Posted in Event Review, New thinking

COGS celebration and reflections

Last Friday, I attended the 17th Annual COGS Student Success celebration at the Lawrencetown Fire Hall. Approximately fifty awards were handed out to students in the Geographic Sciences. COGSawardsThis included GIS, Remote Sensing, Marine Geomatics, Survey Technology and Technician, Community Planning and Information Technology. Today, the student population is around one hundred and fifty.  In my day (1980-88), we had similar student numbers, divided into three departments: Surveying, Computer Programming, and Cartography/Planning. It will be interesting to speculate on the numbers and disciplinary interests over the next thirty years.

Konrad Dramowicz and Kathleen Stewart, both announced their retirement from the NSCC. We wish them well in the third age.

bookCover_ArtisticApproachesToCulturalMappingA couple of conversations caught my attention. The first was a chat about the conversion of a LiDAR-derived topographic landscape into a hooked rug. This resonated with a new book that I had signed out from the COGS library. Artistic Approaches to Cultural Mapping: activating imaginaries and means of knowing. The second conversation, with Ed Symons, related to my experience at the walk-in clinic in Berwick, looking for a doctor. There, I had picked up a brochure describing the process for 811 registration. Here was my question: why not allow communities to actively engage in the doctor shortage issue. Can we not map citizens who do not have a family doctor from the registry?  Can we not map the communities where doctors are retiring? This would allow individual communities, without government oversight and control, to be more proactive.

logo_WWSCYesterday, Heather and I joined a group of about thirty woodlot owners for a field trip organized by the Western Woodlot Services Cooperative (WWSC) to North Range, Digby County. It started at the Forest Products Mill outside of Barton. Our host was Harold Alexander who has been managing woodlots in the area for over forty years. It was a joy to spend the time in the woods with a knowledgeable person and to appreciate the complexity of the decision process behind woodlot management and to understand the potential for a better alternative through citizen collaboration.

bookCover_UnderlandThis week, I received emails, from my brother and Frank Fox, about the new book by Robert MacFarlane, Underland. On BBC Radio 4 at 9:45 am, each day there was a short podcast from a different chapter. The book looks at landscape features below the ground, especially caves, mines, sewer systems throughout Europe. It reminded me of two occasions in my own life. While at the University of Birmingham, we hitch-hiked to the west coast of Ireland to go caving near Lisdoonvarna and the Burren. A few years later (1970) I joined Derek Ford, Michael Goodchild and others to explore Castleguard Cave in the Canadian Rockies, beneath the Columbia Icefields. Both are a classic example of physical geography in action.

One final reflection. Again beginning with a conversation with Ed Symons,  he gave me the latest issue of Municipal World (May 2019). It includes an article New Uses for Historic Places of Faith. Up near Wolfville, they have converted a church into a local craft brewery. Yesterday I noticed at Plympton, they are deconstructing the church. Only the frame remains standing. What an interesting commentary on society.


Ed Symons for the conversations, before and during at the COGS Award Ceremony. Harold Alexander for his in-depth knowledge of the woods in Southwest Nova Scotia. Peter Maher and Frank Fox for forwarding the reviews of Robert McFarlane’s new book. Edward Wedler for his artistic contribution.


Nancy Duxbury, WF Garrett-Petts and A. Longley. (ed). 2019. Artistic Approaches to Cultural Mapping: activating imaginaries and means of knowing. Routledge Publishing.

Robert MacFarlane. 2019 Underland: a deep time journey. Hamish Hamilton Publishing.


In the Duxbury book, two items caught my eye. There is a reference to Tom van Sant’s  map The Earth – From Space: a Satellite View of the World. Here, right next to my computer, I have a signed copy of this image dated 12-13-90 from my days with Esri, Redlands and meeting Tom at his studio.

The second item is a reference to the work of radical geographer, William Bunge: 1968. Where Detroit’s run over Black Children on the Pointes-Downtown Track map. Bill spent time in the Department of Geography, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.


