Discovering Cape Breton Folklore

Richard MacKinnon

$24.95 (pb) 978-1-897009-30-7, 195 pp. Cape Breton University Press, December 2009

Many people associate folklore with dusty old songs and ghost stories that all sound suspiciously the same. Richard MacKinnon takes a slightly broader view with a book devoted to Cape Breton’s other traditions—stuff like nicknames and cockfighting.

MacKinnon is the Canada Research Chair at Cape Breton University and the Editor-In-Chief of The Material Culture Review. He has spent most of his academic life researching various aspects of Cape Breton and Newfoundland folklore.
The book is broken into eight sections, each exploring a different aspect of Cape Breton culture. Some of the work has been previously published and some is newly researched. Yes, there is a chapter devoted to folksongs but there is another that examines the less known world of protest songs. Cape Breton may be known for its fiddlers but MacKinnon prefers to explore the Cape Breton-style piano tradition. There are three chapters devoted to housing—log architecture, company houses and cooperative housing. Nicknames and cockfighting round out the volume.
Each chapter leaves the reader wanting more on each topic; in fact, every chapter could easily be the foundation for an entire book. The book scratches the surface of Cape Breton’s culture but it is all part of MacKinnon’s plan to inspire others to go much further.
In his introduction, MacKinnon says he hopes the book will influence others “to become engaged in this complex, fascinating area of human study.” It just may do that. Although just published, Discovering Cape Breton Folklore is already in use as a textbook for an introductory folklore class at Cape Breton University; other universities are also interested in using it as part of their folklore programs. —Elizabeth Patterson