Posted in New thinking

Neither Black nor White: shades of grey

08Feb18_goldIn Saturday’s Chronicle Herald, Bill Black wrote an opinion column “How can rural NS prosper without resource extraction ?” and Joan Baxter (White) wrote ” For rural residents, all that glitters is not gold”. This resulted in the following Letter to the Editor.

Black’s last paragraph states:

“Those who want strong rural communities, but want to abolish all mining and quarrying, marine-based salmon farms, oil and gas development, and paper mills are invited to explain how they imagine those communities can keep their young people and thrive.”

I accept the challenge, although I don’t see it as an either/or proposition. Those of us who live in rural communities seek to manage our landscape, without compromising its long term value.

In this corner of rural Nova Scotia, Annapolis County, we have recognized that the management of our natural resources can be achieved through the provision of high quality education and research. Last week, I was once again reminded of this fact when the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) and the Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG) hosted a two day workshop on three dimensional data; its collection, analysis and visualization. ( see my previous blog for a more detailed discussion,  or go to for the workshop agenda).

This type of alternative educational model can assist in the identification of rural economic development issues, supports rural communities, and offer technology/science solutions that can be exported world wide. It is not unique to this part of rural Nova Scotia. But it does require different thinking, away from the either/or approach as presented by Bill Black.”

I received a positive acknowledgement from the Chronicle Herald.

One further footnote related to the title of Joan Baxter’s piece. There are many ‘nuggets of gold ‘ out there in the rural landscape of Nova Scotia: individuals and groups, with wonderful stories, ideas and dreams.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the intellectual support, and technological savvy of Edward Wedler.


The Chronicle Herald. Saturday February 3, 2018 Page: E3

Bill Black. How can rural NS prosper without extraction?

Joan Baxter. For rural residents, all that glitters is not gold.

Posted in New thinking

A Canadian University of Geographic Sciences.

My last blog looked at the Smart ICE project and its implications for other parts of Canada. This has led to a number of realizations, concerning the role of post-secondary educational institutions and today’s technology in a global context.

In 1986, we redefined the Nova Scotia Land Survey Institute as the College of Geographic Sciences. We dropped the provincial epithet and expanded from land surveying to geographic sciences. Geographic Sciences included Cartography, Remote Sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Community Planning, as well as the associated computer programming and technology (the story of COGS )

By 1996, COGS had become a part of the autonomous Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). COGS was redefined at a Centre of Geographic Sciences. In this same time frame, in the United States, with NSF funding, Drs Goodchild, Marble and Frank had established the National Centre for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA). It was a network structure including UC Santa Barbara, SUNY, Buffalo and University of Maine, Orono. Elsewhere, in Europe, UNIGIS was offering online programs in the Geographic Sciences.

CanadaNetworkImagine the following scenario, COGS could have been expanded to form a network of campuses of the University of Geographic Sciences (UGS). This would permit technical resources to be applied to a wide range of geographic issues across the country. It would build on Canada’s history of innovation in Remote Sensing and GIS. Today, we could use the network to understand a wide range of geographic issues by monitoring and modelling different conditions. Smart ICE would be one example. We can imagine other contributions to our understanding of the boreal forest, or ocean management. Because of the geographic extent of the country, there are many opportunities to observe changes in land, sea and air. This natural laboratory, supported by a network of technical institutes could provide insight and offer solutions to a number of pressing global issues: climate change, urbanization, alternative energy sources.

On the cultural front, Canada has access to a multitude of views of the land, sea and their associated resources. This can be generalized, as a diversity of interest in community mapping.

It is not too late to build a National University of Geographic Sciences (UGS). Part of the network would include campuses in the Arctic and Boreal Forest.

What would be the technologies today ?

  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Remote Sensing
  • Sensor networks
  • UAV’s (drone technology)
  • Cartography
  • Community Mapping
  • Survey Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Place-based Artificial Intelligence

What would be the sciences/systems today ?

  • Climatology
  • Geomorphology
  • Biogeography
  • Oceanography
  • Computer Sciences


Canada, with its geographic extent, diversity of landscapes and cultures, continues to offer the opportunity to study and understand the condition of our global systems. By investing in a National post-secondary technical education network, the country would be making a major contribution to our understanding of these global systems, but also, be supporting the well-being of its citizens in this dynamic global environment. It would be efficient in terms of costs, speed/catalyst of innovation and degree of ingenuity.

