Posted in Creative writing

Story Maps: writing, art and the landscape

This week, I rediscovered the following quote from John Ralston Saul: “The key to the idea of leadership in the environment area, and in society in general, is that you must find ways to integrate people and place.”

This month, I have noticed several examples where artists, writers and cartographers have followed this idea, integrating people and place in Nova Scotia.

In Annapolis County, with 150 funding, we see a lot of new signage. On Belle-Isle marsh there is a new bi-lingual map identifying the Acadian families who lived there between 1636-1755. The cartography was completed by Scott Comeau, a COGS student. At the Jubilee Park in Bridgetown at the pavilion in support of the Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) Monica Lloyd  has created an air-photo mosaic of the Annapolis River with distances and points of interest. Monica is a COGS faculty member. Further up the Valley in Grand Pré, Marcel Morin has contributed his cartographic talent to the landscapes of the region, as well as a map of the wineries.

In Kings County, we have the installations of “Uncommon Common Art“. It includes twenty stops and four eye candy locations. For each stop , there are directions, a geocache and a statement by the artist.

“Working from the perspective that our relationship to place is formed in reference to our own ancestry and cultural histories, the artists this year represent a wide range of cultural contexts”. Curatorial statement.

In Pictou County, Sheree Fitch, author and poet lives outside of River John. In her childrens’ poetry, she has created the character, Mabel Murple who ‘loves purple’.
Sheree and her partner have created Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery. At the bookstore, you can browse a wide range of Atlantic Canadian books. (Many of them are referenced in the book “Ann of Tim Hortons). You can also enter the purple world of Mabel Murple. This may be most extreme example of ‘story maps’, where the creative writing overflows into the landscape.

John Ralston Saul. 2002. Spruce Roots. Transcript #1 ‘Leadership and the Environment’.

Grand Pre Trails Society. 2016. The Landscapes of Grand Pré: images, maps past and present.

Sheree Fitch. 2017. Maple Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery.

Uncommon Common Art, 2017. Kings County.


Posted in biographical sketch

Two kinds of thinking

This morning in response to a set of questions from Jon Murphy at GoGeomatics in Ottawa, I found myself answering the question : Who gets to call themselves a Geographer ? This caused me to reflect on my fifty or so year career associated with a specific academic discipline (to be added  link).

thinkingTractorAfterwards, I was driving my son’s tractor to bush hog the lower field on his property. Last week, I had discovered that the PTO (power take off )  was not driving the mowing unit. Over $1400 later, I had an operational unit. This was the test.

This led to the following realization. There are two types of thinking. The academic, focused on abstract ideas, and the practical, focused on understanding the mechanics of a tractor and its related parts.

It is a scary proposition, upon retirement, to make the transition from one to the other. Although I am sure for many people it is possible to switch back and forth between the two modes. Not so, in my case.

I can easily imagine situations where an individual has gotten used to one set of thinking practices and suddenly, they are expected to apply a different set. The stereotype is the ‘gentleman farmer’. Of course, it is exhilarating to take the risk, and even better the satisfaction of completing the task at hand.

I have this image. Across the Valley, there is a cadre of professionals who have retired to get their hands dirty but they are challenged by the demands of the two kinds of thinking. Just as in the academic world you depend on access to functional technology, the same is true in the farming world. It is critical that the tools are well-maintained and can be considered your ‘best friend’ to complete the task.

What happens if you are unable to move seamlessly back and forth between the two kinds of thinking. One answer is to find a mentor. Another is to go back to trade school.

Posted in Book Review

Anne of Tim Hortons

At the Ernest Buckler event in June, Alex MacLeod made reference to the work of Herb Wyile, who was a Professor at Acadia University. Wyile had organized with Jeanette Lynes a conference in 2004 ‘Surf’s Up ! The Rising Tide of Atlantic-Canadian Literature’. This book is the result. From Wyile:


“As suggested by the title of the book “Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic Canadian literature, a young girl in Eastern Canada is less likely to be found in a quaint, gabled farmhouse than in an internationally successful chain doughnut store that is a ubiquitous presence through the region and indeed serves, in so many towns and villages, as the de facto community centre.”

