Posted in New thinking

Do landscapes have memories ?

After visiting Roxbury a couple of weeks ago, it was time to re-read some of the local authors on the history of our forested landscape (e.g. Whitman, Parker). Reading their accounts of the importance of the forest industry to the economy, makes me realize: what we have lost, and yet, what we are holding onto. The same observations can be made about other resource sectors: agriculture, fishing, mining.

memoriesIt seems that these (human) memories of the landscape, and its utilization, get passed down from generation to generation.

If this is true, then my questions are:
1) by exploiting these ‘resources’, is there any attempt to put back into the land or sea, to reduce the level of degradation?

2) with these landscape changes, do we have a good idea of the rate of change? Are we conducting land use surveys? Do we fully understand the effects of extraction on the hydrology and water quality? Or on climate change?

How easy would it be to monitor these changes?

Today, there is considerable debate about the need for broadband in rural Nova Scotia. There seems to be little discussion on the type of information that can be shared on the network. Would a ‘community geographic information utility’ give us answers to the above questions? Could a broader context allow us to view the Annapolis Valley as a coherent physiographic region? Rather than as a collection of disconnected political fiefdoms.

The opportunity exists to better understand our landscape: today, in the past, and into the future. The technology is readily available. Expertise exists in various post-secondary institutions. If we know where we came from, we should be able to plan where we want to go and take action which offers the best transition for both land and sea.

We notice the changes in our forest cover. We notice the changes in our agricultural land. Is it perhaps time to a conduct a land use survey of the Annapolis Valley?

Creative Commons image of Annapolis Valley by Halifaxman with former Panoramio

I remember back in the ’60’s in England, Geography was defined by the work of Dudley Stamp and Alice Coleman. If you go online, you will see that Stamp conducted the first land use survey of Britain, started in 1933 and completed in 1948, after the Second World War. This was repeated later in 1960 by Alice Coleman. Would it not be amazing to conduct a 2020 land use survey of the Valley? In reviewing the groundbreaking work by Stamp in the UK, we see that he marshalled teams of teachers, schoolchildren to conduct the fieldwork.

9780773528161As a footnote, and an example of the type of individual research that can be undertaken to better understand our rich landscape, check out the book by Sherman Bleakney, Sods, soils and spades. The Acadians at Grand Pre and their dykeland legacy.


This week, I have had useful conversations on this broad topic with both Rachel Brighton and Ed Symons. Edward Wedler added the graphics. The above represents my own personal opinion.


J. Sherman Bleakney. 2004. Sods, Soils and Spades. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Mike Parker. 2010. Buried in the Woods. Sawmill Ghost Towns of Nova Scotia. Potters field Press. East Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia

Dave Whitman. 2005. Lost in the Woods. The Lure and History of Roxbury. Bailey Chase Books. Paradise, Nova Scotia.




Posted in New thinking

Is there a new Cartography ?

Given the forthcoming CCA conference, it is a good time to ask whether there is a ‘new Cartography’. When I posed the question to Michael Goodchild, one of the keynote speakers, he emailed back with the following response.

“I think there are several answers – technical (Web, Animation, 3D etc), data (new data sources, Big Data), theme (things that have never been mapped before, a critical focus)”

terrorismmexicanEarthquakeswindSpeedIf we look at the presentation schedule, there is much supportive evidence: 3D, LiDAR, Community Mapping, Indigenous Mapping, an artistic approach to place-making.

Within the social media world today, are there new expectations for Cartography? Can we envisage easier access to cartographic products? Quick maps, which combine the output from drones or other positional technologies, can be overlaid on accessible imagery.

If we think of the world of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, does that influence our Cartography?

There seems to be a demand for online digital atlases representing different views of the landscape in Nova Scotia — e.g. Acadien, Mi’kma’ki or the UN Biosphere Reserve.

I have been trying to understand the value or purpose of a blog. Where does it fit, in terms of traditional forms of writing? Is there a graphic (cartographic) equivalent?