Time to step up to the plate.

Posted in New thinking

Smart ICE and rural Nova Scotia

On January 4th, the CBC program, The Current aired a segment entitled “As ice thins underfoot, technology is combined with traditional Inuit knowledge to save lives “. (see podcast)
It describes the Smart ICE project,  a collaboration between Northern Inuit communities and Southern science at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). The podcast interviews Dr. Trevor Bell, Department of Geography at MUN, Shirley an Inuit resident from Arviat and Glen Aikenhead, an educator from Saskatchewan. The project emphasis is on the safety of Inuit travelling on land fast ice along the flow edge. It involves permanent monitoring stations,, mobile platforms to measure ice thickness as well as community knowledge of sea ice travel conditions around Northern communities.

The discussion centred on the need to combine specific place-based knowledge with more generalized scientific understanding.

This collaborative model offers many lessons for rural Nova Scotia (and other parts of Canada). It emphasizes a sharing of knowledge about the land. The importance of this knowledge to relationships and survival in these communities. The adoption of new technology by Inuit youth and their role in the community.


In rural Nova Scotia,we have many culturally isolated communities) Acadian , Mi’kmac, Black Nova Scotian. We need to adopt mechanisms for sharing geographic knowledge about the land, including climate change, water quality and forest cover. We need permanent monitoring stations, mobile platforms for accessing community knowledge. One example is the network of climate stations established by David Colville, while he was employed at AGRG. We need to share this information and develop relationships between community groups. In the Smart ICE project, the communities define the problem and later, they implement the solution.

“Seeing Nova Scotia” image courtesy of Edward Wedler

Community Mapping offers a forum for sharing place-based knowledge and placing it alongside a broader scientific context. As in other parts of Canada, we can all benefit from ‘two eyed seeing’.

For a different take, on the same issue, see Gary Snyder, A Place in Space.p.250.

” We are all indigenous to this planet, this mosaic of wild gardens we were being called by nature and history to reinhabit in good spirit. Part of that responsibility is to choose a place. To restore the land one must live and work in a place. To work in a place with others. People who work together in a place become a community, and a community, in time, grows a culture. To work on behalf of the wild is to restore culture.” October 1993.

Posted in New thinking

Apple Pickings

At this time of the year, in early September, there comes a moment to decide whether the number of apples dropping in our organic orchard justify moving into full time harvest mode. For the last ten years, we have been custodians of an orchard planted by Raymond Hunter in the early 1990’s. Raymond was an early organic farmer in the Valley.

Last year, we picked fourteen bins. It takes eighteen boxes to fill a single bin. The apples come from ninety one trees; four varieties: NovaMac, MacFree, Liberty and NovaSpy — all scab free. We arranged for Brian Boates in Woodville to pick up the fourteen bins on a flat bed, and then to juice the crop. The juice was transported to Ironworks distillery in Lunenburg, where Pierre Guevremont is turning it into apple brandy. It will be another year before we can sample the result.This year, so far, we have picked five bins. It looks like the yield will be less this year. The size of the harvest depends on pruning, pollination and microclimate. This year we pruned the higher branches to make for easier picking. We have had a dry, warm Summer. Less water likely affects the number and size of the apples.

Besides picking for brandy production, we have invested in a hand grinder and press. Last year, we borrowed the equipment from the Community Gardens in Annapolis Royal. This lets us produce small batches of sweet cider (apple juice). There may be a business opportunity here. I can envisage a mobile unit travelling throughout the Valley to relic orchards. The apples could be collected, allowed to ripen, and then pressed into sweet cider. With different varieties, we could then experiment with the effect of apple variety mix on taste and quality. A further step is to use the juice to make hard (alcoholic) cider for personal consumption.

Future considerations include the addition of organic fertilizer (earthworm castings), drip irrigation in dry years, the addition of beehives for increased pollination. These thoughts are my brain pickings from the orchard.


Every Sunday morning, I receive a blog from Maria Popova; Brain Pickings (brain pickings).

