Canadian folk anthem Log Driver's Waltz finds new life in children's book
Great-nephew says he's looking forward to the song touching another generation of Canadians
Canadian folk legend Wade Hemsworth used to write songs and send them out to the world "like little boats."
"He didn't know where they would go or how far they would go, but he really liked to see how they would come back — how other people interpreted them," explained his great-nephew who shares the same name.
Recently, one of his best-known works came 'birling' back as though riding on white water — the Log Driver's Waltz.
Written in the 50s, but popularized by a National Film Board video in 1979, the tune about a young woman's delight in dancing with a light-footed log driver has been turned into a children's book published by Simon & Schuster.
Hemsworth said he was contacted about a year ago by an editor from the publishing house who grew up watching the video and wanted to marry the lyrics to the illustrations of Jennifer Phelan, to bring a book to life.
Written in the voice of a woman who loves to take a twirl with a nimble log driver, Hemsworth said the book sashays the song in a bit of a new direction.
"The lyrics of the song are about growing up in a village, her parents wishing she would marry someone successful in the traditional sense, a doctor or a merchant or lawyer, when she really loves the log drivers and dreams of dancing with them," he explained.
"This books is, I would say, kind of a feminist take on it in the sense that it emphasizes the independence of her choice."
It's exactly the kind of spin Hemsworth says his great-uncle would have loved to see.
Known in the family as "Big-Wade" even after his great-nephew started to tower over him, the songwriter produced fewer than 20 tunes over his 50-year career.
"Little Wade" says his uncle asked him to become the "keeper of permissions and royalties" for his songs, a role he's been proud to carry on.
Many of those songs have become Canadian anthems of a sort, capturing pieces of the country's culture and backwoods experience.
"Some songs are like rockets, they go off, they burst in the air then they fade away," Hemsworth said. "These songs have always been there and they've kind of simmered the whole time."
Putting music to memories
His great-uncle spent years working as a surveyor, spending plenty of time in close contact with loggers whose experience he mirrored in his song.
To this day, Hemsworth still hears from people who love the songs or see their own traditions as memories reflected in the lyrics — especially when it comes to families with ties to the timber industry.
"In a way it puts music to the stories they have heard and it … helps conjure up the memories those people have of their loved ones."
The song is part of the soundtrack to one of Hemsworth's fondest memories too.
In 2000, his great-uncle traveled to Hamilton to see Hemsworth get married and was surprised when two guests led the crowd in a rousing rendition of the Log Driver's Waltz.
"He was in a wheelchair, hunched over and when they began to sing and play, a big smile came across his face and he sat up straighter and conducted a little bit," recalled Hemsworth. "The whole congregation sang the chorus. That was such a proud moment."
That wedding turned out to be the songwriter's final trip to Ontario before his death in 2002.
Hemsworth said the song has played a special part in his life. Now, with the publishing of a children's book, he's looking forward to hearing how it touches other people too.
"Parents will be reading this book to their kids and so a new set of people will think of the song in a different way than their parents did."
He knows that's something that would have made his great-uncle very happy.
"The fact that his songs had meaning beyond themselves was really gratifying to him."