This takes us back to Goodchild’s talk ‘Place, Space, Geographic Science (and technology).

Regardless of the technology, the data or the theme, there is likely a consensus on the need for good cartographic design.

Looks like an interesting few days next week. Edward Wedler contributed the graphic.

M.F.Goodchild. Email dated May 23, 2018.



Posted in Event Review, New thinking

Glimpse of a new economy

Saturday night, we were treated to Nature Night at Sugar Moon Farm. sugarMoonNights
Supper was pancakes, sausage, beans, blueberries and maple syrup. Sugar Moon Farm is an excellent example of value-added forestry products. For dessert, we had four talks related to private woodlot management. The audience was about forty persons. The introduction was provided by Matt Miller, followed by his father, Tom, President, The Friends of Redtail Society; Dale Prest from Community Forests International and then Greg Watson, North Nova Forest Owners Co-op.

The Friends of Redtail Society offered the following philosophical position ‘ The Land: from Commodity to Community’,  based on the Aldo Leopold quotation:

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect”

Dale Prest described the concept of climate forests as a new paradigm for rural economies, where the forest is managed to capture and store additional carbon. Outside Sussex, New Brunswick, Community Forests International manages 705 acres. It provides a model for the purchase of carbon offsets. They have a two-pronged approach: privately-owned climate forests and community-owned climate forests. Recently, they have established a for-profit Climate Forest company.

Greg Watson explained the history of North Nova Forest Owners Co-op. Today they have 286 members and manage 69,600 acres. Greg used GIS to illustrate the distribution of these clients over time across Northern Nova Scotia. He also showed the application of new GPS and GIS technology by the contractors who are undertaking ecosystem-based management. The co-op manages the relationship between the local contractors and the woodlot owners.

It was a very positive evening. It showed how the next generation of forest managers are working with woodlot owners in the Maritimes. This offered a stark contrast to the current litany of media reports on clearcutting of crown lands in Nova Scotia.

Last Thursday afternoon, we visited Dick Groot’s photographic exhibition at the Cedar Centre in Windsor. it is entitled Closure: a photographer’s eye on an old economyclosureDickGrootThe four closures were Windsor Wear, Fundy Gypsum Company, Britex and Minas Basin Paperboard Mill. The last closure is also described in a separate book, We wanted it to last forever. It includes both photographs and interviews with former employees at the mill.weWantedItToLastForever

In the Closure Epilogue, Dick is optimistic about the new economy.

” Here in Nova Scotia, we have seen significant growth in the wine producing industry where supporting research is being introduced in several universities and colleges. We also have the College of Geographic Science in Middleton, a truly world-class institution that can support a vast range of environmental and infrastructural enterprises and governments”.

( Indeed, the College of Geographic Sciences, now the Centre of Geographic Sciences, is in Lawrencetown. Middleton is the site of the Applied Geomatics Research Group and the Environmental and Agricultural Technologies Lab)

“Therefore I am optimistic for re-building the economy in a more sustainable, diversified manner than we have done in the past, based on a merging of existing competencies with a new digital world.”

My interpretation of these two events is as follows. There is an optimistic vision, following Friends of Redtail Society, based on community rather than a commodity. It can be applied to the land and the sea. It respects the changing climate. There are ways to combine ‘boots on the ground’ with ‘eyes in the sky’ to convert ‘problems’ into ‘opportunities’. This was well-illustrated by the talks from a single sector, Forestry, at Nature Night in Earltown. We also know that small-scale manufacturing in rural communities will not last forever, especially if they are dependent on external investments and the fluctuations in the global economy.


I am concerned about the concept of ‘carbon offsets’. This seems to be yet another reductionistic idea. Reducing the complex forested landscape to carbon; carbon then becomes the commodity. This warrants more thought and a deeper understanding.


Sugar Moon Farm.

Friends of Redtail Society (Tom Miller)

Community Forests International (Dale Prest)

North Nova Forest Owners Co-op Ltd. (Greg Watson)

Dick Groot. 2018. Closure. A photographer’s Eye on an Old Economy. Gaspereau Press.

