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The Grampy Tapes


Alban E Riley - Bear River, 1976




It is a well known fact to the older local inhabitants of the Bear River and Clementsvale area of Nova Scotia that some of the children of John P Riley of Virginia East, son of Timothy W Riley Jr. of Bear River East, had been blessed with a penchant for “the talk”. Some have even suggested that it may have originated with Great Grandfather Timothy W. Riley Sr. who, on his way to catch passage to the America’s from Ireland’s great port of Cork in the early 1840’s, stopped at the nearby Castle Blarney to pay a final tribute to his native land by properly saluting that castle’s honoured stone. If such was the case then the effect of that final tribute was indeed passed down to some of his great grandchildren in the New World; not all mind you, just some.  


It can be generally corroborated that brothers Walton and DuVernet and sisters LeeEtta and Vera tended to be more inclined to the quiet and pensive side, and used the vocal chords primarily as a means of communication and not primarily as a means of entertainment. In contrast, sisters Ester and Ora and brothers Alban, Dennis, and Ed were ever prone to initiate and carry a conversation with all the enthusiasm of a three-legged beagle hot on the trail of a garden-fed rabbit. However, of all these perhaps Alban stood out as being best able to carry his own in the field of conversation; in fact when he got going, and I can speak with some authority here, there was no conversation – he talked, you listened!


During the 1950’s and the 1960’s Alban ran a watch repair shop in Bear River, and his shop became the focus for much community discussion (it has been suggested that some of that discussion might even have been called gossip) among an element of the local fishing and hunting fraternity. Such a fraternity tends to naturally practice the religion of ‘tall tale telling’ and so it was at Alban’s shop, he becoming perhaps the most garrulous of all the local practitioners. As is inevitable tall tale telling attracts kids, and Alban was in his glory trying to convince the local seven to twenty year olds, and not infrequently the odd 40 year old, that some of those stories were really true.


By 1950 this practice had earned him the community nickname of “Gabby Riley” a title that stuck with him until he retired in the late 1960’s. By the mid-1960’s he had begun recording some of those tall tales as well as the stories of his early life growing up in rural Nova Scotia at the request of some of the local kids, and particularly nieces,  nephews, and, later, grandchildren.


But as the song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.  A recent review of a few of the tapes that are accessible showed that some had begun to deteriorate, some badly.  This website has provided an excuse and at the same time an opportunity to attempt to salvage some of the better remaining examples of the Alban Riley story telling prowess and at the same time capture a bit of the flavour of growing up in rural Nova Scotia in the 1920s and 1930s. Of significant interest is that some of these stories were captured in off-the-cuff multiple tapings over a period of at least fifteen years and the detail one to the other is remarkably consistent with only minor variations.    


The material included herein is predominantly from tapes made for granddaughters Janet and Ann Copeland and grandchildren Chris and Jill Riley, hence the file name “The Grampy Tapes.”  The sub-file titles ‘Stories of My Youth’, ‘For the Younger Set’, and ‘Tall Tales for Older “Kids”’,  speak for themselves. If you listen carefully you can distinguish in the background the spitting of tobacco juice into the earthen floor of his shop.








Taping the Intro


            Hi Janet and Hi Ann  


Stories of My Youth


            Catching Rabbits and Managing Money

            Making Our Own Entertainment

            Winter Activities

            Activities at School and at Home

            The Mischievous School Kid

                My First Deer

            My First Moose

            The Value of Money

            My First Real Money

            The Value of Oxen

            We Didn’t Have No Finer Things in Life

            The Basic Things of Life 

            Using a Slate

                The Benefit and Cost of Oxen

            The Medicine Room

            Working at Tupper Warne’s Mill


For the Younger Set


                The Early Years

            Goldilocks and the Three Ducks

            The Old Man who Lived in the Woods

            The Little Girl and the New Moon

            The Pig Who Would Not Jump Over the Stile

            The Little Red Hen

            The Woodsman’s Axe

            The Wise Men of Gotham

            Uncle Josh Rides a Bicycle


Tall Tales for Older “Kids”


            The Lord’s A Comin’!

            Fishing at Echo Canyon

            One Tough Old Maid (Janet)

            Of Oxen Yokes and Beans (T4S2) (about 1/3 of the way along after uncle josh)

            The “Ritus” Boys (T4S2)

            The Ghost on the Road (T4S2)

            “Nobody Here But You and Me” (T4S2)

            “I Married your Sister” (T4S2)

            “I’ll Take This One, You Take That” (T4S2)

               Uncle Josh and the Photograph Gallery

            Uncle Josh Keeps House