John Murray Gibbon was recognized as a Person of National Historic Significance in 1954 for being a prolific Canadian author and novelist as well as the founder of the Canadian Authors' Association.
John Murray Gibbon was born in Ceylon on August 12, 1875. As a young boy, he traveled to Scotland (his parents' homeland) to live with a Presbyterian minister in Aberdeen. Here he studied languages and geography, and quickly developed an interest in other cultures. He went on to attend the University of Aberdeen, and then, on scholarship, Oxford. Upon graduation, Gibbon moved to London to work as a journalist for the leftist newspaper Black and White.
In 1907, Gibbon left the newspaper to work for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) as their European Advertising Agent. Hired at the age of 32, Gibbon began a career with the CPR that would continue off and on for the rest of his life. One of his first jobs as advertising agent was to accompany 12 European newspaper editors on a train journey across Canada. Gibbon enjoyed the trip so much that in 1913, when Thomas Shaughnessy, president of the CPR, asked Gibbon to move to Montréal to become the General Publicity Agent for the CPR, he jumped at the opportunity.
Gibbon was intrigued by the state of Canadian national and cultural development. Noticing a trend of Canadian artists leaving for the US due to a lack of recognition, Gibbon wanted to rectify this loss. In 1921, Gibbon founded the Canadian Authors Association (CAA). Since its inception, the CAA has played a key role in the support and development of the Canadian writing community. The association is a national forum to provide insight and networking opportunities as well as copyright protection for Canadian writers. CAA went on to establish the Governor General’s Literary Awards in 1936.
An author himself, Gibbon published two novels within five years of emmigrating to Canada, Hearts and Faces: The Adventure of the Soul (1916), a romance, and Drums Afar (1918), a story of men at war. He also published the four-volume French Canadian Folk Songs (1928) with Sir Ernest MacMillan and wrote a number of history books: Scots in Canada (1911), Steel of Empire: The Romantic History of the Canadian Pacific (1935), Canadian Mosaic (1938) and two histories of nursing.
His writings also included musical pieces. He wrote the libretto for the ballad opera Prince Charlie and Flora (1928) and his piece Melody and the Lyric won a Prix David in 1931 from the Quebec government. Gibbon also translated many French-Canadian folksongs including Le Jeu de Robin et Marion and L'Ordre de Bon Temps for the Canadian Folksong and Handicraft Festivals in Quebec (1927, 1928).
In 1926, Gibbon was tasked with organizing a celebration for the reopening of the CP owned Château Frontenac in Québec City, which had been closed due to a fire the previous year. Gibbon hired renowned French-Canadian folksinger Charles Marchand to perform traditional Québécois songs. Gibbon translated the lyrics into English and distributed them throughout the audience to accommodate both English and French attendees. The event was so successful, Gibbon translated some of Marchand's most popular material and collected it in Canadian Folk Songs (Old and New) (1927).
The CPR, impressed with the response to the opening, encouraged Gibbon to organize more events. This led to a number of festivals from 1927-30 featuring Canadian folk art and music. These festivals showed support for the arts by a major corporation and grew recognition of Canada’s musicians and artisans. The festivals continued to be held in CPR hotels across Canada, in Banff, Calgary, Quebec City, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg.
John Murray Gibbon Died in Montreal, Quebec, on July 2, 1952.The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada’s plaque, recognizing Gibbon as a Person of National Historic Significance, is located in Banff, Alberta, at the Banff Centre for Performing Arts.
Gibbon's work had a major impact on the idea of multiculturalism in Canada. Gibbon’s book, Canadian Mosaic, published in 1938, influenced the concept of a ‘cultural mosaic’ in the Canadian government's multiculturalism policies.
John Murray Gibbon was attributed the well-known quote, “I always suspect an artist who is successful before he is dead.”
JOHN MURRAY GIBBON
Born in Ceylon and educated in Scotland and Germany Gibbon studied painting before turning to journalism. As publicity agent for the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1913 to 1945, he combined advertising with the promotion of a Canadian identity, popularizing the image of Canadian society as a mosaic. He organized folk culture festivals and was instrumental in establishing the Trail Rider of the Canadian Rockies at Banff. A prolific author of novels, lyrics, history and social commentary, Gibbon helped found the Canadian Author Association in 1921.
“While there is Still Time...: J. Murray Gibbon and the Spectacle of Difference in Three CPR Folk Festivals, 1928-1931,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 2005, Henderson, Stuart,
Canadian Authors Association, www.canauthors.org