Dick Groot. 2015. We wanted it to last forever. South of the River Publishing.

Posted in New thinking, Opinion

A Community Geographic Information Utility Strategy

From the responses to my previous CIU blog, I offer some clarification and a strategic direction.

pickCGIUlayerThe concept of a ‘community information utility’ (CIU) is very generic and subject to various interpretations. I suggest we add the descriptor ‘GEOGRAPHIC’ to avoid confusion with other utilities — like electricity, water, etc. — thus, CGIU.

The key is to provide our community access to the best available information about our geography — our land, people and social infrastructure.

To go forward, I propose three steps.

Re-visit the implementation and status of what has happened over the last ten years with CIU in Sault Ste. Marie, and investigate other examples elsewhere (or similar concepts).

Explore non-profits and other delivery options for a CGIU in our region including, for example, Annapolis Valley Regional Library, NS Community College, and the Valley Regional Enterprise Network. What is important is strong citizen involvement.

Re-visit the CLICK Project (this was a geographic information project funded under the SMART communities fund) to elicit lessons learned.

In summary, what is happening elsewhere, what potential organizations exist locally that could handle CGIU, and how can we avoid previous mistakes in the region?
It is apparent to me that the same CGIU ingredients exist as they did  ten years ago, but fundamental technologies have advanced:  access to high-speed Internet; better GIS tools for the public; a ubiquitous social network; and, a recognition of the need to empower citizens in rural areas with high-quality geographic information for more informed, decision making.

I look forward to your comments and improvements.

Posted in New thinking, Opinion

Community Information Utility: it’s time has come.

tablet-431647_960_720Around 2011, I was working at AGRG on Community Mapping. We had discovered the work of Paul Beach in Sault Ste Marie. He had developed the Community Information Utility (CIU) concept and implemented it in his region. The idea was to give citizens access to digital geographic information about their community. We brought Paul to Halifax and Lawrencetown. He met with Ian Thompson (Deputy Minister, and later with the Chronicle Herald). AGRG hired Ron L’Esperance’s company to see if the concept could work in Southwest Nova.

Roll forward to 2018.  From Larry Powell’s recent article in the Annapolis Spectator on sustainable forestry, we see that Annapolis County is expressing an interest in “evidence-based management”.

If they are to be accountable, then we must agree on the underlying information. In my mind, it’s positive to see the municipal government voice these concerns to the province and the Lahey Commission. However, it does not address my question, as a citizen, about access to geographic information. Not only access but who manages the technology. Both the provincial and the municipal government are supposed to be representing the interests of their constituency, i.e. citizens, and that includes access to information.

For example, with the MapAnnapolis project with heritage mapping of Centrelea, Round Hill and Granville Ferry who manages the information? How is it accessible to citizens?

Besides the forestry example, there is the question of arsenic and uranium in the groundwater of South Mountain. Who manages that information? How does it impact the health of citizens or impact property values?

If we roll back, even further, 1987, COGS  hosted a one week CCA Summer Institute on GIS. We brought together a number of the leading thinkers on GIS technology and provided a hands-on education for the next generation of university professors.

Next month,  the Canadian Cartographic Association (CCA) will be holding its Annual conference for the first time at COGS. Again, we will be bringing together some of the same thinkers, thirty years later.

For example, Professor Michael Goodchild in 1987 was at the University of Western Ontario. Shortly, thereafter he moved to the University of California, SantaBarbara as part of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis. At UCSB, he developed the Alexandria project. This project placed GIS and Remote Sensing technology in the Library. Subsequently, James Boxall championed a similar concept of a Map Library at Dalhousie University. Goodchild is one of the keynote speakers at the CCA meeting. His talk is entitled ‘Place, Space and GIS’.

Let’s join the dots. What would it take to have a community information utility available to citizens, perhaps initially as a pilot in Annapolis County,  through the Annapolis Valley Regional Library or the NSCC at COGS?

