> Nic Jones > Songs > Canadee-I-O
Canada I O / Canadee-I-O
; Master title: Canada I O
; Laws C17
; Henry H162
; Ballad Index
; Mudcat 151749
; trad. arr. Nic Jones]
The ballad Canadee-I-O was printed in Leach, Folk Ballads & Songs of the Lower Labrador Coast. The plot is very similar to that of Caledonia.
Harry Upton of Balcombe, Sussex, sang Canadee-I-O to Peter Kennedy on 5 September 1963. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology of songs by Southern English singers, You Never Heard So Sweet (The Voice of the People Volume 21), and the song was included in 1970 in Ken Stubb’s book of English folk songs from the Home Counties, The Life of a Man. Another recording made by Mike Yates in 1974 was included in 1975 on the Topic collection of traditional songs from Sussex, Sussex Harvest, and in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from the Mike Yates Collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates noted in the latter’s booklet:
Canadee-I-O is something of a hybrid folksong, combining, as it does, two separate motifs; namely the girl who follows her truelove abroad, and the myth of the shipboard Jonah. As in many broadsides, however, there is a happy ending.
According to Frank Kidson, Canadee-I-O is a song which first appeared during the 18th century. In form, it is related to the Scots song Caledonia—versions of which were collected by Gavin Greig—although exactly which song came first is one of those ‘chicken and egg’ questions that so frequently beset folkmusic studies.
Harry Upton recalled singing this song in a Balcombe pub in 1940, and remained puzzled as to how a visiting Canadian soldier could join in a song which he believed to be known only to himself and his father. It could be argued that the Canadian might have more reasonably asked the question, since Harry is the sole English singer named among Roud’s 28 instances of the song.
Tish Stubbs sang Canadee-I-O in 1977 on her and Sam Richards’ Saydisc album Invitation to North America. They noted:
Broadside poets always made the most of a good image when they found one. ‘Transvestite songs’—the young woman dressing as a man to seek adventure—abound in the 18th and 19th century, as they do in many a thriving folk culture. The heroine of Canadee-I-O takes her place alongside countless female smugglers, sailors, soldiers, and highwaymen. The song has had some currency in England and Scotland, but is more common in North America. This version is based fairly closely on that sung by Harry Upton of Sussex to Ken Stubbs in 1963. The last verse doesn’t appear on broadsides, but pops up in most oral versions. It’s a nice touch. Personalising the adventure makes it all the more appealing, and allows the pioneering spirit to ring through. The message? Take responsibility for your own life and you too can make good! All the more remarkable for being a tale about a woman—historically unable to do just that.
Canadee-I-O is arguably Nic Jones’ best known song, recorded in 1980 for his Topic album Penguin Eggs. John Wesley Harding sang it in 1999 on his Nic Jones tribute album, Trad Arr Jones.
Bob Dylan recorded Canadee-I-O for his 1992 album Good As I Been to You.
Éilís Kennedy sang Canadee-I-O in 2001 on her debut album Time to Sail.
Hannah Sanders sang Canadee-I-O in 2013 on her EP Warning Bells. She noted:
A beautiful traditional ballad, about a cross dressing sailor gal. This is how all good stories should begin! I doff my cap to Nic Jones’s version here.
Anna Baldwin sang Canadee-I-O in 2014 on Amsher’s CD Amsher Sings Hampshire Songs.
Andy Turner sang Canadee-I-O as the 6 September 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.
The Outside Track sang Canadee-I-O in 2015 on their CD Light Up the Dark. They noted:
No album from a band with this many x-chromosomes in it would be complete without a story about a feisty girl on a mission. Nor only does she avoid walking the plank, but she arrives at her destination triumphant, ascending from stowaway to Captain’s Wife! One of the rarer cases where the song doesn’t end in death and destruction!
