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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Artist Amby Thomas

In 1906, Amby Thomas was born in Deep Cove, a small Cape Breton fishing community between Gabarus and Louisbourg. In his early years, Amby attended ceilidhs where local and traditional folk songs were sung. He was especially interested in songs by local songwriter Lauchie MacNeil.

Amby lived and attended school in the village until 1916, when a local priest noticed he had a vision problem. He suggested that Amby move to Halifax to study at the School for the Blind. He attended the school until June 1919, when he moved back to Deep Cove to finish school.

After completing his studies, he worked in a lobster factory in Kennington Cove and then as a fisherman with his father until 1952. During this time, he also farmed near his family’s home and cut timber in the nearby woods that was used in coal mines in the area. From 1939-1945, he worked at the naval base in Point Edward, where he was responsible for railroading and other jobs at the base.

In 1967, the government forced Amby and the other residents of Deep Cove to move from their land so that the Fleur de Lis trail could be built. In 1969, he married Mary and moved to Sydney.

His interest in local and traditional folk songs led him to work with singer-songwriter and collector Ronald MacEachern to record the lyrics and sheet music for some of his songs. Together they released the book, Songs and Stories from Deep Cove, Cape Breton. As a result of their collaboration, these songs became accessible to future generations interested in learning more about Cape Breton’s rich songwriting tradition.