We already have the example of the legacy of Walter Morrison’s work as a Map Collector and Cartographer at COGS. We have access to the results of Walter’s life work.

Why not put a public face on this geographic information? We have made some progress in our public history, but we have a long way to go in our public geography. If we had a Community Information Utility, there would be an accessible repository for the results of citizen science that would complement our local efforts in, for example, Clean Annapolis River project, MapAnnapolis and Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve Association.

Reference Links
The Alexandria project
Community Information Utility
CCA conference

The CCA conference is May 30- June 1. It includes presentations on First Nations mapping, the UNESCO Grand Pré site, community mapping, keynotes on trends in cartographic technology and thinking.

Posted in New thinking, Opinion

Maps from an animal’s perspective

We often talk about geography and the land from a human perspective. What about from an animal’s perspective?
How do they understand the land? They do not use our compasses and maps but must understand landmarks, boundaries and “sense”.
I think of the resilient service sledding dogs offer to travel in the North, such as those shown here on Andrew Maher’s recent trip.
I think of migrating caribou and how they are impacted by human interaction.
I think of the industrious beaver and how their drive to “use the land” is different from our “land-use”.
I think of the wolf — how we “re-introduce” species and we learn, serendipitously, over time how important they are to the health of the (ours and theirs) ecosystem and physical geography.
Bob’s past posts on clearcutting highlights, for me, our insensitivities; placing our needs to strip bare our land ahead of animals’ needs of land to maintain their livelihood and form basic shelter and protection.
As an experiment, I decided one morning to carry a video camera at knee height (my dog’s eye view)  for almost an hour as I walked an island in The La Have area of Nova Scotia (this was no easy task). Upon review, I was intrigued to experience the world’s perspectives, vistas, obstacles, nooks and crannies as my dog saw them.
And, what would maps look like if crafted from an animal’s
point of view?
Posted in Book Review, New thinking

Up Here: the Voice of Canada’s Far North

As I fly from Ottawa to Iqaluit, I notice my free copy of “Up Here” magazine in the seat pocket in front of me. After a few days, hanging out indoors, waiting for a blizzard to die down, I start to read back issues of the magazine. upHareMagCover_Aug2015The August 2015 issue had an article by Tim Edwards (p 42-50) entitled ‘From the West to the Wilderness‘.

“Europeans arrived in North America looking for wealth and the Pole. Explorers defied death for glory. What drives today’s adventurers ?”

The article begins with the Franklin Expedition, and then talks about Frederick Cook and Robert Peary “who were welcomed as kings by governors and the public alike, as they stopped In various ports on their way home from the North Pole.”

“Now the world is mapped and the heroes of old are long in their graves. When people go missing in the High Arctic, we consult SPOT trackers, we send out search and rescue missions that last days, not years.”

“Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer and their dog team spent 120 days circumnavigating Baffin Island. Their goal was to retrace a journey by McNair-Landry’s parents took twenty-five years earlier.”

“Gear and communications are leagues above what it used to be. When Franklin’s ships were lost, other ships were commissioned to follow the route and find the crew – who were stuck in some unknowable corner of the Arctic Archipelago – at their own peril.
Today adventurers have SPOT and InReach devices, satellite phones and helicopters can extricate them from tight spots.”

Today, 2018, with new underwater technology, the wrecks of the Erebus and Terror have been found. Many books have been written on Arctic exploration and its historical context, whether from the European or American point of view. A new history is being written by modern-day adventurers, combining traditional transportation and knowledge, with modern technology, and from a variety of disciplines.

“Whereas early explorers brought European society to the Americas and 20th-century explorers were out to leave a  legacy and gain high esteem. Today’s explorers are mostly unknown outside adventure travel circles, looking for not much more than to leave society and experience the world in its natural state.”

Up Here. The Voice of Canada’s Far North. Published by Canada North Airlines.

Specific back Issue. August 2015. Article by Tim Edwards. From the West to the Wilderness. p. 42-50.
Check Canadian North web site for

For US perspective,
Michael F. Robinson. 2006. The Coldest Crucible. Arctic Exploration and American Culture. University of Chicago Press.