Matt Quinn learned Canadee-I-O from the singing of Harry Upton and recorded it for his 2017 CD The Brighton Line. He noted:
A girl escapes being thrown overboard by the ship’s crew when the captain falls in love with her. Well that’s one way to thwart death… Harry sang this to Mike Yates in the mid 1970s and he remains one of the [few] English traditional singers from whom it has been collected.
Jo Miller sang Canadie-I-O on her 2023 album A’ the Way to Galloway. She noted:
From the singing of Sam McNeily, Kirkcudbright. It was recorded in 1953 by Séamus Ennis, one of several ’collectors’ employed by the BBC to record folklore which could be used in broadcasts. This song—also known as The wearin o’ the blue—appears on 19th century broadsides and in published song collections in Scotland, Ulster and Canada.
Digital Tradition version
From MacEdward Leach: Folk Ballads and Songs of the Lower Labrador Coast [Ottawa: R. Duhamel, 1965]
It’s of a gallant lady, just in the prime of youth.
She dearly loved a sailor; in fact, she loved to wed,
And how to get to sea with him the way she did not know,
All for to see this pretty place called Canadee-I-O.
She bargained with a sailor all for a purse of gold,
And straightway he had taken her right down into the hold,
“I’ll dress you up in sailor suit; your colours shall be blue
And you soon will see that pretty place, called Canadee-I-O,”
When our mate had heard this, he fell into a rage,
Likewise our ship’s company was willing to engage:
“I’ll tie your hands and feet, my love, and overboard you’ll go,
And you’ll never see the pretty place called Canadee-I-O.”
And when the captain heard this: “This thing shall never be,
For if you drown that fair maid, hanged sure you’ll be;
I’ll take her to my cabin, her colours shall be blue,
And she soon will see that pretty place called Canadee-I-O.”
They had not arrived in Canada more than the space of half a year,
Before the Captain married her, and called her his very dear.
She can dress in silk or satin; she caught a gallant show;
She was one of the fairest ladies in Canadee-I-O.
Come all ye, young ladies, whoever you may be,
To be sure and follow your true love, if ever he goes to sea,
And if your mate, he do prove false, you’re captain he’ll prove true,
And you’ll see the honour I have gained by wearing of the blue
Harry Upton sings Canadee-I-O
It was of a fair and pretty maid, she was in her tender care.
She dearly loved a sailor, it was true she loved him well,
And how to get to sea with him she did not like why know.
But she longed to see that seaport town called Canadee-i-o.
She bargained with a young sailor all for a piece of gold,
And straightway he led her all down into the hold,
Saying, “I will dress you up in sailors’ clothes, your colour shall be blue.
And you will see that seaport town called Canadee-i-o.”
Now when the sailors heard of this, they fell into a row.
And all the whole ship’s company were willing to engage.
“We’ll tie her hands and feet, my boys, and overboard we’ll throw,
She never will see that seaport town called Canadee-i-o.”
Now when the Captain heard of this, he too fell in a rage,
Saying, “If you drown this fair maid all hang-ed you will be.
I will dress her up in sailors’ clothes, her colour shall be blue,
And she will see that seaport town called Canadee-i-o.”
She had not been in Can-er-der scarcely but half a year,
She married this brave Captain who called her his dear.
She’s dressed in silks and satins now, she cuts a gall-i-ant show.
She’s the finest Captain’s lady in Canadee-i-o.
Now come all you fair and pretty maids wherever you may be.
I would have you to follow your true love when he goes out to sea.
If the sailors they prove false to you the Captain he’ll prove true,
You can see the honour that I have gained by wearing of the blue.
Tish Stubbs sings Canadee-I-O
It it of a fair and pretty maid, was in her tender years
And she loved a young sailor lad, it’s true she loved him dear.
And how to get to sea with him the way she did not know,
But she longed to see that pleasant place called Canadee-i-o.
She bargained with a sailor lad all for a purse of gold.
And straightaway he led her all down into the hold.
Saying, “I’ll dress you up in sailors’ clothes, your colours shall be blue.
And you shall see that pleasant place called Canadee-i-o.”