Posted in Event Review, Opinion

COGS awards night 2019


I have been invited to hand out four awards on Friday, May 3rd at the Lawrencetown Fire Hall to graduates of COGS. They are two CANMAP awards, and two  Roger F. Tomlinson awards for excellence in GIS; one associated with Esri Redlands and the other with CANMAP. Given this unique opportunity, I thought that I would write a blog to share some of the history behind these relationships. If you are interested in more details, go to the web site

We have to go back to 1980.  At that time, COGS was called the Nova Scotia Land Survey Institute (NSLSI). It was one of only a handful of technical institutes training surveyors in Canada. I arrived, with my young family, to establish a new program in Scientific Computer Programming (SCP) with Bruce Peveril. We purchased a Prime mini-computer. During the 1980’s we designed and delivered new programs in Business Computer Programming, Computer Graphics, GIS, and Remote Sensing. After eight years of contract employment, I was exhausted and we headed for Indonesia and later California.

With access to new digital technology, we were looking for application software. From my previous academic career at Memorial University, I was familiar with the mapping software from the Harvard Lab of Computer Graphics. I was also aware that Scott Morehouse had left Harvard to join Jack Dangermond in California at Esri. By chance, the Esri software Arc/Info and Grid ran on Prime computers.

John Wightman was Vice-Principal at NSLSI. John had previously been a Cartography instructor at NSLSI. John and Jim Doig (Principal) recognized the value of this new technology. He formed CANMAP (Centre for Advanced Numerical Mapping Applications) to apply the new technologies to government and industry projects in Nova Scotia. This was really the predecessor to the Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG) and the only mechanism to conduct applied research outside of the teaching environment. CANMAP made a profit. The CANMAP awards come from those funds.

In 1986, NSLSI changed its name to the College of Geographic Sciences (COGS) to better reflect the wider range of technologies in Lawrencetown. At that time, besides our industry relationship with Esri and Esri Canada, we had similar relationships with Geobase (Strings), TYDAC (Spans), Dipix and PCI.

When John instigated the name change, he consulted with his friend, and mentor, from Acadia University days, Roger Tomlinson. Roger taught Physical Geography at Acadia and John was his teaching assistant. Roger was running a Consulting Geographers business in Ottawa, called Tomlinson Associates.

Besides Roger’s fundamental role in the Canadian Geographic Information System (CGIS), he advised governments and industry on the implementation of GIS. Associates of Tomlinson included Ray Boyle (inventor of the digitizing table), Michael Goodchild (champion of Geographic Information Science) and myself (instructor at COGS). I worked with Roger on a number of GIS systems implementation for the New Brunswick government, the Nova Scotia government and the City of Ottawa.

In the 1980s diploma programs were three sixteen week semesters. The third semester was dedicated to a cooperative project with government or industry. When Alex Miller left MMM and formed Esri Canada he recruited from the SCP program: David Roscoe, John Houwelling and Eric Melanson. Almost all new Esri Canada installations hired COGS graduates to run their systems. David MacLean started his career with Alan Brackley at JD Irving in New Brunswick. We also started to send our graduates down to Redlands, California.

There is still a connection today. Current instructors: David MacLean, David Colville, Jim Verran all followed this pathway from the SCP program. Other graduates include Tim Webster, Kathleen Stewart, Joy Brown and Konrad Dramowicz. Many graduates find their first job with Esri or an Esri Canada customer.


Eventually, COGS became part of the NSCC (Nova Scotia Community College) system. It was renamed the Centre of Geographic Sciences.

Today and beyond.

This year, the NSCC has announced a new $9M expansion of the Lawrencetown campus. How will that impact the curriculum, the instructors, the relationship between industry/government and community? Will we see a new relationship with the elders? There are over a dozen ex-COGS instructors living within a one hour drive of the campus. Will we follow Albert Marshall, Mi’kmaq concept and adopt ‘two-eyed seeing’? Will we see the residences used for international students? In the 1980’s we modelled ourselves on the ITC in the Netherlands. We worked with the Environmental Management Development Indonesia (EMDI) program at Dalhousie University. Today, we have a joint Masters degree in Applied Geomatics with Acadia University. There is a program at BIOTROP in Indonesia following the original COGS curriculum. What is their status today? Valerie Thomas and Stephen Rawlinson, both COGS graduates, went there as instructors for a year, to help with the technology transfer.

Will we continue to recruit both local instructors and instructors from the global market? What is the difference between research at AGRG, and research at COGS? What is the new equivalent company to Esri today? Is there a new Roger Tomlinson? Could it be Jon Murphy who is organizing the GeoIgnite conference in Ottawa next month? Jon is a COGS graduate.


