BINGHAM, Maine — The Old Canada Road Historical Society (OCRHS) in Bingham will benefit from sales of a new song written and recorded by Martha Sterling-Golden, a native of Bingham. Sterling-Golden, a member of the OCRHS board of directors, has performed throughout New England with various rock bands, and as a solo artist, notably opening for the late, Emmy-winning Bill Chinnock at Maine’s larger venues.
On a visit to the historical society in early 2012, she read a copy of a letter written to the Legislature in 1838 by John B. Smith, an early settler at The Forks. Written when the road was little more than a trail, the letter begs for assistance and details the extraordinary difficulties that people experienced travelling down the “Canada Road.” Smith ends with a post-script: “one woman last summer brought a dead child on her back 12 miles to my house before she could get anyone to bury it or let her in to there [sic] houses.”
With a daughter of her own, this story struck a haunting chord for Sterling-Golden. “It expressed in the clearest possible terms the hardships people were willing to endure in hopes of finding a better life, and how exponentially more difficult it must have been where they had lived before if they were willing to take such enormous risks,” said the singer and songwriter. “In that moment I knew I would be writing a song about that woman for the Bingham Bicentennial celebration.” The song was first performed publicly by Sterling-Golden during a Bicentennial gathering at Bingham’s Old Free Meeting House in July of 2012.
In Canada Road, Sterling-Golden returns to the traditional narrative folk ballad to tell stories of settlement in the Upper Kennebec Valley of Maine, based on actual events and historic documents. The artist’s own Sterling and Fitzmorris ancestors emigrated from Ireland to Quebec, and came down the Canada Road to the Upper Kennebec in the early 1800s.
Sterling-Golden decided that the song should honor the stories of those less frequently mentioned in the history books: the women and French-Canadian immigrants — some of whom came to Maine during a labor shortage created by the Civil War. The song depicts the story of the woman mentioned in Smith’s letter and, employing a French-language refrain, the story of a Quebec woodsman who makes his way south to start a life for his family in Maine.
The goal of the song was simple, according to the author, “The Upper Kennebec Valley has seen several difficult decades since the closing of the wood products mills, and the changes in the logging and manufacturing industries, but there is new energy and opportunity on the horizon. As we celebrated the 200th anniversary of Bingham—and with Moscow’s 200th coming up—I wanted people to reflect on the unbelievable risks people took to settle these towns; to think about how much of what they built is still in use by us today; and how we might honor them with our own creative efforts and entrepreneurship, because that spirit is still alive and well along the Upper Kennebec.”
The song is available for download from iTunes and CD Baby, and is also available as a single-track compact disc illustrated with unique artwork and liner notes relating the history of the song. The artwork, featuring images of people who lived and worked in the Upper Kennebec Valley in the mid -19th century, was designed by Sterling-Golden, with discs and liner notes printed at BenchMark Media in Biddeford. The song was engineered and mastered by noted Maine folk musician and Grammy-nominated engineer Jud Caswell at his Frog Hollow Studio in Brunswick. CDs are available locally from the Old Canada Road Historical Society in Bingham.
OCRHS President Juliana Richard said, “Martha’s decision to dedicate revenue from the song to OCRHS is welcome support for the Society’s mission and work, which is to serve as a primary repository for the history of the Upper Kennebec region, including migration along the Old Canada Road.”
The Old Canada Road Historical Society is a recognized nonprofit organization located at 16 Sidney Street in Bingham. For more information visit their website at www.oldcanadaroad.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org .