There are many books written about the European perspective on Arctic exploration and the prevailing European culture.

Today, my son headed out for a four-day trip via dogsled team, across sea ice and through a blizzard. Garmin technology allowed him to track and relay his position, average speed, distance traveled, maximum elevation, and time, and send-receive text messages. As I was unable to access these via my computer, I worked with Edward in Nova Scotia to relay that information back to me.
As noted by the Up Here magazine writer, Tim Edwards, “Gear and communications are leagues above what it used to be.

Posted in New thinking, Opinion

Can maps do a better job in our back-yard?

If the technology exists to instantly light up our phones when our village has been hit in the game “Clash of Clans” surely we can work to do the same when our land/water/air is being impacted in real-life.

With the many technical advances these days maybe we need to set aside or identify tracts of land where we research ideal mapping practices — maps that readily and fully inform and seamlessly engage us, citizens.

Sure, Google has made mapping strides with easy access to street view, traffic assists, and feature identification. Many of us use these maps. ESRI lets us, not as easily, mash databases and tell stories to create personalized maps. Fewer of us use these maps. I suggest, however, that maps can reflect a larger part of our DNA when they subsume social-media/market value. We need to explore the real market potential for interactive, immersive, and adaptive maps.
As I have been south this season and have read many of Bob  Maher’s blogs I have been pondering as to WHO, these days, most interacts with the natural landscape and HOW we interact with it, and of the role of maps. Seeing forest clear-cuts first-hand, for example, contrasts drastically with viewing them on a screen, days/weeks/months later. If we could better connect maps with our daily lives we could find greater transparency of forestry and other practices or issues.
If game developers can market and make b/millions with “what if” scenarios and if we can be tweeted, poked and notified instantly then surely we can create maps to do do the same for us citizens. Can we improve maps by better connecting them via social media network for all stakeholders and citizens?
Maybe, Bob and Heather who live in Paradise, Nova Scotia would not have had to discover, with surprise, that their “back-yard” had been violated with forest clear-cuts.
Posted in New thinking

The Nunavut Landscape: maps and dreams

Every Spring, Heather and I head North to help with grandchildren. Andrew takes off on multi-day dog sledding trips and often Julia has to lead school trips to the South. This year, since the end of February, I have spent time in England, Nova Scotia and soon, Nunavut. This blog completes a trilogy on the landscape: the Royal Landscape of England with its emphasis on commodity and property; the Nova Scotia landscape with the emphasis on the harvesting on Crown land; and now the landscape of Baffin Island.

In the latest Guardian Weekly, Katharine Norbury reviewed a new book by Tim Dee, Ground Work: a collection of writing on places and people.


One of the essays is by Hugh Brody. In the words of the reviewer:

“Hugh Brody in meditation on the idea of home recounts his experiences of mapping the northern Baffin region of the Canadian Arctic to show all the places in which Inuit have hunted for seal, walrus, narwhal, caribou, hare and polar bear. He records the places where they gathered blueberries, cranberries and the eggs of Arctic terns. And to what purpose ?”

“To develop a legal basis by which the Inuit people might lay claim to the land that has sustained them  for millennia.”

As Norbury concludes, ” one does not need to be a farmer, or a conservationist to justify a relationship with the wild. We just need to learn to look properly, and to find the common ground”.

Imagine if Hugh Brody and others had conducted similar studies with the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia. Would there be a different attitude towards the land? Heather Stewart had the idea that we take the work of Dave and Paulette Whitman and map the history described in their first chapter, The Mi’kmaq of Paradise and Area. Or we could research the name, Eel Weir Lake; or talk to Roger Lewis at the Nova Scotia Museum about the location, construction and importance of eel weirs to the nomadic culture. Another resource would be the book by Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis The Language of this Land, Mi’kma’ki.

From our time in Haida Gwaii, we know that the Haida culture was instrumental in stopping the logging of old growth forest on the island and along the coast of Northern British Columbia.