Thanks to John Wightman and David MacLean for suggesting my name to present these four awards. I look forward to meeting the next generation of Geographic Scientists. I hope you enjoy this snapshot of history. Ted MacKinnon curates the site on my behalf. Edward Wedler, another ex-COGS instructor brings both his Remote Sensing teaching expertise and graphics skills to this blog. In memory of Pat Castel and Bill Power, both SCP instructors at COGS.




Posted in Event Review

Memory and Place

On Tuesday, I went to hear Wayne Johnston at the Unikkaarvik Visitors Centre in Iqaluit. The Centre also houses the Library. In preparation, I had signed out The Navigator of New York. I was surprised to learn that there are two Wayne Johnstons; same name, same birthdate.bookCover_navigatorOfNewYork

Last night it was Wayne Johnston, performing artist and librarian who showed up. His literary performance was entitled Ten Cities: the past is presentHe selected ten cities where he had lived. He was returning to each city, seeking to understand the effect of memory on place. It was twenty years since he was last in Iqaluit. While in town,  he planned to visit ten different locations that he recalled from the past.

Wayne organized his presentation in alphabetic order, from  A to Z, Accra to Zagreb. In between, we visited Geneva, Kathmandu, London, New York, Ottawa, Toronto. Each city and individual locations triggered recollections, new observations, writing and painting. These memories were organized by place. They included a collage of events that happened over a life span.

After the presentation, I inquired about access to his collection of memories. In time, the memoir will be available in both book form and online.Ten Cities

This format raised a number of interesting questions about how you organize your thoughts in space/time. It reminded me of the work of my brother who had developed a series of videos about his life; in his case, organized chronologically. To organize events by place leads to thoughts about maps and geography. Often, when discussing ideas, I am led to putting things into context: Where were we living there? and when?

Wayne started his presentation with a quotation from Dylan Trigg from The Memory of Place.bookCover_memoryOfPlace

My sense of place for Iqaluit reflects a number of visits over almost eight years. Each time, there is the opportunity to observe the community, changes in a growing family, and changes in myself (with age).

The alphabetic organization, A-Z, perhaps reflects the influence of Wayne’s career as a librarian. The painting and the writing showed us the performance artist.

My final thought relates to identity. Unless you are there, at the same time and place, you will not know who shows up. Or you can be there, at the same time and place, and still, you do not show up.


Wayne Johnston for his presence in Iqaluit. Jane Borecky who asked me to forward a note to Wayne Johnston.

Dylan Trigg. The Memory of Place
Wayne Johnston. The Navigator of New York
Wayne Johnston. Ten Cities: the past is present. Presentation on April 16, 2019.
Peter Maher. The DAD videos. produced by Jason Maher.







Posted in Book Review, Event Review

Profit of the Wilderness



The Inside Story in Greenwood (previously owned by Edward and Anne Wedler) maintains a good collection of books by local authors. I picked up Allison Mitcham’s Prophet of the Wilderness . It is a biography of Abraham Gesner (1797-1864). Gesner is perhaps best known for the invention of a new fuel ‘kerosene’. He also wrote the first treatise on the geology and mineralogy of Nova Scotia. From Mitcham’s title, Gesner was a prophet about the future of the wilderness, in this case, Nova Scotia. Although he also conducted significant field research in New Brunswick. My blog title is a wordplay on how we can profit from this landscape.

On Friday, I arranged for a meeting with Celes Davar (Earth Rhythms) and Ed Symons (Community Mapping at COGS). The broad topic was experiential tourism and the different methods for telling our stories. What is the role that maps and mapping can play?

This sent me off in a slightly different direction. I am less interested in telling stories that can be consumed by the visitor, but rather the stories which we share between residents of this landscape.

For example, I have been checking the writing and life of David Manners. Yesterday, I received a note from the library that soon I will be able to read his second book, Under Running Laughter.

poster_dracula1931Last night at the Centrelea Cinema, there was a showing of Dracula (1931), featuring the actors Bela Lugosi and David Manners. It was wonderful to be in a community hall, being served popcorn, and able to watch an actor who had spent time, here in the community in the ’20s.

