but it remains popular with the non-Aboriginal majority in Canada. Bonnie Dobson sang this song on her 1972 self-titled album. This song appears in the Paul Gross film Men with Brooms (2002). In 2005, the song was partly re-written by Canadian folk singer Dickson Reid and released on his debut album, Sugar in the Snow.

Lyrics[edit]

Like most traditional songs the lyrics vary slightly. The following are representative:

Land of the silver birch
Home of the beaver
Where still the mighty moose
Wanders at will
Refrain:
Blue lake and rocky shore
I will return once more
boomdidi yada - boomdidi yada - boomdidi yada deeeeee
High on a rocky ledge
I'll build my wigwam (Alternate version: There where the blue lake lies, I'll set my wigwam)[1]
Close to the water's edge
Silent and still
Refrain
My heart grows sick for thee
Here in the low lands
I will return to thee
Hills of the north
Refrain
"My Paddle's Keen and Bright"[2]

It is related to a similar song "My Paddle's Keen and Bright" (About this sound Play ), written by Margaret Embers McGee (1889-1975) in 1918,[2] which is used to keep time paddling and is frequently intermingled:

My paddle's keen and bright
Flashing with silver
Follow the wild goose flight (some people learn another colloquial version: Follow the pale moonlight)
Dip, dip and swing
Dip, dip and swing her back
Flashing with silver
Swift as the wild goose flies
Dip, dip and swing

Alternative lyrics[edit]

The lyrics of this song can be quite different depending on who you talk to and what region of Canada they are from. Some possible variations and additional verses:[citation needed]

Down in the forest
Deep in the lowlands
My heart cries out for thee
Hills of the North
Swift as a silver fish
Canoe of birch bark
Thy mighty waterways
Carry me forth
Though I am forced to flee
Far from my homeland
I will return to thee
Hills of the North[3]
High as an eagle soars
Over the mountains
My spirit rises up
Free as a bird[4]

Silver Birch in the Scouts and Guiding Movement[edit]

Since the 1930s, the song has been popular with Scouts and Girl Guides. Its origin is unclear. It is sung regularly at Canadian Scout and Girl Guide Camps, including Doe Lake, Camp Maple Leaf, Camp Wenonah (co-educational camp) and Camp Wa-Thik-Ane in Quebec's lower laurentians.

The song is also sometimes sung at Boy Scout Camps in the United States, and is sung at the opening and closing campfires at Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation in Pearson, Wisconsin. Cuyuna Scout Camp of Crosslake, Minnesota uses this song as one of the three it uses to close its Sunday and Friday night campfire programs.

The translated Italian version "Terra di Betulla" is likely frequent campfire song for Italian scouts.

Other Uses[edit]

This song is performed by children in American elementary school plays about the First Thanksgiving to typify Native American lifestyle only using the first verses.

Criticism[edit]

In 2017, school administrators at the High Park Alternative Public School in Toronto, Ontario characterized the song as racist. In a letter to parents they said, "While its lyrics are not overtly racist . . . the historical context of the song is racist." Other experts disagreed with this assertion and the music teacher who had the song performed at a school concert sued the administration for defamation.[5]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A scout's campfire songbook (PDF). p. 7. Retrieved 26 October 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Read MacDonald, Margaret; Winifred Jaeger. The Round Book: Rounds Kids Love to Sing. North Haven, CT: Shoe String Press Inc., 1999, Page 14. ISBN 978-0-87483-786-5. Accessed 20 August 2011.
  3. ^ Template:Girl Scouts of the USA, 1960s
  4. ^ Scouts Canada. "Land of the Silver Birch". Scouts Canada Wiki. Scouts Canada. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Cruickshank, Ainslie (December 7, 2017). "Toronto music teacher sues after principal, VP call folk song racist". Toronto Star. 

External links[edit]