Fonds RBSC-ARC-1747 - Philip J. Thomas fonds

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Philip J. Thomas fonds

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Physical description

5.39 m of textual records and other material

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical 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.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The fonds reflects Philip J. Thomas’ involvement with the folk song community. This includes his research into British Columbian folk songs and his publications on the subject. The fonds also reflects his role as an art teacher, including cards he received from his students and photographs of paintings created by his students. The fonds also contains evidence of his personal life and career, both prior to and during his involvement with the folk song community, and some evidence of his role as a musician, including records related to performances and musical composition.
Material includes articles, music sheets, correspondence, photographs, and a film reel. The first three accruals of the fonds were arranged into three series: Research, Publications, and Folk Song Societies and Festivals. Upon receiving the 2020 accrual, the archivist added the following three series: Music, Art, Personal and Career.

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

The fonds came to Rare Books and Special Collections in four accruals, all from Thomas’ family. The first accrual came before 2008. The second accrual came in 2015. The third came in 2018. A fourth accrual came to RBSC from Theresa Thomas, Philip J. Thomas' daughter, in 2019.


At the same time that the fourth accrual was being processed in 2019, a previously unprocessed box was also processed and integrated into the fonds.

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Associated materials

Published books and related material on folk and other music collected by Philip J. Thomas can be found in the Philip J. Thomas Popular Song Collection.


General note

Photographs from the original accession/accruals were not assigned identifiers. Beginning with the 2018 accrual, identifiers are assigned. The fonds contains the following photographs: RBSC-ARC-1747-PH-01 to 1856.

Physical description

Includes 1857 photographs (prints, negatives, slides, contact sheets, albums) and 1 film reel

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Finding aid created by M. Hunter in 2016 and updated by Claire Williams in 2018 and by Ashlynn Prasad in 2018 and 2020.

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  • English

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