But the real story is as follows. Not only had a small group of citizens arranged the film series, with Dracula as the kick-off event, but they had arranged for the technology and the movies to be available. AND, before the main feature, there was a screen welcome to the Centrelea Cinema and a short cartoon. How does that happen? How do those skills reside in Centrelea? What other skills reside in this empty space or ‘wilderness’ called ‘rural Nova Scotia’?


To Ed Symons and Celes Davar for a fruitful conversation. Please check earthrhythms and codsounds web sites. To Anne Crossman and Nancy Godfrey for the movie night in Centrelea. Edward Wedler for editorial and graphics skills.


From Henry Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

‘In my short experience of human life, the outward obstacles, if there were any such, have not been living men, but the institutions of the dead. It is grateful to make one’s way through this latest generation as through dewy grass. Men are as innocent as the morning to the unsuspicious… I love mankind, but hate the institutions of the dead un-kind’.

See Brain Pickings February 24,2019 for the larger context.


Allison Mitcham. 2018. Prophet of the Wilderness. Nimbus Press.

Brain Pickings. February 24,2019

Posted in Event Review

A Blast from the Past

This was a tumultuous week. First, I persuaded COGS to allow me to attend their two-day conference on Sensors in return for writing a review on the GoGeomatics web site (see link under GoGeomatics). My thoughts on the COGS conference are available on the online GoGeomatics blog. Second, I attended a one-day MashUp in Annapolis Royal looking at the potential for new businesses in the region. Between these two events, I received the photograph below from David Hildebrand of the first GIS class at NSLSI (now COGS) (1985-86).scan-130919-0016_600w90dpi

As a backdrop, I finished reading George Orwell Illustrated, before moving on to David Manners Convenient Season and Kate Raworth Doughnut Economics. At the end of the week, I picked up David Adams Richards novel Principles to Live By at the new Annapolis Royal library.

Here, I will focus on the MashUp event and its relationship to reading. In 2014, Heather, Edward and I walked the Road to Georgetown. At that conference on rural economic development in Atlantic Canada, we met Andrew Button, who lives on the South Shore. Today Andrew organizes and hosts MashUp events. The one, yesterday, in Annapolis Royal was his fourteenth. The concept is to bring together members of the community with ideas for new businesses in the region and to help them articulate their business plan, through coaching, criticism and feedback. At 8 am there were twenty-five citizens at the Annapolis Royal library.

My interest was not necessarily to create a business, but rather to understand how to create a climate where businesses can thrive. Here, I am not going to delve into the details or describe the results. Indeed, once we get into the business economics, my eyes glaze over, and I have little to offer.

This was the process. Everyone selects two words that resonate with their interests. From each table, one person takes three words from the word pool that will be used to drive their thinking. This translates into a collection of potential business ideas. We then go through the usual dot voting process that leads to one business idea per table (seven tables).

Here was my path. My two words were ‘gardening’ and ‘place’. Gardening because I believe that our relationship towards the landscape should be more akin to gardening. Place because, as a Geographer, I think that ‘place’ drives many decisions and ideas.

My issue (or concern) was ‘how can we better connect the creativity which exists in the community with our post-secondary education environment ?’ Not exactly a revenue-generating idea in the short term.

Subsequently, I joined a group of individuals who were interested in the role of writers in rural Nova Scotia (no surprise there). It included Brenda Thompson who had recently published ‘Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses of Nova Scotia’ (see her web site

By 2 pm, I was drained. It was hard for me to focus on the economics of a regional publishing house for rural stories. I will have to check with Andrew to find out the result of the different business plans.

bookcover_georgeorwellillustratedBack home, in my own comfort zone,  I can heartily recommend George Orwell Illustrated. It is very accessible, with cartoons by Mike Mosher. It has two parts: Orwell for Beginners and Planet Orwell. In the second part, there is a human rights manifesto, co-authored by Orwell,  with Bertrand Russell and Arthur Koestler. This returned me to my sixties reading on ‘Beyond Reductionism’, including contributions from Koestler, van Bertalanffy and CH Waddington. Other familiar Koestler titles were The Act of Creation and The Ghost in the Machine.

bookcover_mannersDavid Manners book:

He writes about Centrelea and Bridgetown. Published in 1941. Manners was a Hollywood actor who had an Aunt living in the Annapolis Valley. This was his first novel.  (BTW, I am only on page 68).

