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Rear View Mirror: Ian & Sylvia's "Four Strong Winds" Paves the Way for Canadian Patriotism in Song

Alex Redekop

Every week, Rich Terfry looks back in our Rear View Mirror at a great song from the good ol’ days. This week, Ian and Sylvia's "Four Strong Winds."

In the early days of the folk boom in the '60s, musicians flocked to Greenwich Village in New York City and swapped songs and arrangements they had found on old blues and country records. The scene thrived, the public's appetite was strong and record deals were handed out. Right there in the thick of things was a duo that had come from Toronto called Ian and Sylvia.

Rear View Mirror - Ian & Sylvia "Four Strong Winds"

Rich Terfry shares the story behind "Four Strong Winds"


Everything ran smoothly for a few years until a kid named Bob Dylan came along and upset the apple cart.

At first, he did the same thing everyone else was doing. But then he decided to do something bold. Rather than cover or re-interpret a lost classic, he wrote an original song. "Blowin' In the Wind" took the scene by storm.

This put on a new set of expectations on musicians in the Village. To cut the mustard, now you had to prove you could write a song of your own.

Inspired by the winds of change Bob Dylan had kicked up, Ian Tyson let them carry his imagination back home to Canada. Specifically, he wrote on a topic he knew well, that of the Canadian migrant worker. The result was a song called "Four Strong Winds."

The song holds a very significant place in Canadian music history in that it makes specific references to Canadian places, something musicians were once advised to avoid. The song was later covered by:

Johnny Cash

Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Neil Young

By breaking that rule and writing a huge hit, Ian Tyson gave license for other patriotic Canadian musicians who followed in his footsteps. Names like The Tragically Hip, The Rheostatics and Joel Plaskett, to name just a few.

Here's the Canadian classic that truly put Canada on the musical map. This is Ian and Sylvia with "Four Strong Winds."

More Editions of Rear View Mirror:

Darrell Banks - "Open the Door to Your Heart"