Posted in New thinking

The Geographic Sciences and Regional Development

Imagine you are a movie maker, and you have been charged with marketing the Annapolis Valley.

You discover that the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Lawrencetown has world-class expertise in the application of geomatics technologies to geographic issues. Given the current state of these tools, how could your movie be enhanced ?
First, by Geographic Sciences, we include a range of methodological tools. Historically, this would be map making (cartography) and the interpretation of aerial photographs. Today, we would expand the list to cover a wide range of remote sensing (e.g. satellite imagery), the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones, networks of climate sensors, as well as airborne and bathymetric LiDAR. We would include Geographic Information System (GIS), software which permits the integration of multiple layers of geography in a digital and web-based environment. At COGS, there are also other complementary programs in Surveying, Planning and IT.

Given this rich array of technologies, how might COGS assist in marketing the Annapolis Valley geography?

  1. We could ensure access to high-quality maps. This might include historic maps from the Walter Morrison collection. It might include early satellite imagery showing the changes in the land cover in the region, e.g. agriculture and forestry.
  2. Since Cartography is also a digital science, we would want to ensure the best quality design for display both on-line and in a traditional paper format.
  3. GIS is an integrating technology. It allows the viewer to interrogate the landscape on many levels at the same time. For example, we could have an interactive map of the Valley. The user could identify transects across the landscape and then move the cursor along the transect. Whenever there was a change in soil, land cover or geology, a window would pop up with the details. Or imagine hovering over a place name and a pop up shows you the demographic profile and other economic facts about the community.
  4. Another feature of GIS is the ‘story map’ concept. To explain the diversity of residents in the region, we could create a point layer (dots) of video interviews in the Valley. Each dot would be classified or coloured, according to the type of interview e.g. topics, age group of the interview subject. Click on the dot and watch the video or listen to a podcast.
  5. The combination of GIS and Remote Sensing allows the user to ‘fly through the landscape’. The topography can be seen in three dimensions with current imagery draped over the surface. We could create a series of ‘fly through’ transects from South Mountain to the Bay of Fundy, at Annapolis Royal, Middleton, Kentville, Windsor.

By combining modern film techniques from different airborne vehicles, delivering high quality online cartographic products and experiences, we could showcase innovative Valley regional development. Our stories become embedded into the digital landscape.

I challenge our citizens and communities, then, to market the Annapolis Valley through geomatics technologies, the type we have at COGS in Lawrencetown, as a part of our economic development, tourism and heritage-building process and build our quality of place.

Thanks to Edward Wedler for his creative graphic and comments on earlier draft.

Posted in New thinking

Friends of COGS; a NOW opportunity

Last week, I attended a meeting between faculty at Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) and ex-faculty (CANMAP Research Institute). We were discussing common interests: collaborative projects involving Geomatics technology, mapping and agriculture. At the meeting, I became aware that the NSCC was looking for a new Principal for Lawrencetown/Middleton and the faculty were being surveyed for the qualities of the position. (Note: the current Principal will remain responsible for KingsTec in Kentville).

If the NSCC had asked my opinion, my list of the qualities would include:

i) a post-graduate degree in the Geographic Sciences

ii) practical experience with Geomatics technologies

iii) a champion for, and resident of, rural Nova Scotia

iv) with an interest in collaboration, and community economic development

At the recent Valley REN Annual General Meeting, I learned that government had invested in a wine laboratory at Acadia University. Last night, we went to hear the Young ‘Uns, a British folk group, at the Evergreen Theatre. Again, all levels of government have invested in the renovations of this wonderful grass-roots community resource.

Here is my proposal.

It seems that KingsTec is destined to become the centre for training and research in agricultural technology. Why not look at AnnapolisTec to be the centre of training and research in geographical technology. The components already exist: technical training at COGS in Lawrencetown; applied research at AGRG in Middleton. Indeed, we could apply the geographical technologies at AnnapolisTec to the agricultural problems at KingsTec. This would facilitate collaboration between the two counties. Something that is missing from the Valley REN.

Finally, back to Friends of COGS. In Annapolis County, there are likely upwards of twenty ex-faculty who have spent long careers teaching surveying, cartography, GIS, Community Planning, IT and Remote Sensing COGS. Why not access this resource ?

