We’ve been travelling in the beautiful provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and find ourselves humbled to discover how little we know about British and French colonization that shaped the United States and Canada into the remarkably different countries they are today. Crisscrossing Nova Scotia, we became fascinated with how the histories of our two countries are linked. The stories we found about immigration and emigration, both voluntary and involuntary, are interesting, sad and compelling.
|Gray day in Peggy's Cove on Southwest coast
The Immigration Museum in Halifax informed us that currently one in six Canadians is an immigrant. This museum occupies a building on Pier 21 where a million newcomers from countries all over the world were welcomed into Canada between 1928 and 1971. While it presented an inviting picture of the celebration of diversity in Canada, the museum was silent on the earlier migrations documented at a couple of other sites we visited around the province.
One was the Black Loyalist Museum in Birchtown, near Shelburne. During the American Revolution thousands of escapees from American slavery were promised freedom, money and land in exchange for service to the British cause. When the English lost the war, these refugees were relocated in Nova Scotia along with other New England loyalists. But racism was alive and well: the white Loyalists were given good farm land and black Loyalists were given the rocky infertile soil that no one else wanted. The combination of apartheid culture, infertile land, dearth of livable wages, and the harsh reality of northern winters doomed all but the most hardy. Some were later relocated to Sierra Leone (and that’s another story.) A CBC television mini-series will soon air based on the historical novel, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, telling the remarkable story of one of these survivors. The controversial title comes from an historical document that listed the names of people who were eligible to participate in the relocation to Nova Scotia.
|Grand Pre: Parks Canada National Historic Site
For part of our Maritime travels, we were joined by our in-laws, Ward and Ann Marie Carson from Vashon Island. They traveled with us for a week and we had a delightful time telling stories of our shared grandchildren and getting to know these very fine people. The four of us visited Grand Pre, a commemorative site recognizing the 1755-1760 eviction of French colonists in the Annapolis Valley on the Bay of Fundy. These peaceful Acadian farming communities tried to maintain neutrality after the British arrived, unwilling to take up arms against France and refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the British crown. In retaliation the British forcibly removed men women and children from the land they had been cultivating for five generations, putting them on boats to the American colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Many were separated from family members or died of disease and starvation. Those that made it created a diaspora of Acadian culture and French language as far away as Louisiana.
|Ward, unidentified "dragger", Janna, Liz and Ann Marie
Continuing to learn about provincial history, our next visit was to a coal mine. Coal mines in Nova Scotia are all closed now but the area is still dependent on coal for generating electricity, and it is currently being shipped in from South America. As a child Liz learned Peggy Seeger’s mournful ballad of the Springhill Mining Disaster of 1958, so Ward and Ann Marie and Janna graciously indulged Liz for a Springhill coal mine tour. It was spooky to go into the old underground mine near where the “bump” in the earth took so many lives in the famous Cumberland mine disaster, the third and last major mining disaster in this area.
On a lighter note we all enjoyed touring Cavendish, on Prince Edward Island, childhood home and source of inspiration for Lucy Maud Montgomery who wrote the famous book: Anne of Green Gables. Ann Marie was the only one of us who had read the whole series, but even Ward was heard to say he would have to put one or two into his reading pile after that visit.
|Seeking enlightenment at Gampo Abbey
The culmination of our travels together was a three night stay in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. From there we greatly enjoyed a day on the Cabot Trail, leaving Lilypad behind and travelling the loop in 12 hours, in a car rented by the Carsons. Janna and Ann Marie were so entranced by the beautiful hooked rugs at the Cheticamp Les Trois Pignons Museum that they both left with small rug hooking kits. This craft has been a historical economic boon to Nova Scotia, and particularly this area, and we had previously visited the Hooked Rug Museum of North America, a must-see stop near Halifax. Also near Baddeck our group of four toured the Fortress of Louisburg, rebuilt by the Canadian government in the mid twentieth century. This fortress was originally built in 1719 to protect French interests in the area but was captured by the British and burned to the ground in 1745. Now there are 50 buildings open to visitors, staffed with re-enactors to show what life there was like from 1719 to 1745. There are many additional acres of ruins to explore, but the walk was long and the time was short. We had time to hear about the halibut fishing, walk through several buildings, have a conversation with a re-enactor Mi’Kmaq scout, then a cup of tea, and it was time to move on.
Baddeck was also home to Alexander Graham Bell and we twice visited the five-star museum devoted to his life and work. We learned that he was devoted to helping others and well-loved in this community where he settled as an adult. He primarily worked with the deaf and he was devoted to his wife, the former Mabel Hubbard, who was deaf and read lips. He invented many things but intentionally obtained few patents. Because Mabel was wealthy, his marriage allowed him the freedom to experiment in aeronautics, hydrofoils, electricity, and of course, all things related to the telephone and phonograph. He invented a predecessor to the iron lung, the metal detector, a fax machine and even a telephone that needed no wires. We spent a total of five hours in this museum and probably would have appreciated a few more hours there.
We sadly said goodby to Ward and Ann Marie as they left to catch their plane out of Halifax. We are spending another week in the Maritime provinces but have gone as far north and as far east as we intend to go, which means that we are headed home.