Now when her true love heard of this hew flew into a rage
And all the whole ship’s company was willing to engage.
Saying, “We’ll tie her hands and feet, my boys, and overboard she’ll go,
And she never will see that pleasant place called Canadee-i-o.”
But up and spoke the Captain bold, “Such things shall never be,
For if you drown this pretty maid it’s hang-ed you shall be!
Oh, I’ll take her to my cabin and her colours shall be blue,
And she shall see that pleasant place called Canadee-i-o.”
Now they had not been in Canada no more than half a year,
When she’s married this bold Captain and called him her dear.
Oh, she’s dressed in silks and satins now and cuts a gallant show,
She’s the finest Captain’s lady that’s in Canadee-i-o.
So come all you fair and pretty maids wherever you may be,
I would have you follow your true love when he goes off to sea.
If the sailors they prove false to you the Captain he’ll prove true.
You can see the honour I have gained by wearing of the blue.
Nic Jones sings Canadee-I-O
It’s of a fair and handsome girl, she’s all in her tender years:
She fell in love with a sailor boy, it’s true that she loved him well,
For to go off to sea with him like she did not know how,
She longed to see that seaport town called Canadee-I-O.
So she bargained with a young sailor boy, it’s all for a piece of gold.
Straightway then he led her all down into the hold,
Saying, "I’ll dress you up in sailor’s clothes, your jacket shall be blue,"
You’ll see that seaport town called Canadee-I-O.
Now when the other sailors heard the news, well they fell into a rage
And with all the whole ship’s company they were willing to engage,
Saying, "We’ll tie her hands and feet me boys, overboard we’ll throw her.
She’ll never see that seaport town called Canadee-I-O."
Now when the captain he’s heard the news, well he too fell in a rage
And with all of his whole ship’s company he was willing to engage,
Saying, "She’ll stay all in sailor’s clothes, her colour shall be blue.
She’ll see that seaport town called Canadee-I-O."
Now when they came down to Canada, scarcely ’bout half a year
She’s married this bold captain who called her his dear.
She’s dressed in silks and satins now, and she cuts a gallant show,
She’s the finest of the ladies down Canadee-I-O.
Come you fair and tender girls wheresoever you may be,
I’ll have you to follow your own true love, when he goes out on the sea.
For if the sailors prove false to you, well the captain he might prove true,
You see the honour that I have gained by the wearing of the blue.
Jo Miller sings Canadie-I-O
It’s of a merchant’s daughter all in the prime of years,
She fell in love with a sailor boy and true she loved him dear.
But how to get on board with him this fair maid did not know
For she longed to see that lovely land of Canadie-i-o.
She bargained with the sailors all for a purse of gold,
With a maid’s imply they did comply to stow her in the hold.
“We’ll dress you up in sailor’s clothes and the captain will not know
And we’ll land you safe in that lovely land called Canadie-i-o.”
Now when her true love he heard of this he flew into a rage,
With him, the crew and the passengers were willing to engage.
“We’ll tie your hands and feet,” he says, “and overboard we’ll throw
And you’ll never see that lovely land called Canadie-i-o.”
She says, “You cruel young man how can you treat me so?
I left my kind relations all for the love of you,
I left my friends at home and not one of them did know
And now you’re going to drown me bound for Canadie-i-o!”
But when the captain he heard of this unto him he did say,
“It’s if you drown this fair maid then hangit you shall be!
I’ll take her intae me cabin while the stormy winds do blow,
And I’ll land her safe in that lovely land called Canadie-i-o.”
So after sailin the sea all round, the weather came fine and clear,
The captain he fell in love wi her and married her wi cheer.
Dressed up in her silks and her satins, she cuts a gallant show,
No finer captain’s lady in old Canadie-i-o.
Come all you loyal lovers and a lesson take by me,
Never forsake your true love while he is on the sea.
For if the sailors they prove false the captain he’ll prove true
An ye see what is happened by the wearin o the blue.
Thanks to Garry Gillard for transcribing Nic Jones’ lyrics.