Legendary B.C. Folk Music Archivist Dies

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Postby Glen Livingstone » Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:38 pm

Thomas - Philip James. Pioneer art teacher and B.C.'s premier folk music historian, born to Constance Jean (nee Drury) and Morris Williams Thomas, March 26, 1921, died peacefully at Vancouver General Hospital on January 26, 2007, two days after elective surgery .

He was predeceased by his loving wife, Hilda Louise Thomas (November 2005) and older brother Glen Drury Thomas. He is survived by his children: daughters, Theresa A. Thomas, Halifax, NS and Mildred J. Baines (Roger Scott), Williams Lake, B.C. and son, Michael P. Thomas (Kathy Major), Vancouver, B.C.; granddaughter, Nicole T. MacDonald, Montreal, PQ; cousins Cynthia Hunter (Andrew) and Patrick Thomas (Patricia), sister-in-law, Kathleen Thode (Bob); neices and nephews (John Halpin, Margot Hewitt, Blair Thomas, Karen Morse, Myra Jon Watson. Lorraine Paull, Stephen Thomas, Marsha Matheson, Bill Thomas, James Thode, Larry Thode, David Thomas, Vashti Azriel, Robin Macey); many cousins, grand nieces and nephews.

Phil grew up with diverse interests ranging from singing to amateur ham radio (VE7PT). During W.W. II he volunteered with the R.C.A.F., to employ his radio knowledge, and was assigned to the secret development of a new technology called Radar. After five years of service, in Europe and India, he returned from the war to earn his Bachelor of Arts and Teaching Certificate at the University of British Columbia.

He was compelled to take a teaching job in Pender Harbour in 1949 after he was suspected by the Delta School board of being a communist for his socialist views. At Pender Harbour he taught the children of fishermen and loggers in a small school and befriended B.C. author and fisherman Bill Sinclair who, with kindred social sentiment, inspired Phil to begin collecting the peoples' history of British Columbia as preserved in the wealth of folk song.

Of himself, Phil would say, "Primarily, I am a teacher." In 1953, with young family in tow, he was hired by the Vancouver School board and soon found himself with his own Art Room. A born teacher, with an amiable and engaging personality, Phil Thomas was one of B.C.'s most dedicated art teachers and life-long art education activists. He was awarded the G.A. Ferguson Prize, the highest honour the B.C. Teachers Federation can award, for creative work in art and drama and was an Honarary Life Member of the B.C. Art Teachers Association.

Thomas was also an inveterate collector of folk music and books on the same subject. While the primary source for the songs that Phil collected was the people of British Columbia, he also travelled Western Canada and used the Howay-Reid Collection at U.B.C. Library to discover some of the very early songs sung in this province and Canada. Many of these materials are now available at the B.C. Provincial Archive.

In 1993, his home plugged solid with music library materials, he generously decided to donate his entire collection of over 2,500 hundred books to the University of British Columbia Library for public use. Since then, Thomas has continued to scout and acquire new and rare materials. The Philip J. Thomas Popular Song Collection, of which he was Honourary Library Associate, is located at U.B.C. Library Rare Books and Special Collections, now numbers over 7,700 books and manscripts and is catalogued on the WWW.

The Collection includes items published since 1719 and reaches into many aspects of Western popular culture through the centuries. Phil's own publications are present, including Cariboo Wagon Road, 1858-1868,Songs of the Pacific Northwest, and Twenty-five songs for Vancouver 1886-1986. The Collection contains a wealth of material useful in the analysis in the incidence and significance of 'popular' song, as in 'of the people', in Canadian society.

In 1959, along with his wife, Hilda, and Albert and Jeannie Cox, Phil founded and eventually became Honourary Life Member of the Vancouver Folk Song Circle, later to become the Vancouver Folk Song Society, the longest running folk club in Canada.

To the end, Phil was an active and longstanding member of the British Columbia Folklore Society and was Honourary President and Life member of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music. Two of the many reognitions Phil received for his work in preserving folk music in Canada were the Heritage Society of British Columbia's Outstanding Award for Personal Achievement in 1996 and the Marius Barbeau Medal for Folklorists and Performers from the Associated canadienne d'ethnologie et de folklore/Folklore Studies Association of Canada in 2003.

In 2006, Hancock House Ltd published Songs of the Pacific Northwest in its second revised and expanded edition.

The three CD's which feature Phil and his collection are: Where the Fraser River Flows and other Songs of the Pacific Northwest; The Young Man from Canada B.C. : Songs from the P.J. Thomas Collection and Phil Thomas and Friends Life at Folklife Expo 86.

The family would like to express their deepest gratitude to the Doctors and Staff of the Vancouver General Intensive Care Unit.

Memorial plans to be announced by Vancouver Crematorium after February 12th 604-325-8251. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting., 131 Bloor Street West, Suite 200/238, Toronto, ON M5S 1R8 or the charity of your choice.
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Glen Livingstone
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