Jim Whalen ( James Phalen was his actual name) was rafting logs down Ontario’s Mississippi river near Lanark around 1878 when a dangerous jam formed in a treacherous part of the river known as King’s Chute. Called on to help break the jam, young Jimmie fell in and drowned.
Another song, “Jim Whalen,” recounts the details of the accident and was composed by a local ballad singer at the time. “Lost Jimmie Whalen” seems to be an adaptation of an older ballad about a lover’s ghost that
was adjusted to reference the same Ontario tragedy.
Norah’s version is based mainly on Sidney Robertson Cowell’s beautiful 1952 recording of Wisconsin singer Robert Walker, though she swaps in some text from a version sung by Martin Sullivan of Nassau, Ontario, for Edith Fowke and another sung by Will Daugherty of Charlevoix, Michigan, for Franz Rickaby.
Source: Robert Walker (1883–1961) of Crandon, Wisconsin, USA
Slowly and sadly I strayed by the river,
Watching the sunbeams as evening drew nigh,
All alone as I rambled I spied a fair damsel,
She was weeping and wailing with many’s a sigh.
Sighing for one who is now lying lonely,
Mourning for one who no mortal can save,
As the dark foaming waters flow sadly around her,
As onward they roll o’er young Jimmie’s grave.
“Jimmie,” said she, “won’t you come to my arms,
And give me sweet kisses as ofttimes you gave?
You promised you’d meet me this evening, my darling,
Oh, come, dearest Jimmie, love, come from the grave.”
Then slowly there rose from the depths of the river,
A vision of beauty far fairer than sun,
While red robes of crimson encircled around him,
Unto this fair maiden to speak he’s begun.
“Why did you raise me from the realms of glory,
Back to this place where I once I had to leave,
To hold you once more in my fond loving arms,
To see you once more I have come from my grave.”
“Jimmie,” said she, “why not stay on earth with me?
Don’t leave me alone for to weep and to rave.
If you won’t mind me and bide here beside me,
Oh Jimmie, take me to your cold silent grave.”
“Darling, to me you are asking a favour,
That no earthly mortal can grant unto thee,
For death is the dagger that holds us asunder,
And wide is the gulf, love, between you and me.”
“One fond embrace, love, and then I must leave you,
One loving kiss, pet, and then we must part,
And cold were the arms he encircled around her,
While cold was the bosom she pressed to her heart.”
Then straightway the vision did vanish before her,
Straightway to the sky he then seemed to go,
Leaving his loved one distracted and lonely,
Weeping and wailing in sadness and woe.
Throwing herself on the banks the river,
Weeping and wailing her poor heart would break,
Sighing, “My loved one, my lost Jimmie Whalen,
I will lie down and die by the side of your grave.”
from Spinning Yarns,
released March 17, 2015
Norah Rendell on vocals and harmonium, Brian Miller on bouzouki, Randy Gosa on mandola.
Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Norah Rendell is a consummate musician that specializes in the traditional folk
songs and dance music of Ireland and Canada. Norah was named "Best Vocalist of the Year" by the Live Ireland Awards in 2011 and 2012 and was nominated for "Best Traditional Singer of the Year" by the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2009....more