Kate Raworth book

Celes Davar sent me a link to her YouTube video. I subsequently received the book through interlibrary loan. I found the video much more accessible than the book.

bookcover_principleslivebyDavid Adams Richards book

Through Sandra Barry, I heard that DAR thought highly of the writing of Ernest Buckler. Since I was at the Annapolis Royal library for the MashUp event, perhaps I could find one of his novels.


Manners describes life in the Annapolis Valley, before the Second World War. Hildebrand is illustrating life at NSLSI in the 1980s. Today, we are holding MashUps which may impact life in the 2020s. Three very different snapshots of rural life. And yet, they could be covered in a single lifetime today (80-100 years).

We can envisage the economics of Kate Raworth and we can reflect on the economics underpinning Brenda Thompson’s book (and the poor houses). This can be placed in the context of the newly discovered human rights manifesto co-authored by Orwell.


Anne Crossman tells me that the movie, Dracula 1931, starring Bela Lugosi and David Manners, is showing at the Centrelea Community Centre on February 23rd at 7 pm.


Thanks to David Hildebrand for the photograph. To Tim Webster and Michael Purcell for the conference opportunity. To Andrew Button for the MashUp event. Technical help from Edward Wedler, Ted McKinnon and Jon Murphy. Anne Crossman, Sandra Barry and Celes Davar for local intelligence.


David Smith. 2018. George Orwell Illustrated. Haymarket Books.

David J. Manners. 1941. Convenient Season. EP Dutton.

Kate Raworth. 2017. Doughnut Economics. Chelsea Green Publishing.

David Adams Richards. 2016. Principles to Live By. Doubleday Canada.

Brenda Thompson. 2018. A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses of Nova Scotia.  SSP Publications.




Posted in Event Review


This week, we held a Board meeting of the Ernest Buckler Literary Event Society (EBLES). We invited Sandra Barry to attend because of her experience with the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia. There were two main agenda items:
a) how to support local writers
b) keynote speaker for the Summer event

3bookcoversEvidence suggests that there has been a long tradition of self-publication in the Annapolis Valley. Anne Crossman arrived with a canvas bag full of books by local authors. Two notable historic treasures were Andrew Merkel’s narrative poems, The Order of Good Cheer and Tallahassee. Both published by Abanaki Press, Lower Granville, Annapolis County 1946. Second, Charles Hanson Towne’s Ambling through Acadia, 1923. It describes a trip from Yarmouth along the Annapolis Valley – Digby, Bear River, Annapolis Royal, Bridgetown, Wolfville to Halifax, with a side trip to Parrsboro.

Describing Bridgetown,

“No town is too small to have its Nickelodeon and the ‘Pathe News’ reaches the most forlorn regions. Soon the radio will penetrate the dullest hamlets, and the whole world will be linked as it never has been. But alas! all this has its drawbacks too; for it sounds the death-knell of privacy; and in a few years there will be no such things as an obscure farmer.” p.130.

This prescient passage was written almost a hundred years ago.

We discussed several options for a keynote speaker. Sandra advised us on the intricacies of the Writers Union of Canada. We will see what happens next.

brexitbritexAs we were discussing the relationship between ‘place’ and ‘writing’, I remember an earlier blog by Dick Groot on Highway #201 and the BRITEX plant in Centrelea. Centrelea was the home base for Ernest Buckler.

BRITEX is the abbreviation for Bridgetown Textiles. With changes in the manufacturing sector and global competition, BRITEX closed down a number of years ago. Whether the building can be repurposed, is another question.

What intrigued me, playing with words, was that BRITEX could be transformed into BREXIT. We live in a time when the trade relationships between Great Britain and the European Union are at risk. Whatever the final outcome it seems that this six-letter abbreviation has outlived its shelf life.

Finally, it should be noted that the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia Annual General Meeting will be Saturday, June 22nd at Great Village. The keynote speaker will be Harry Thurston, writer and naturalist.