Last night, I heard the voices of the Young ‘Uns, perhaps it is time we heard the voices of the Old ‘Uns. This proposal would likely receive the support of all levels of government, and would benefit communities in rural Nova Scotia. It is a model that could be replicated elsewhere. It builds upon existing infrastructure and people resources. It has a proven track record. Let’s ‘Just do it’, NOW.


Posted in New thinking

Mind the Gap: between institutions and communities

This weekend the Ernest Buckler Learning Event Society (EBLES) hosted Reading where we live: a celebration of local writing at the Bridgetown Legion. The focus was on local. It included a panel discussion on the writing process, associated with Paul Colville’s book, The View from Delusion Road; a settler’s story. We invited two speakers from the academic community: Alex MacLeod, Professor of Canadian Literature and Atlantic Studies, Saint Mary’s University and Nick Mount, Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. It was a real treat that both of these professors willingly gave their time to be with the community in Annapolis County. Perhaps it is the legacy of Ernest Buckler.

The two presentations provided us with a rich context for ‘local’  at the ‘national’ and ‘global’ scale and within an interdisciplinary literary framework. They connected us to the post-secondary education community in the Valley – the work of Herb Wyile and Sandra Barry Elizabeth Bishop, Nova Scotia’s ‘Home-made’ Poet. Alex MacLeod referenced the conference at Acadia this July, Thoughts from the Eastern Edge, as well as Wyile book Anne of Tim Hortons: globalization and the reshaping of Atlantic Canadian literature. Nick Mount offered us an historical context and referenced his book When Canadian Literature moved to New York.

As a retired ‘academic’, it was a a delight to be immersed briefly in the richness of ideas and to recognize the importance of interdisciplinary studies: history, geography, economics, media studies. The event coincided with my finishing Paul Heyer’s book on Harold Innis, with such abstract chapter titles,  as ‘Time, Space and the Oral tradition’ and ‘Monopolies of Knowledge and the Critique of Culture’. And Darrell Varga’s Shooting from the East: filmmaking on the Canadian Atlantic.  I could ‘join the dots’ and see the connection between Varga’s writing about film, and MacLeod’s writing about books in the region.

Mind the gap 
is an expression familiar to anyone visiting London, UK who uses the underground. My concern is the ‘gap’ between our post-secondary education institutions and the communities. Both MacLeod and Mount responded to a need (request) from the community (EBLES). They showed us that we can ‘mind the gap’ and step carefully, from the platform onto a fast moving train. Ultimately, we are all ‘inside/outside’ a number of communities.

The full agenda of Reading where we live can be found in my previous blog.

Posted in New thinking

Using online games to study what tourists find attractive here.

Imagine if we could, through games, explore the preferences of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, North American and other visitors to our region and cater our tourist destinations (and direct our dollars) to meet those preferences.

We THINK we know what attracts tourists to our area, but how can we measure that objectively?  How can we rank one destination over another? I propose we have tourists play games — online games. Apply game concepts to unearth the mindset of our potential visitors. Here I pilot a basic game called “ValleySeen”, the results of which can be used to evaluate what landscapes/streetscapes appeal to our visitors. Go ahead and play in my test area of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.


ValleySeen applies the urban “StreetSeen” project, created by students at Ohio State University and used in the MOOC, Technicity, to explore gaming in a rural setting. StreetScene is based on the work of Open Plans Beautiful Street Project and MIT’s Media Lab Place Pulse Project .

This is how it works …

Display pairs of images that are randomly selected from a library of Google Street View images within an area. Pose a planning question. Have the player vote on the image that best suits the question. Tabulate and analyse the responses to rank users’ preferences and even generate ‘heat maps’.

I applied StreetSeen to look at Annapolis Royal through the eyes of a tourist. I wanted to know what tourists found attractive. I focused on Annapolis Royal as a test area. I randomly selected twenty Google Street View images and generated results in spreadsheet and map form. I ranked the preferred images based on the question asked, and analysed results.


My pilot was limited in scope: geography, number of images, analyses. In future, I propose adding the geographic source of respondents in the analyses.

Furthermore, I propose that gaming concepts be used to study our tourism and tourists to better develop destination plans for Nova Scotia.