French Canadian Folk Songs
French-Canadian folk songs recorded on wax cylinders make up one of
CMC's oldest audio collections. Approximately 2,270 recordings, mostly
collected by Marius Barbeau, were digitally converted using a French
custom-built player, the archeophone, one of the few devices able to coax
sound from the aging cylinders. Recording quality varies; while some
tracks are perfectly clear, others reflect the limitations of early
recording techniques and bear evidence of damage to the support media.
We are delighted to present some tracks from this rich and varied
repertory. To access a selection of more than 900 songs from the
collection, along with digital versions of the original transcripts, please
click on the following link.
Le couvent c'est ennuyant (It's boring at the convent)
This children's lullaby-type song gives a humorous description of the
life of a convent boarder in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Marius Barbeau recorded two versions of the song in 1916 and 1917, the
first sung by Édouard-Zotique Massicotte, who first heard it in
Trois-Rivières and Montreal, and the second, sung by six-year-old
Annette Tremblay in Les Éboulements, Charlevoix.
It is the latter version, recorded in 1916, that is presented here. It
is one of only a handful of songs sung by children to be recorded on wax
cylinders by Marius Barbeau. (Song MN306).
(Source: Marius Barbeau "En roulant ma boule" p.515).
D'où reviens-tu, méchant ivrogne? (Where have you
been, you horrible drunkard?)
(Reproches de la femme de l'ivrogne) (The reproach of the drunkard's wife)
This song explores a social theme often addressed with humour - the joys
of everyday life. In question-response form, set to dance music, it
presents a dialogue between a drunkard and his wife .
This version of D'où reviens-tu, méchant ivrogne?
(which translates as "where have you been, you horrible drunkard?") was
sung Louis Simard (alias the Blind Man) of Saint-Iréné,
Charlevoix. It was recorded in 1916, when Mr. Simard was 64 years old.
(Source: Marius Barbeau Barbeau "Le Roi boit" p. 349.
La courte paille (The Short Straw)
"In our national repertoire, there are not many popular songs that
appear to be as Canadian as this one. It is well-known throughout
Québec, where it first appeared two or three centuries ago."
"Versions of this sailor's song, which probably originated in the
Brittany or Poitou regions of France, crossed the ocean and washed up on
many foreign shores far from its home country, including Scandinavia,
Denmark, Norway and even Iceland. It also took root in Great Britain and
French Switzerland. Spain also adopted it, especially in Catalonia, and
Portugal adapted it to create a quasi-epic poem entitled A nau
Cathrinetta, which is a tribute to the famous 16th century Portuguese
ship Catherinetta". The song was already several hundred years
old when it was brought to Canada by the French settlers in the 17th
century. It was probably sung by boatmen and labourers performing rhythmic
The version presented here was recorded in 1916 by Marius Barbeau, and
was sung by 80-year-old Élisabeth Tremblay of Les Éboulements,
Charlevoix. (Song MN050).
(Source: Marius Barbeau "En roulant ma boule" pp.49-55).
Faut aller chercher le loup (We have to find the wolf)
Sung as a lullaby for children, the wolf song is an example of a very
old musical genre. A close relative, La randonnée du
chevreau (The kid's walk) (also known as Biquette), appears in Jewish
Easter manuscripts in Prague as far back as 1590. The genre's origins can
be traced back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
As with other songs of the genre, new objects are accumulated and the
stanzas become longer as the song progresses.
Have to find the wolf (bis)
To come and eat the baby.
The wolf doesn't want to eat the baby...
The baby doesn't want to sleep...
The song speaks of bringing the wolf to eat the baby, the dog to bite
the wolf, the stick to beat the dog, the fire to burn the stick, the water
to put out the fire, the bull to drink the water, and the butcher to kill
the bull. However, the enumeration is incentive to encourage the baby to
sleep. All is well that ends well. The baby sleeps and the exhausted
singer is glad to reach the end!
The version presented here was sung in 1916 in Ottawa by author Louvigny
de Montigny, who learned it from his father in Saint-Jérôme,
Québec, around 1890. It was the first folk song recorded by Marius
Barbeau. (Song MN001).
(Source: Marius Barbeau "En roulant ma boule" pp.569, 609-610).
J'ai fait faire un beau navire (I've had a great ship built)
(The magical ship)
J'ai fait faire un beau navire is a variation on a well-known
theme in France and Canada – that of the magical ship that appears to
have been popular among sailors from the La Rochelle region of France.
These fantasy songs about the magical ship, which sails early one morning
for "Cytherus"*, was brought across the ocean by the New France settlers.
Songs such as these are found throughout Québec, in various forms,
each with its own charming melody.
The version presented here was sung by Édouard Hovington (who was
90 years old at the time) and was recorded in Tadoussac in 1918. Mr.
Hovington was a former boatman who had learned the song in his youth from
"the north Montreal drovers". The song was well-suited to the rhythm of
the oars, and was used extensively by the North West boatmen.
(Song MN460). Listen.
(Source: Marius Barbeau "En roulant ma boule" pp. 125-126).
* A Greek island in the Aegean Sea, where people worshipped
Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.
Francoeur, le mal faite (Francoeur the Ugly)
(Baptiste le forgeron)
This short satirical song is a good example of the ditties people used
to write as insults to specific people. Songs such as this, including
those written for elections, usually survived only as long as their
This version was sung in 1916 by 80-year-old Élisabeth Tremblay,
of Les Éboulement, Charlevoix. It is about Francoeur the
blacksmith. (Song MN038).