This blog was written by an ex-Brit, now a resident in Canada


Thank you to Anne Crossman, Jane Borecky and Sandra Barry for their input at the EBLES board meeting. To Edward Wedler for his graphics contribution


Andrew Merkel. 1946. The Order of Good Cheer. A Narrative Poem. Abanaki Press.Andrew Merkel. Tallahassee. A Ballad of Nova Scotia in the Sixties. Abanaki PressCharles Hanson Towne. 1923. Ambling through Acadia. Crowell Publishing Co.
Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia


Posted in Event Review

Preview of Sensors conference

banner_cogsconference_2019On Wednesday and Thursday (January 23 and 24th), COGS in Lawrencetown is hosting a two-day conference, entitled: Sensors High and Low: Measuring the reality of our world. A draft copy of the agenda is available online. My plan is to write a review after the event for GoGeomatics.

Here, at this time, I want to explore the main components of the conference and make a few personal observations. The conference title suggests that it will cover a variety of sensor systems for different environments; terrestrial as well as marine. High and low presumably refers to both spatial and spectral resolution.

Looking at the list of speakers, we can identify three different perspectives: industry, academia and the community. AGRG has had a lengthy involvement with sensor technology. From my time at AGRG, this ranged from LIDAR technology to weather station networks. In parallel, COGS has maintained strong relationships with a number of technology leaders.

From industry, there are speakers from Leica Geosystems, Esri, IBM, Hoskins Scientific, Stantec Consulting, Global Spatial Technology Solutions and Hanatech IoT Inc.

From the academic community, speakers are from the NSCC (AGRG, Applied Oceans Research Group, COGS), St Marys University (Beacon Labs), Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) and CIDCO.

While there are a number of businesses and colleges with regional interest, there does not appear to be specific presentations by community groups. The one exception is Nathan Crowell’s presentation on the Garrison graveyard in Annapolis Royal, combining UAV and ground penetrating radar. Partners are Boreas Heritage and MapAnnapolis.  This leads me to the following suggestion.

As an instructor at COGS in the 1980s, I recall the yeoman efforts by Phil Milo, Survey Department in reaching out to the high schools in Annapolis County and well beyond. In this same spirit of community outreach,  it would be unorthodox, yet progressive, if COGS/CANMAP could provide a select number of gratis seats for high school students across Annapolis County to allow them to attend the conference. This would encourage future community engagement. Sensor technology is only as useful as our ability to ground truth the results. Ongoing monitoring of change in both the terrestrial and marine environment requires collaboration with the user communities, whether in the context of fisheries, forestry, agriculture or other types of land use. Or whether to address questions of alternative energy, climate change or physical infrastructure.

Note on Terminology

If we think about imaging the earth’s surface we can use satellites, aircraft or drones. As the platform is placed closer to the surface you can expect a higher resolution. If you think in terms of trail cameras for wildlife, the camera can be triggered by movement or sound. Another approach is to put in place a network of sensors, for example, weather stations across the Annapolis Valley or a set of sensors for temperature and moisture in a vineyard. AGRG has used LiDAR onboard aircraft and boats to measure the topography of the land as well as the sea bed. Many of these applications will be presented at the conference.


I appreciate my recent conversations with both Rachel Brighton and  Edward Wedler on community engagement.


The web site for the conference is at It includes the draft agenda. It also details the industry expo, the GANS  and GoGeomatics social event at Lunn’s Mill Beer Company.

ADDENDUM by Edward Wedler
Considering Annapolis Royal high school students have launched their own “Annapolis Royal Space Agency” balloons, with sensors, I’d like to think that COGS/CANMAP could promote these UK-Kettering-type students at events such as these and maybe even have them tell their stories.
11jan19 4-43-40 pm


Posted in Event Review

Gordonstoun Nova Scotia

Congratulations to our hard-working councillors for their procurement of this opportunity. In my terms, it speaks volumes for ‘place-based education’ in Nova Scotia. I had every intention of being at the announcement. There were swirling rumours about a new Cannabis operation at the Britex plant in Centrelea, as well as the Gordonstoun connection.

Saturday, Heather Stewart decided to attend the workshop at Mersey Tobeatic Research Institure (MTRI) for woodlot owners on the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. Being car-less, I walked down to the Lawrencetown library to retrieve David Quammen’s The Tangled Tree. This is a revision of Darwin’s tree of life. Afterwards, I did not have the energy to walk into Bridgetown from East Paradise for the announcement.

In the Annapolis County Spectator, Tim Habinski makes an interesting observation.

“If there’s a point I really want people to know about the school, and about why this project, it is this: when we went to Gordonstoun, I presented specifically on the values and culture of Annapolis County. I wanted them to know what kind of county it was.”

