Canada 1980: Carolina Edwards’ “Nova Scotia”

I’ve already written about my long-time affection for the community I called home for over 20 years, Grande-Greve, and the beach that won me over as a child and continues to touch me to this day.

However, in the summer of 1980, my simple enjoyment of happy childhood times at our “family beach” evolved into a deeper affection for the sea and the shoreline. I finally realized that coastal living isn’t a full-time lifestyle for many of us, learned to appreciate the shortness of Maritime summers, and got a stronger sense of how blessed I was to grow up and live by the Atlantic Ocean.

The catalyst for this epiphany as I prepared to turn eight years old? My first exposure to a song recorded a few years earlier by a singer-songwriter from Pictou County, Carolina Edwards.

The song in question, simply titled “Nova Scotia,” was originally featured on the demo recording Bring Me Your Magic before it landed on Edwards’ 1977 debut Rainbow Reign. (Here’s a YouTube clip of Edwards performing that album’s lovely title track, and here she is performing “Nova Scotia” itself.)

“Nova Scotia” became a regional radio hit and soon wound up as the backdrop for a two-minute commercial-break interstitial run by the Atlantic Television System, or ATV, which oversaw CTV’s affiliates in the Maritimes. Comprised of two verses, two choruses and the bridge of “Nova Scotia,” along with video images of crashing waves, happy children on the shoreline, and SCUBA divers acquainting themselves with the province’s marine life, what seemed like a straightforward time-filler during reruns of The Flintstones wound up impacting my mind and heart in unfathomable ways.

(Among them: Whenever I’m snorkelling or SCUBA diving, I know I’m at peace underwater because I hear music as clearly as if I’m sitting next to a thousand-watt speaker. Not just “Nova Scotia,” but other songs as well. Either way, the music and peace converge in my mind and heart whenever I’m beneath the waves.)

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I wouldn’t hear “Nova Scotia” in its entirety until two years after ATV introduced me to it, courtesy of this album released in conjunction with the 1982 Nova Scotia tourism season, which carried the slogan “Old Home Summer.” As you can see by the album cover posted above, Carolina Edwards found herself in some impressive musical company but still received top billing on the front cover as well as the fifth cut on the album’s track-listing. (In both cases, she came ahead of Anne Murray. Let that sink in for a moment.)

I suspect Edwards’ inclusion and position on the Old Home Summer album has a lot to do with the fact that “Nova Scotia” was written and recorded well after most of the other material, including Murray’s late-’60s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Wilf Carter’s “When It’s Apple Blossom Time In Annapolis Valley,” Hank Snow’s “My Nova Scotia Home,” and Carroll Baker’s “Why Me, Lord.” Edwards’ recording also straddles the delicate balance between contemporary and traditional, a sharp contrast to the straightforward fiddle medley provided by The Cape Breton Symphony and the banjo-heavy arrangement McGinty brings to the song so frequently associated with my home province in the ’70s, ’80s and even the ’90s, the Helen Creighton-collected chestnut “Farewell To Nova Scotia.”

Now, to be fair, once you hear the lyrics to “Nova Scotia” – which you can, by listening to it and the other Rainbow Reign songs at this link – it’s plainly obvious that it treads the familiar ground of the hardships, however exaggerated, of departing the province. In the chorus, Edwards makes it clear that she’s “just got back from Nova Scotia” but immediately promises that she’ll return, insisting that such a course is not only desired but necessary: “I know that I’ll be going back again/Oh, what a friend I am/To myself, again.” (In the bridge, she even grumbles about wherever her true hometown might be: “Coming home is such a bore.”)

Besides, unlike “Farewell To Nova Scotia” and its morose lyrics about “mountains dark and dreary,” Edwards’ earnest voice and hopeful lyrics craft a musical Valentine to Canada’s Ocean Playground. Buoyed by guitars, harmonicas, the occasional string section and some lush post-bridge fiddle and piano instrumentals, she paints lovely pictures of a “laughing boy” losing his shoes as he runs on the beach and the joy of late-summer jam sessions with her “northern friends.” And yet it still finds a way to sound like a radio-friendly light-pop song. That cheerful musical embrace of my home province has influenced a lot of my own songs over the years, and I have no doubt other composers of my generation feel the same way.

(Above left: The front cover of Carolina Edwards’ demo recording Bring Me Your Magic, the first album to feature “Nova Scotia.” Above middle and right: The front and back covers of Edwards’ official debut Rainbow Reign. You may sense a theme developing here.)

While “Nova Scotia” did show up on a few other artists’ playlists, most notably that of fellow Pictou County songsmith Dave Gunning, I never heard the name Carolina Edwards again. But there are a couple of good reasons for that, most notably the fact that she’s now going by the professional name of Serah (chosen after she went through a difficult divorce in the ’80s) and currently lives in California.

But she’s still recording – she’s released six albums as Serah, most of them featuring an adult-contemporary pop sound with elements of everything from New Age and jazz to Scottish and Irish. Her 1991 release Flight of the Stork was even chosen as Record of the Year by the German music trade publication Stereoplay, and a copy of the same release was presented to former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev as part of the long-running global non-profit campaign The Hunger Project. (That initiative launched in 1977 – the same year Edwards, not yet Serah, released Rainbow Reign and “Nova Scotia.”)

(Above: Publicity photos for the former Carolina Edwards, now Serah. See, I told you there was a theme developing in these pictures.) 

And yet, four decades later, Serah will always trace her musical journey back to “Nova Scotia” – the province and the song. In this interview, she recalls her surprise at how well it was received in Atlantic Canada and the long-lost commercial radio atmosphere of the late ’70s:

I took it around to all the local radio stations and had them play it. Back then, music wasn’t about big business. It was about real people. If they liked it, they played it – no politics or payoffs. To my surprise, “Nova Scotia” became Number One in Eastern Canada’s Maritime Provinces. But I didn’t have management back then, so it was hard to take it any further.

It may not have gotten any further than those radio-station visits and ATV’s sort-of-a-music-video, but “Nova Scotia” still turns this grown man into a “laughing boy” losing his shoes in the sand on his favourite beach, decades later.

Thank you, Serah. Thank you, Carolina Edwards.

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