Single Release: Great Lake Swimmers, “The Legend Of Bobby Bird”

Great Lake Swimmers, “The Legend Of Bobby Bird”

When you need to convey a difficult truth, narrative can prove essential. We as people are wired to digest reality more fully when we can hear it in the form of a story, or a parable, or an anecdote from the life of a fellow human. Add music, and you have a tremendous vehicle for approaching difficult but important subjects.

Great Lake Swimmers’ new single, their brilliant cover of Art Bergmann’s song “The Legend of Bobby Bird,” steps directly into this framework to convey a gripping account of a 10-year-old boy of Ni’Hio descent who, in 1969, fled the terrors of the Saskatchewan residential school where he had been sent, along with so many other First Nations children. Three decades later, his remains were identified, and it is thought that Bobby died of exposure to the cold. Speaking on the song, Bergmann told the CBC, “I wanted to turn Bobby into a legend – a symbol of all of those kids who disappeared. People should hear this song and they should just weep. This nation should weep … and ask for forgiveness.”

So why did Tony Dekker & Great Lake Swimmers choose to take up the cause of making Bobby’s tragic story known? In their words, “Our version hopes to amplify that sentiment and help tell the story of Bobby Bird, adding to the voices calling for truth and reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations.” The release date coincided with the release of Bergmann’s authorized biography.

Great Lake Swimmers

This reimagined version starts off with a driving bass-and-drums beat, that borders on punk. Dekker’s honest and wistful vocal delivery – perfectly fitted for the task of conveying this story – begins to narrate Bobby’s story, with strings and acoustic guitar joining in as the song builds, reminding us that this is the Great Lake Swimmers that we know and love. The result is a tune that puts a name and a face to a Canadian national tragedy that was allowed to go on for all too long and that has, only in recent decades, been reckoned with.

Among the most powerful lines that Bergmann penned for the song, and that Dekker sings are, “They beat him every time he opened his mouth / They beat him for speaking his tongue” – an indication of how the “vanished kids and their photo smiles” were so grossly abused and mistreated, and why a child would run from it.

“The Legend of Bobby Bird” is an important song, and it is good to see Great Lake Swimmers add their voice to the larger conversation on this topic. May it serve as a call to awareness – and to ask for forgiveness.

Photo Credit: David Irvine

Matt Wheeler is a Lancaster County, PA-based singer, songsmith, stage-banter conversationalist, husband, & special-needs father. And an avid vinyl record collector, a purveyor of random facts, & tour-er of Canada (southern Ontario is a favorite destination). Ever since being introduced to Great Lake Swimmers' music through Pandora in about 2009, he has had an appreciation for Canadian music.

Matt's songs & stories, including his classic literature-based project "Wonder of It All," can be found at

Tags from the story
0 replies on “Single Release: Great Lake Swimmers, “The Legend Of Bobby Bird””