Two pre-eminent Island folklorists receive prestigious Marius Barbeau Medal
May 23, 2018—
The executive of Folklore Studies Association of Canada are very pleased to announce that both Georges Arsenault and John Cousins, two of Prince Edward Island’s most esteemed folklorists, will receive the association’s Marius Barbeau Medal. Named after Marius Barbeau, who is widely recognized as the founder of Canadian folklore, the medal is given in recognition of remarkable individual contributions to folklore and ethnology through teaching, research, and communication―activities in which both Arsenault and Cousins have excelled. Previous recipients of the Barbeau Medal with fieldwork links to PEI include Dr. John Shaw and the late Dr. Edward “Sandy” Ives.
As Dr. Edward MacDonald, Chair of the Department of History at UPEI noted in his letter of nomination for Georges and John:
“In the year where the Folklore Studies Association of Canada is meeting on Prince Edward Island, it seems entirely appropriate to recognize with the prestigious Marius Barbeau Medal two giants of Prince Edward Island folklore for their career contributions to the collection, study, dissemination, and popularization of folklore within this province and beyond: Georges Arsenault and John Cousins.
“Both Georges Arsenault and John Cousins were born into the communities they have studied, giving them the unique perspective that comes from being at the same time both outsiders and insiders in their research. Both have invested their lives in the study of folklore, Arsenault steeped in the traditions of his Acadian community, Cousins (though not exclusively) in those of his beloved West Prince County, PEI. Both excel at using the local to get at the universal, both scrupulous about investigating local lore in the larger context of the discipline. Both also live a conviction that scholarship has a responsibility to speak to the general populace, a duty to help us all better understand the culture that forms our mental and physical landscapes.
“Georges Arsenault is universally recognized as the pre-eminent authority on Acadian history and heritage in the province on Prince Edward Island. He has been an instructor, broadcaster, consultant, researcher, columnist, and coordinator. His public lectures are far too numerous to enumerate, and his CV lists over 100 books, monographs, booklets, and articles, along with publications in other media and contributions as an exhibit curator and consultant. Among his many awards and distinctions, he was appointed to the Order of Prince Edward Island and the Order of Canada, in 2003 and 2016, respectively; honorary degrees from both the University of Prince Edward Island (2004) and the Université de Moncton (2017); the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation’s Award of Honour for career contributions to Island heritage; and his appointment as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Republique Francaise.
“In many ways, John Cousins has been to English-language folklore on Prince Edward Island what Georges Arsenault has been to Acadian folklore in the province. He has become a cherished―almost iconic―figure in the western region of his native province, where for fifty years he has been collection, celebrating, singing, promoting, and insightfully considering a potent folklore heritage. John Cousins was a child when University of Maine folklorist Sandy Ives first came to explore with John’s mother, Mary, the rich local songmaking tradition of West Prince County. It may be that a folklorist was born that day, although the pressing necessities of making a living in his home community meant that Cousins’ folklore research was conducted mostly in what passes for leisure in the life of an award-winning high school teacher, busy administrator, and curriculum developer. In addition to collecting and studying folklore, Cousins’ passion for folklore has found expression over the years in performance. It was during the heritage movement that peaked in the province during the 1970s and early 80s that he first became a fixture of local folklore festivals, singing and interpreting the work of local songmakers such as the notorious Larry Gorman. In 1976, he co-recorded with Tommy Banks the first-ever record album of Prince Edward Island folksongs, When Johnny Went Plowing for Kearon.”
Congratulations to both Georges and John who couldn’t be more deserving of this recognition.