RBSC / OSC Archives

Thomas, Philip J.

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Thomas, Philip J.

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1921-2007

History

Philip James Thomas was born on March 26, 1921 in Victoria, British Columbia. Through his life he was a folksong collector, composer, singer, and art teacher. Thomas was interested in sound from a young age when he tinkered with ham radios, which led to him being part of the secret development of radar technology during World War Two. After five years of service, he returned from war to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree and Teaching certificate at the University of British Columbia. He then became a visual art teacher. Although he mostly worked in elementary schools, he also gave courses at the University of British Columbia Summer School and at the Vancouver Art Gallery. While he was teaching at Pender Harbour Elementary School in the early 1950s, he became interested in the folk music of British Columbia as a way to connect the students with what he was teaching.
This interest led to a lifelong devotion to finding lost folk songs of British Columbia. Through his collecting he uncovered other songs in diaries, archival papers, newspapers, and books. He also co-founded the Vancouver Folk Song Circle, later the Vancouver Folk Song Society, in 1959 with his wife Hilda Thomas.
In 1979 he published his book Songs of the Pacific Northwest. Of the 49 songs included in this publication, 19 made their way onto his record Where the Fraser River Flows. In 1981 he retired from teaching to pursue his folk singing aspirations full time. During this period Thomas participated in many folk song festivals and societies.
Thomas died at Vancouver General Hospital on January 26, 2007.

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