One could say that Rika Ruebsaat and Jon Bartlett are passionate about Canadian folk songs, but that might be a bit of an understatement.
The duo has dedicated their lives to finding, collecting, singing and recording Canadian folk music.
Jon and Rika join the group Tillers Folly as the headline acts for the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin’s 25th anniversary Heritage Festival coming up in Boitanio Park on Sunday, Aug. 7.
Jon and Rika both grew up singing, John as a choirboy in the high Anglican church, and Rika, with her family singing German and Canadian folk songs.
They met at the Vancouver Folk Song Society, where they are still active singers and honourary life members, both having served as society directors.
Through the folk society Jon met and worked with Phil Thomas, on his collection of BC songs, and then on his book, Songs of the Pacific Northwest.
Jon and Rika began singing together in 1976 focusing primarily on Canadian folk songs. Additionally they presented workshops to teachers and students from Kindergarten to the post-graduate level.
Their educational work culminated in 1979 with the production of Songs and Stories of Canada, a sixteen-part radio series for the CBC schools’ broadcast.
In 1980 they produced The Green Fields of Canada, an album of Canadian folk songs extracted from the radio shows.
They sang at folk festivals and in folk clubs in Canada and the US and published Canada Folk Bulletin, a bi-monthly magazine about folk music.
Frustrated by the beginner-level educational workshops they were continually forced to give because of limited schools budgets, Jon and Rika decided in 1981 to train as teachers so they could pursue the incorporation of Canadian folk songs into the curriculum.
Among these productions is the collection Songs and a Sense of Place.
Rika became a music specialist and then a classroom teacher in Surrey, retiring in 2007. Jon became a classroom teacher in Vancouver and later a researcher on First Nations issues.
Over the years they have sung at many marches, demonstrations and picket lines. In the early 80s they were involved in BC’s Solidarity movement against Bill Bennett’s budget cuts. They were founding members of Cultural Workers Against the Budget (CWAB), which organized the 70,000 strong march and rally of October, 1983.
From 1991 to 1999 Jon and Rika were involved in organizing CityFest, a cultural festival presenting the music, dance, visual and spoken arts of Vancouver area ethnic and community groups.
They have a great interest in the singing and study of traditional ballads and put together an archive of traditional ballads from the F.J. Child collection. For two years they ran a ballad study group.
They presented a paper about the origins and meanings of the ballad Lamkin (Child 93) at the International Ballad Commission conference in 2002 in Austin, TX, and occasionally give lectures at local universities.
Moving to Princeton in June 2007, they founded and organized the Princeton Traditional Music Festival, held each August.
They are active in their local museum, where they researched for the CD Now It’s Called Princeton: Songs and Stories of BC’s Upper Similkameen and a book on local vernacular culture Dead Horse on the Tulameen: Settler Verse from BC’s Similkameen Valley.
The Princeton museum was a major source for their history of the 1932-33 Princeton miner’s strike titled Soviet Princeton.