(Source: Marius Barbeau "Le Roi boit" p. 425).
Je me lève à l'aurore du jour (I get up at dawn)
"This lyrical song is an example of the ancient dawn serenade or
nocturne. In a nocturne, the suitor always stands under his lady's window
at midnight. In the dawn serenade, however, the scene takes place at
sunrise. This gallant custom of early-morning visits triggered a spate
of these songs, which spread throughout most of Europe. They appear to
have originated in the Midi region of France, or perhaps in one of the
Latin countries further south."
"Here, the suitor arrives at dawn and asks his lady, 'My beauty, are you
sleeping?' She opens the door and welcomes her lover. But sadly, it is
the last time they will see one another for seven years. He is a soldier,
in the regiment, and must leave for Orléans."
Je me lève à l'aurore du jour has a charming
melody, although its text is somewhat clichéd for the genre.
Many different versions of the song were recorded throughout Québec.
The version presented here was sung by 39-year-old Louise Simard (née
Desgagnés) of Saint-Irénée, Charlevoix, and was
recorded in 1916 by Marius Barbeau.
(Song MN202). Listen.
(Source: Marius Barbeau "Le Rossignol y chante" pp. 89-91).
Je ne veux pas d'un habitant (I don't want a settler)
(Le Mari que je voudrais)
"This song, sung by labourers or boatmen, probably originated in France.
In France, shoemakers used to be an inferior social class." Some couplets,
including that of the settler, "were probably added over time, after the
song was introduced to New France."
Several versions of the song were recorded, including one by E.-Z.
Massicotte in 1917-1918, sung by Vincent-Ferrier de Repentigny of
Beauharnois, and another by Marius Barbeau in 1925, sung by Ermina Leblond
of Orléans Island.
It is this latter version that we present here, sung by 60-year-old
Ermina Leblond. (Song MN4030).
(Source: Marius Barbeau "En roulant ma boule" pp.299-300).
Voici le printemps (Spring is here)
(La merveilleuse nuit de noce)
"'Spring is here' is a lively song that used to be popular throughout
the Upper St. Lawrence region. In France, where it was also popular, it
could be heard in the Loire Valley, in the Berry region, in Ile-de-Vilaine
and elsewhere in Brittany, as well as in Franche-Comté and even
"It is a landlubbers' song, speaking of food and love and celebrating
the return of spring."
"The song probably came to Canada from France at some point during the
17th century, with the immigrants who settled in Montréal and
Trois-Rivières, rather than Québec City. Like the
Montréal and Trois-Rivières settlers, it originated more from
the Loire Valley region than from Normandy."
Used as a rowing song, it was first sung to Marius Barbeau in 1916 by
Édouard Hovington of Tadoussac, who was a former boatman for the
Hudson Bay Company. Édouard-Zotique Massicotte recorded a version
sung to a different tune by Louis-Honoré Cantin in 1917.
The version presented here was sung in 1917 by 59-year-old
Vincent-Ferrier de Repentigny, of Beauharnois. It is very similar to Mr.
Hovington's version. (Song EZM 828).
(Source: Marius Barbeau "En roulant ma boule" pp.95-99)
À Paris, dans une ronde (In Paris, in a circle)
(La vieille à la bourse d'argent)
This song tells the story of an 80-year-old woman who joins a circle of
young girls in order to attract a suitor. Drawn by her silver dowry, the
suitor marries her at once. However, the marriage did not last long; as
the song says, "Married on Monday, Buried on Tuesday"..."Long live the
old lady, the poor old lady, who didn't last long!". The grieving
widower was then able to marry a 15-year-old girl, undoubtedly thanks to
the old woman's money.
The song was sung "at work, for dancing or for rowing", and was known
throughout France, but especially in the Dauphiné, Provence,
Haut-Languedoc, Normandy and Cambrésis regions. In Québec,
Marius Barbeau recorded a version sung by Élisabeth Tremblay in 1916
at Les Éboulements, Charlevoix, and a second version sung by
32-year-old Suzanne Lortie, (née Hamel). It is this latter version
that is presented here. (Song MN008).
(Source: Marius Barbeau "En roulant ma boule" pp.267-26; Marguerite
et Raoul d'Harcourt "Chansons folkloriques française au Canada" pp.
Ah! J'ai vu, J'ai vu, Compère qu'as-tu vu?; ? (Ah! I've seen,
I've seen, Comrade, what have you seen?)
(L'anguille qui coiffait sa fille)
This song about lies or made-up stories is one of a genre that used to
be popular throughout Québec. It was also well-known in France, in
the Alps, Dauphiné, Val de Loire, Franche-Comté, Gascony,
Lower Brittany and Nivernais regions.
The song's absurdity makes the listener laugh, but it also has a certain
poetic quality, and according to Marius Barbeau was well-suited for use in
The version presented here was sung by 65-year old Louis Simard (known
as the Blind Man), and was recorded in 1916 by Marius Barbeau in
Saint-Irénée, Charlevoix. (Song MN223).
(Source: Marius Barbeau "En roulant ma boule" pp.545-548; Marguerite
et Raoul d'Harcourt "Chansons folkloriques française au Canada" pp.