March 26, 1921 – January 26, 2007. Phil grew up with diverse interests ranging from singing to being an amateur radio ham (VE7PJT). During WWII he volunteered with the RCAF at a very young age to employ his radio knowledge and worked on the development of radar.
His 40-year career as a teacher, mostly with the Vancouver School Board, included a brief sojourn at Pender Harbour, teaching the children of fishers and loggers. There, he was inspired by BC author Bill Sinclair to begin collecting the people’s history of BC as preserved in the wealth of folk song.
Phil received the G. A. Ferguson Award from the BC Teachers Federation for creative work in art and drama and was an Honorary Life Member of the BC Art Teachers Association. With John Dobereiner, he ran the groundbreaking Child Art Centre at UBC’s Acadia Camp.
Summer holidays focused on finding old-timers and recording their songs. By 1979, the collection warranted publication of Songs of the Pacific Northwest. Hancock House published a 2nd edition in 2006.
In 1992, a collection of almost 3,000 items, broadly related to folk song, were donated to
the UBC Special Collections library. Known as the P.J. Thomas Popular Song Collection, the holdings, which now number almost 8,000 titles, are catalogued and available for research.
Phil was an active and long-standing member of the British Columbia Folklore Society and was honorary president and life member of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music. He received the Heritage Society of British Columbia’s Outstanding Award for Personal Achievement (1996) and the Marius Barbeau Medal (2003) for Folklorists and Performers from the Association Canadienne d’Ethnologie et de folklore/Folklore Studies Association of Canada.
Phil’s enthusiasm for art and music was contagious. He frequantly performed the songs he collected with wife Hilda and others in venues such as EXPO ’86 and the Vancouver and Mariposa folk festivals. His passion for collecting the stories and songs of BC’s past has ensured the preservation of a rich and priceless heritage.