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Coburn Photo 2010


Bob Nolan was born in Canada and spent his adult life in the United States. It is only fitting that an American and a Canadian should pool their resources to honour him.


Calin Coburn, sole grandchild of Bob Nolan, contacted Elizabeth Drake McDonald early in 2000 and together they began compiling and archiving all that remained of his grandfather's effects: photos, music, hand-written lyrics, letters and other documents. Calin scanned more than one thousand items. These scans, with annotations by Elizabeth, were placed into the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the John Edwards Memorial Foundation (JEMF) collection where they are open to the public and available to researchers. 


Elizabeth's decision to bring Bob Nolan to the attention of a new generation was the result of a casual observation by a stranger. She overheard someone complain that the trouble with modern Canadians is that they know something about everything, but everything about nothing. Elizabeth accepted that remark as a challenge and decided that, as a lifetime project, she would learn everything possible about something or someone. For several years she cast about for a suitable subject, finally focusing on Bob Nolan whose music she had loved as a child in rural British Columbia. The deciding factor was the realization that Nolan was virtually unknown in Canada, his birth country. Once the decision was made, Elizabeth searched for Bob's music, collated biographical material and studied the era (and area) in which he lived. Initially an academic exercise, her project grew into a personal determination to do what she could to keep Bob Nolan's name and music from sliding into obscurity.


The work progressed slowly until Calin contacted her from Nevada and opened the family albums and his grandmother's personal letters. At the beginning of this monumental task, Calin knew little about his grandfather other than that "he was a nice old man". As most children do, Calin had taken his grandfather for granted and had not fully appreciated Bob's contribution to what is now a uniquely American genre. The process of archiving Bob's work and personal artefacts caused him to reassess his grandfather. "I wish I'd known about all this while he was still alive. I wish I had known him better. I've learned more about my grandfather while working with Liz on this project than I did in all the years before." Calin had also underestimated the love and loyalty of Bob Nolan's fans and he was astonished and gratified by the response to his website. (Calin passed away on March 1, 2019.)


By his own admission, Bob Nolan wrote over 1400 songs in his lifetime. Fewer than 170 of them have been recovered.  


Nolan family historian and archivist, Elizabeth would like to hear from you. Share your stories of Bob Nolan or memories of how his music affected you. Ask questions or tell her what you would like to see on the website. (She is also the Webmaster.) Please add your e-mail address or regular mail address so you can get a personal reply.


Answers to messages of general interest will be posted on the Messages page.


If you find any of Bob Nolan's sheet music or recordings that we cannot find, please let us know. Even a photocopy of the sheet music will be welcome. We are striving to make as complete a collection of Bob's work as possible at this late date.


CONTACT INFORMATION: Please put "Bob Nolan" on the Subject line.


• Elizabeth Drake McDonald, CANADA: elizabethdrakemcdonald@gmail.com  To contact Elizabeth by regular mail, please use the following address:


Elizabeth Drake McDonald

PO Box 857



Telephone: (250) 679-3032



For permission to record Bob Nolan's songs, write to:

Sam Fein,

c/o The Songwriter’s Guild of America

Att: Music of the West (Bob Nolan catalog)
209 10th Avenue South, Suite 321
Nashville, TN 37203

Phone: (615) 742-9945

Fax: (615) 742-9948