Updated: Apr 21, 2022
American folk singer Pete Seeger once performed a concert in Trail, but pinning it down is proving devilishly difficult. His 1972 autobiography, The Incompleat Folksinger, contains this diary entry dated August 1967:
On the way to sing for a miners’ union in Trail, British Columbia, I saw a huge farmhouse along the highway. “That looks big enough for four families!”
“It is,” the young labor lawyer replied. “It’s a Doukhobor farm. Each family lives on a different floor, but they all work together like a little collective farm. And they are members of one parish church, which sticks together to help out any farm that is having a bad year. They stick very close to each other and hardly ever invite outsiders. Last year a local real-estate speculator inflamed the nearby town against a Doukhobor farm, with the aim of forcing them off their land. The speculator wanted it for himself. I volunteered to defend them in court, and when we won the case, they involved me over to a victory party. I sat around all evening listening to the most glorious choral singing of Russian folk songs and Doukhobor hymns. Most Canadians never hear them.”
I don’t know what court case the unidentified “young labor lawyer” was referring to. He was also describing a communal way of life that had long vanished by 1967. But it’s unclear whether the conversation actually took place that year, or if that is just when Seeger wrote about it.
Seeger recorded a song that Malvina Reynolds wrote in 1962 called Do as the Doukhobors Do, poking fun at nude Sons of Freedom protests. Some find the song charming, others offensive because it lumps all Doukhobors together as Freedomites. You can listen to it below.
The song was not released until 2000 on a box set entitled The Best of Broadside 1962-88. The liner notes included a newspaper clipping about a Freedomite protest against Prime Minister John Diefenbaker during his visit to Trail in May 1962.
Seeger had two other West Kootenay connections. In the 1950s, he was part of the New York folk quintet The Weavers, featuring Ronnie Gilbert. She lived in the Slocan Valley in the 1970s and ‘80s and was among the founders of Theatre Energy.
Seeger was also friends with Lou and Phyllis Bockner of Argenta. Bockner helped organize Seeger’s concerts while he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Seeger would stop at their house in St. Louis and gave informal music lessons to their son Rick. Another son, Peter, was named after Seeger.
But back to that Trail concert.
In the event that Seeger did perform there in August 1967, as suggested by his memoir, I checked the Trail Daily Times for the whole month. Unfortunately, there was no sign of him.
The Times was not particularly labour friendly, but USW Local 480 (or its predecessor, Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers) had to advertise the concert somehow.
Next, I checked to see when Seeger played in Vancouver, figuring he might have stopped in Trail on the same trip. I found three dates at a glance: November 1957, November 1958, and August 1963. (Seeger also played in Spokane in November 1957.)
I checked the Trail Daily Times for a week on either side of those shows, but no luck.
Seeger might have actually played a couple of West Kootenay shows. Jean Buchanan recalled attending a concert he gave at the Miners’ Hall in Rossland in 1957 or 1958: “I lived right across the street so it was quite something to go over to see and hear him! At the end of the program he asked for requests. What a thrill.”
I later discovered several more Vancouver shows in January 1948, October 1954, September 1956, and March 1962, any one of which could lead me to the fabled Trail performance.
I’ll have to return to the microfilm and continue looking. In the absence of digitized newspapers from Trail, it’s tough slogging. Maybe you can help me. Were you at the show or do you have anything that might reveal the date? Let me know.
There was even a rumor that someone recorded the Trail show, but if so, the tape has not surfaced.
UPDATE: I checked the Rossland Miner for November 1957 and November 1958 and the Trail Daily Times for September 1956. Still no success.