The Helen Creighton Folklore Society often receives requests for information and we answer! With permission, we will highlight a few responses to share here.
The Helen Creighton Folklore Society often receives requests for information regarding the tradition bearers from whom Helen collected as well as a various assortment of other requests. Here is an interesting one we received recently from Wesley Bezanson in Amherst, Nova Scotia regarding hex signs.
I’m trying to fix up a toy barn built for me by my grandfather. On the barn, there is a hex sign, painted by my grandmother. I wanted to refresh the barn and I wanted to do a bit of research on traditional hex signs, but most of the content I can find online points to Pennsylvania Dutch rather than Nova Scotia / Lunenburg county traditions. My father suggested reviewing the works of Helen Creighton and that he thought that she had reviewed some Lunenburg county folk art traditions as part of her work. Could someone point me to a book that might cover this topic, or suggest another source? I’m hoping to get the barn fixed up for my little girl and I’d really love to be able to preserve a little bit of history along with it.
My name is Clary Croft and your request was sent along to me. You have an interesting query about hex signs on buildings in Nova Scotia/Lunenburg County.
I was the archivist for Helen Creighton’s collection and have also written a book on witchcraft in the Maritimes. I don’t know of any of the Pennsylvania “Dutch-style” hex symbols used in Nova Scotia as are found in so many decorative plaques among the Pennsylvania “Dutch”. Many of their same German traditions are found here but hex symbols don’t seem to be one of them. Helen didn’t have any references to them in either her published or unpublished materials.
In fact, the word, “hex” was rarely used among the people of German descent in Lunenburg County.
One interesting protective symbol that was used on outbuildings was the horseshoe. Some believed it had to be hung with the open end pointed up to retain the charm; others believed the open end had to point downward so the luck could fall on those walking under it. One tradition found in Lunenburg County was nailing the horseshoe to a corner of a building about head height with the open end of the shoe protruding out from the building. This prevented witches from flying around the building. Interesting idea but, I’m not too certain how far into witchcraft you may want to delve for your daughter!
I hope this helps and if you have further questions, I’ll be pleased to help.
Thank you for your thorough response; this is great, thank you! It’s great to have been directed to such a knowledgeable and experienced expert for assistance. Admittedly, I’m a little disappointed to hear that we don’t seem to have exactly such a tradition here in Nova Scotia. It’s certainly interesting to see which traditions continued to prosper in different regions. Alas, wishing something to be true doesn’t make it so.
Every once in a while, we hear from people in other areas of the world who are using the materials in the Helen Creighton Collection and would like to have more information. Cate Clifford, USA, sent us a link to a version of Brandy-O that she sings. Cate’s version is based on the extended version as sung by Joy Bennett of The Johnson Girls.
The original version as collected by Helen from Sandy Stoddard, Lower Ship Harbour, NS, in 1952, is only 1 verse and a ‘chorus’ long. It’s a sea chantey and a logging chantey.
As Sandy said: “When logging in Nova Scotia most of the loggers were seamen, and they used to sing to any chanties, but mostly those used at sea. Windlass and capstan had the same operation. It was very heavy heaving, and the music was needed to liven it up.”
~ from the liner notes of the Songs of the Sea CD, Helen Creighton Folklore Society.
Singing or telling and recording Helen’s collected songs or stories is one way to support the Helen Creighton Folklore Society.
Have a listen to Cate’s Brandy-O!…