This is our collective challenge ‘what are the values and culture of Annapolis County ?”

Being a Geographer, with a long-term commitment to the educational institutions in the County, I would argue they are ‘place-based’: the Bay of Fundy, Annapolis Valley, South Mountain (Kejimkujik National Park and the Tobeatic Wilderness Area), North Mountain.

Historically, this will takes us from the Mi’kmaq culture, to Samuel Champlain, the Acadians, Black Nova Scotians to Joshua Slocum and then more recently, the writings of Ernest Buckler, and other artists.

Of course, its way too soon for me to recall, digest and reflect on my memories of the United Kingdom, the monarchy and the school system there. Oddly enough, we were watching Prince Philip in an old episode of The Crown on Netflix last night. Its now over fifty years since I made Canada my permanent home.


Edward Wedler is away in the Caribbean, and so we will miss his graphics.


David Quammen. 2018. The Tangled Tree. A Radical New History of Life.  Simon and Schuster.

Annapolis County Spectator December 9, 2018. Annapolis County Spectator

Developer’s interest in vacant Annapolis County schools leads council to Scotland.

Mutual ethos and historic connection – ‘Gordonstoun reflects our values’, says Annapolis County Warden Habinski.

World Class – Top international private boarding school franchise coming to Annapolis County.

Posted in Event Review

Climate Change and the Human Prospect: Annapolis Royal

On Wednesday evening, we attended the screening of Climate Change and the Human Prospect in Annapolis Royal. This was a month after we attended a screening at the Municipal building in Kentville (see earlier blog October 25). I want to highlight a number of differences in the context, as well as offer some thoughts on next steps.

“The 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming …”

The venue last night was at King’s Theatre. Janet Larkman spoke well to the role that the theatre plays as an educational hub in the region.  It also allowed for the use of modern technology. We were able to ‘Skype’ with Crystal Chissell in San Francisco. She is Vice-President of Operations and Engagement at Project Drawdown. We had access to a large screen. The viewing of Andrea Vandenboer’s documentary on the Thinkers Retreat was a very different experience. Thirdly, we had the pleasure of Gregory Heming, Centre for Local Prosperity and local Councillor facilitating the evening. Again, this was missing in Kentville. The Centre for Local Prosperity sponsored the making of the documentary and the screening. The audience in Kentville was primarily municipal officials whereas in Annapolis Royal the much larger audience was a diverse group of interested, informed citizens.

Starting with Project Drawdown, solutions were divided into seven sectors: Materials, Electricity Generation, Food, Land Use, Women and Girls, Transport, Building and Cities. These solutions formed the core of the discussion at the retreat. The documentary presented the view from the twenty-four thinkers at the three-day retreat.

After the screening, Gregory hosted a question and answer session with the audience. Some questions addressed specific concerns in Annapolis County, namely forestry practices, sea level rise, as well as the larger issue of citizen engagement.

What can citizens do?

There is a new group in town, Annapolis Climate Change Action Group. Specific questions related to how we can influence politicians and the necessity for place-based education.

There were some missing pieces. In Kentville, all members of the audience were invited to sign up, if they wanted to keep in touch. Unfortunately, the same thought did not arise last night in Annapolis Royal.

assetMapping_2In the documentary, there was a focus on Energize Bridgewater, perhaps Annapolis Royal could play a similar focal role with Land Use. If so, they may seek to collaborate with the Centre of Geographic Sciences, Lawrencetown and develop current maps and statistics on the status of the forest, agriculture and other land use types in the County.

logo_centreForLocalProsperityFrom the audience, the comment was made that ‘we only have twelve years’. How can we organize resources that go beyond the Centre for Local Prosperity and the Municipality of Annapolis County? What can we do to change our institutions: provincial and municipal government, as well as schools and post-secondary education institutions? How do we fully utilize the creative human resources in the region?  Are we taking full advantage of town hall-style meetings? We need to continue to keep looking everywhere for good ideas, innovation, and where appropriate new technology. Conversely, we need to share the special resources that we have locally with other communities. The impossible becomes an opportunity.


Edward Wedler continues to find relevant resources and images on the Internet. Heather Stewart always reminds me of the needs of other non-human species that inhabit our regional landscape, both on the land and in the surrounding waters.


