Better That

A significant composer of the time is J.S. (Joe) Wallace, Secretary of the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Labour Party in 1925. At least eight songs attributed to him appeared in the MLH between 1921 and 1926 including: “Voice of the Workers,” “Awake,” “Prayer of the Employer,” “Better That,” “The Five Pointed Star,” “No More Deaf, No More Dumb, No More Blind,” “The Rise of the Red River” and “The Red Brotherhood.” His songs clearly indicate his political stripe: along with being a poet he was an active member of the Communist party.

LYRICS

The judge’s words
May pound my ears
Like a devil dancing
On a drum;
But better that
Than woman’s tears
For children starved,
And I stay dumb!

The prison bars
May sear my soul
Like a gridiron in
The heat of Hell:
But better that
Than men dig coal
For a cutthroat crew
And not rebel!

My family faces
Haunt my dreams,
We may not meet
This side the grave:
But better that
Than further schemes
To keep my fellow
Man a slave!

J.S. Wallace, MLH, 29 December 1923, p. 4

By COLIN GRANT

 COLIN GRANT – VIOLIN, 6-STRING ELECTRIC VIOLIN, DONALD CALABRESE – UPRIGHT BASS, IAN MACDOUGALL – VOCALS, FRANK GÉZA – UILLEANN PIPES & WHISTLE 

About Colin Grant

Hard-driving but clean, traditional yet original; Colin Grant’s fiddling has stepped to the forefront of the East Coast Celtic music scene. Though at home with traditional Cape Breton music, he currently fronts the new funk/rock quintet Colin Grant Band. His second album, “Fun for the Whole Family” earned him a Music Nova Scotia award and two ECMA nominations.

Resources

Joe S. Wallace (1880-1975) was a member of the group of Atlantic Canadian poets known as “The Song Fishermen,” which also included Stuart McCawley, James D. Gillis, Andrew Merkel, Charles Bruce, Kenneth and Robert Leslie, Molly Beresford, Ethel Butler and others. Alexander Kizuk says that Wallace achieved “a degree of notoriety as a Communist poet published in the Soviet Union and Canada.”1[1] Kizuk, “Molly Beresford and the Song Fishermen of Halifax: Cultural Production, Canon and Desire in 1920s Canadian Poetry,” p. 178. Gwendolyn Davies points out that the Song Fishermen “were to represent a Nova Scotia voice in poetry at the very time when rural values and the oral tradition were being eroded by out-migration, a changing economy and the impact of modern media.”2[2] Davies, “The Song Fishermen: A Regional Poetry Celebration,” p. 138. Joe was the author of five volumes of poetry. James Doyle, professor Emeritus of English at Wilfred Laurier University notes that “he was also a reporter and columnist for several periodicals, including the three major Canadian Communist newspapers, the Worker (which was published from 1922 to 1936), the Daily Clarion (1936-39), and the Canadian Tribune (1940-75).”3[3] Doyle, “The Canadian Worker Poet: The Life and Writings of Joe Wallace,” p. 80.Joseph Sylvester Wallace was born in Toronto on October 29, 1890 into a family of seven children. After his mother, Mary Polly Redmond, died in childbirth, his father, Thomas Wallace, moved the family to Nova Scotia where they lived in Halifax, Truro and Sydney. In the early 1920s he became a member of the Communist Party of Canada and wrote for various left wing periodicals across Canada. The poem, “Better That” appeared in the Maritime Labour Herald on December 29, 1923 and tells the story of a man in jail who is still defiant and promotes class struggle against the oppressor. James Doyle suggests the poem is about James B. McLachlan: “the poem is a dramatic monologue in the imagined words of J.B. McLachlan, secretary of the United Mine Workers’ Union in Cape Breton, jailed in 1923 for sedition …”4[4] Doyle, “The Canadian Worker Poet: The Life and Writings of Joe Wallace,” p. 82. References Davies, Gwendolyn. (1987). “The Song Fishermen: A Regional Poetry Celebration.” In People and Place: Studies of Small Town Life in the Maritimes, ed. Larry McCann. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press. Doyle, James. (1994). “The Canadian Worker Poet: The Life and Writings of Joe Wallace,” Canadian Poetry, 35, Fall-Winter. Here is a link to Doyle’s article: http://www.uwo.ca/english/canadianpoetry/cpjrn/cpjrn/vol35/doyle.htm Doyle, James. (2002). Progressive Heritage: The Evolution of a Politically Radical Literary Tradition in Canada. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press. Kizuk, Alexander. (1993). “Molly Beresford and the Song Fishermen of Halifax: Cultural Production, Canon and Desire in 1920s Canadian Poetry.” In Gwendolyn Davies ed., Myth and Milieu: Atlantic Literature and Culture 1918-1939: 175-194. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press. Colin Grant’s tune for “Better That” is based on the traditional tune “John Roy Lyall” with 3-part string arrangement by Sandy MacIntyre

The Ballad of Slim McInnis // The Ballad of Slim McInnis - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
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  2. Doscomocracy // Doscomocracy - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  3. Trampin’ Down the Highway // Trampin’ Down the Highway - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  4. Quaint Harbour // Quaint Harbour - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  5. Blackheart’s of the Company // Blackheart’s of the Company - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  6. Stand the Gaff // Stand the Gaff - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
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  8. Arise Ye Nova Scotia Slaves // Arise Ye Nova Scotia Slaves - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  9. Whatever It Takes // Whatever It Takes - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  10. The Wearing of the Red // The Wearing of the Red - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
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  13. Steel Winds // Steel Winds - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
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