This week, reading Lesley Choyce Seven Ravens, I was reminded of the importance of raven to the Haida. Choyce tells the story of walking from the south shore inland until he has seen seven ravens. He then ends his journey and turns back for home.


Maps and Dreams is the title of Brody’s classic book. We can still dream about other cultures and the way they understand the landscape. We can still think about maps which help us find our way through the wilderness.

Now I am ready to see the changes in Iqaluit: to the landscape, the buildings and the people.

Thanks to the Road to Georgetown team. Heather Stewart for sharing in many of the ideas and experiences; likewise Edward Wedler for his creative input.

Tim Dee. 2018.  Ground Work: writings on places and people. Jonathan Cape.

Katharine Norbury. 2018. Wonder all around us. The Guardian Weekly 09.03.18. p. 36

Dave and Paulette Whitman 2016. The Valley Chronicles. Tales of the Annapolis Valley. Bailey Chase Books.Paradise.

Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis. 2012. The Language of this Land, Mi’kma’ki. CBU Press.

Lesley Choyce. 2009. Seven Ravens Two summers in a life by the sea. Wolsak and Wynn.

Hugh Brody 1992. Maps and Dreams. Douglas and McIntyre.

Roger Lewis is  Curator of Ethnology at Nova Scotia Museum


Posted in New thinking

The Nova Scotia Landscape: returning to forest cutting

Two months ago (January 18th), I wrote a blog about the cutting of Crown Land on South Mountain in the Inglisville area. As the result of some recent questions, it was time to revisit the Rifle Range road to Eel Weir Lake. With minus ten degrees centigrade and some fresh snow overnight, it was a perfect day for cross-country skiing.

There has been significant new cutting closer to the rifle range. Indeed part of the property, designated as a buffer to the rifle range, has been harvested. The stacks of both hardwood and softwood are higher and longer.

From the perspective of citizen science, a logical next step would be to contact Neil Green again and see if we could conduct another drone flight over the site (see earlier blog video).

After that previous blog, I contacted David Colville at COGS. He identified two relevant websites to explore. The first was the provincial Harvest Plans Map Viewer which shows the locations of the cuts. The second was the Global Forest Watch site at the University of Maryland which shows the history of forest change from satellite data since 2000.  Both of these sites are relevant in terms of a fact base for decision making.

Let’s sidestep for a moment. My second update relates to my recent visit to England. While there, I was referred to the writing of George Monbiot. On returning home, I received a new subscription to the Guardian Weekly. Lo and behold, on the back page of the March 2-8th edition, Monbiot has a column on the town of Frome in Somerset. It is entitled:

“One UK town has discovered a potent cure for illness – community. Frome’s dramatic fall in emergency admissions to hospitals should be a lesson for all of us”.

Or take his final paragraph:

” In other words, the evidence strongly suggests that social contact should be a prescription, as it is in Frome. But the silo effect, budget cuts and an atmosphere of fear and retrenchment ensure that precious little has been done.”

Sound familiar!

Let us join the dots. Healthy community engagement is a positive force in rural parts of England and Canada. We can learn from each other. Citizens can help make sure that decisions about the health of our landscape and the health of citizens are based on verifiable facts, rather than political expediency.

Let’s give the final word to Sharon Butala:

See her article in The Walrus.

“Against Ageism. It’s time to stop treating senior citizens as a burden”.

Or in the words of Rachel Carson:

“The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth – soil, water, forests, minerals and wildlife. The administration is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics.”



George Monboit. One UK town has discovered a potent cure for illness – community. Frome’s dramatic fall in emergency admissions to hospitals should be a lesson for all of us. The Guardian Weekly. 2-8th March 2018

Sharon Butala. Against Ageism. It’s time to stop treating senior citizens as a burden. The Walrus Vol.15 Number 3 April 2018. p 15-19.

Thanks again to Heather Stewart for the photographs and support, and Edward Wedler for the graphics manipulation. I take full responsibility for the words.