Bruce Cockburn & Toronto: A Historical Tour
-- The Guided Tour --

Luckily for those who care about such things, Bruce began the practice of noting where a song was written and/or completed in the liner notes of his albums beginning with the High Winds White Sky album in 1971.

He's skipped a few albums here and there, but there's still a good geographical representation of his songs. There are probably more songs than these that were written in Toronto, but these are the ones that we know about.

You'll notice that none are listed after 1990. I believe (though I could be wrong) that this is because he wasn't actually living in the city of Toronto thoughout most of the 90's. Below are the songs credited as written in Toronto:

  • Thoughts On A Rainy Afternoon
  • Let Us Go Laughing
  • You Point To The Sky
  • Deja Vu
  • Mama Just Wants To Barrelhouse
    All Night Long
  • Don't Have To Tell You Why
  • Hand Dancing
  • A Long Time Love Song
  • Little Seahorse
  • After The Rain
  • More Not More
  • Anything Can Happen
  • The Coldest Night Of The Year
  • All's Quiet On The Inner City Front
  • You Pay Your Money And
    You Take Your Chance
  • The Trouble With Normal
  • Civilization And It's Discontents
  • Going Up Against Chaos
  • Maybe The Poet
  • If I Had A Rocket Launcher*
  • Peggy's Kitchen Wall
  • Sahara Gold
  • Lovers In A Dangerous Time
  • To Raise The Morning Star**
  • World Of Wonders
  • Call It Democracy
  • See How I Miss You
  • Stolen Land
  • Where The Death Squad Lives
  • Gospel Of Bondage
  • Tibetan Side Of Town
  • Don't Feel Your Touch
  • Understanding Nothing
  • The Gift
  • If A Tree Falls
  • Indian Wars
  • Cry Of A Tiny Babe
  • One Of The Best Ones

    *partially written in Chiapas, Mexico.
    **partially written in Sydney, Australia.
  • A note from the Author

    A partial inspiration for this project was the Rush Fan's Guide to Toronto which I stumbled upon years ago before I had ever been to Canada. Since then, I had thought about doing a similar thing, centering on Bruce Cockburn. I had a lot of fun putting it together. Besides researching info on one of my favorite musicians, it gave me a reason to explore some of Toronto, being a recent transplant to the area. Some may think this "guide" a little excessive, but it just kind of grew as it progressed, and became a sort of "well, why not include every Bruce Cockburn-Toronto parallel I can think of?". My hope is that it is a good guide for fans of Bruce's music who are visiting the city, as well as somewhat interesting reading for those nowhere near Toronto at all.


    In the beginning at least, Toronto didn't seem to hold a strong attraction for Bruce Cockburn. "O Jesus, don't let Toronto take my song away" he sang in his 1969 song Thoughts On A Rainy Afternoon, seeming to eye the city and the urban life it represented with some wariness.

    Shortly after this, Cockburn wrote the songs for the film Goin' Down The Road, a story of two friends looking for a bright new future in Toronto and having their dreams dashed instead:

    "I came to the city with the sun in my eyes
    My mouth full of laughter and dreams
    But all that I found was concrete and dust
    And hard times sold in vending machines."

    --from the title track Goin' Down The Road

    Though Cockburn would turn down requests for the songs from this movie during performances from this time, saying that he had written the songs to represent the points of view of the characters in the film and not his, he wasn't exactly extolling the virtues of the city by writing them.

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    In the late 1960's, Bruce Cockburn was entering into what fellow singer/songwriter Murray McLauchlan referred to as his "buccolic phase". He was finding inspiration and ideas in nature and not the concrete and steel that pervaded Toronto.

    By the early 1980's, though, Bruce was a permanent denizen of the city, embracing Toronto's urban environment and finding much imagery for his increasingly less pastoral songs. His 1981 album Inner City Front might be looked at as his "Toronto album". He had just moved back to the city after his divorce and was acquainting himself with a "newly discovered urban landscape of love, lust, and speakeasies" (quoted in the Rumours Of Glory 1980-1990 songbook, cited in the Project's notes for You Pay Your Money And You Take Your Chance).

    Since then, Cockburn has lived off and on in the city. With such a long connection to Toronto, there are specific places and areas in the city that figure in his songs and musical history.

    This is a "Bruce Cockburn Fan's Guide To Toronto". It is not completely comprehensive, but every effort has been made to be as complete as possible.

    Rob Caldwell

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    Sources used

    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.