Project Drawdown Project Drawdown

Centre for Local Prosperity Centre for Local Prosperity

Energize Bridgewater Energize Bridgewater




Posted in Event Review

Coppicing and Charcoal-making

This weekend, we supported Alex and Selene Cole from Little Foot Yurts, Gaspereau with their annual November workshop on coppicing and charcoal-making. For the last eight years, Alex has been coppicing red maple on Andrew’s property across the road. The red maple is found on the floodplain above the Annapolis River. Coppicing is the practice of cutting the tree so that new shoots grow up from the main stem.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This is an annual cycle. After eight years, we have poles, two inches in diameter suitable for yurt construction. A second product from the residual branches is the making of charcoal. For this purpose, the branches are cut into lengths and packed into an airtight container. In our case, a recycled milk condenser. By burning, excluding the oxygen, the wood converts to charcoal. Both of these practices are traditional woodland skills from Europe.

Other by-products of the coppicing cycle are firewood to heat the home. Also wood for the creation of corduroy woods roads. These practices together offer an alternative model of small woodlot management, where you have mixed deciduous woodland.

For more information on the workshop and yurt construction contact little foot yurts.

Last week, as part of our research into landscape change in Cumberland County. We went to GeoNova, the Geomatics Centre in Amherst. Our interest was to obtain aerial photography for Heather’s family property at Hansford. We were able to purchase images at ten-year intervals from 1965 to 2015. This will allow us to map the end of farming, forest regrowth, and later-cutting. We envisage undertaking a similar analysis for our property in Annapolis County.

Harry Thurston. Gaspereau Press

Visiting Amherst, Oxford, Pugwash and Truro we are able to make comparisons of small towns in rural Nova Scotia: the cycle of service centre, decay and re-invention. At the Dayles Grand Market in Amherst, I  picked up a book by local author, Harry Thurston entitled Keeping watch at the End of the World. This book of poetry from Gaspereau Press is described on the back cover in the following terms.

“Harry Thurston explores ways in which poetry stands sentinel at the edge-places where known and unknown meet. Whether that frontier lies between land and sea, present and past, health and illness, or youth and ageing”

Thurston lives at Tidnish Bridge. With prompting from Sandra Barry, I subsequently revisited his 1990 book. Tidal Life. A Natural History of the Bay of Fundy.with photographs by Stephen Homer.

Another find at the GeoNova office was Nova Scotia Nature Map published in 1993. It was based on the book, Natural History of Nova Scotia.

Given the assault on our forested and marine landscape, perhaps it is time to revisit these 1990’s publications, to update them, and make them available to the schools.

Returning home, and stopping at the post office in Bridgetown, I found that they too have second-hand books. I picked up Thomas Merton, The True Solitude. Two passages in this small book caught my attention.

Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them‘. p.33
and p.36, in relation to poetry,
The poet enters into himself in order to create. The contemplative enters into God in order to be created“.

Merton was both a monk and a poet.


On November 28th at 7:30 pm at Kings Theatre, there will be a screening of Andrea Vandenboer video on Climate Change and the Human Prospect. The film documents the retreat at the Thinker’s Lodge in Pugwash, October 2017. Both Timothy Habinski and Gregory Heming attended the retreat and will be on hand to answer questions on the implications for the Municipality of Annapolis County.


Sandra Barry for encouraging me to pull Tidal Life off the bookshelves. Alex and Selene Cole for their consistent enthusiasm for sustainable forestry and traditional house structures.  Heather Stewart for her support and companionship. Edward Wedler for his graphic contributions.


Harry Thurston. 2015. Keeping Watch at the End of the World. Gaspereau Press.

Harry Thurston. 1990. Tidal Life. A Natural History of the Bay of Fundy.Nimbus Press.

Derek Davis. 1993. Nova Scotia Nature Map. LRIS Amherst.

M.Simmons, D.Davis, L. Griffiths and A. Muecke. 1984. Natural History of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Departments of Education and Lands and Forests.

Thomas Merton. 1969. The True Solitude. Selections from the Writings of Thomas Merton. Hallmark Editions.

Little Foot Yurts  .little foot yurts


I loved the title of this poem by Harry Thurston in his 2015 book. Dedicated to Sandra Barry.

Geography: on first discovering Elizabeth Bishop in a used bookstore in Manhattan.