And further, “Rather than a haven from the consumerizing corporations and global competition that characterizes our current milieu, Atlantic Canada has  been palpably affected by these very trends, as recent writing in the region has underscored”.p.1

In his Introduction, Wyile provides the context with sections on Atlantic Canada: the making of a region; Neoliberalism, Globalization and Restructuring; Atlantic-Canada literature and the Paradigm of Folk. As someone interested in the stories that we tell about ourselves, it is challenging to see the reviews from this neoliberal critical perspective. There is a strong underlying appreciation of both ‘geography’ and our ‘sense of place’. Hence my interest.

What is neoliberalism ? From Thom Workman “neoliberalism has become the everyday wisdom that guides most discussions about public policy across the country. Its alluring language of efficiency, responsible state spending, flexibility and free markets have been absorbed effortlessly into the intellectual horizons of politicians, academics, bureaucrats and, indeed, even many on the left.” (2003)

The book is divided into three sections. Each section reviews the work of different Atlantic Canada writers.

Section 1: I’se the B’y that leaves the boats: the changing world of work.

The Fisheries.

  • Donna Morrissey.    Everybody Knew.
  • Bernice Morgan.     Waiting for Time.
  • Kenneth Harvey,     The Town that forgot how to Breathe.

Mining and Offshore Oil

  • Alistair MacLeod.   No Great Mischief.
  • Leo McKay Jr. Twenty Six.
  • Lisa Moore.     February.

Service Sector

  • Sheree Fitch.  Civil Servant
  • Wendy Lill.     Corker
  • Edward Riche. The Nine Planets

Section 2: About as far from Disneyland as you can possibly get. The Reshaping of Culture.  Under the heading of a simpler and more colourful way of life, there are reviews of the writing of indigenous, black and women writers including Rita Joe, George Elliott Clarke, Lynn Coady, Sheree Fitch, MT Dohaney and Wendy Lill.

Under the heading ‘Rebuffing the Gaze. the growing role of tourism in an economically vulnerable region, there are reviews of the works.

  • Lynn Coady.   Strange Heaven
  • Charlie Rhindress. The Maritime Way of Life
  • Edward Riche. Rare Birds
  • Frank Barry. Wreckhouse.

Finally, Section 3 The Age of Sale: History, Globalization and Commodification is mainly reviews of the books by Newfoundland writers

  • Wayne Johnston. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
  • Michael Crummy. River Thieves
  • Bernice Morgan. Random Passage.
  • Michael Winter. The Big Why

Plus  A Place that didn’t count any more: the Maritimes.

A review of Harry Thurston’s ‘A Ship Portrait’ and George Elliott Clarke’s ‘George and Rue’ and the ‘Execution Poems’.

In his conclusion, Wyile brings it together.

“One of the key achievements of recent Atlantic-Canadian literature is its demonstration that the region is a place that continues to matter, but not just to those who, one way or another, belong to it. It also matters in a broader sense because its perilous fortunes put to the test, in a neoliberal climate in which traditional loyalties to place are being vigorously and strategically eroded, our willingness to resist the redefinition of place in such limited – and largely financial –  terms.” p.247.

As you can tell this is a densely packed, and intellectually demanding book. For the reader, I have tried to identify the writers and the book reviews. The interesting aspect for me is the inclusion of ‘geography’ in the analysis. This begins with work of Edward Soja and David Harvey on neoliberalism, and ends with Ian McKay on the Folk paradigm and Jim Overton  on Tourism.

It is a complicated story. We still see exploitation of our natural resources: fisheries, forestry, mining. We see the continued focus on tourism. There are alternatives to the neoliberal climate: other approaches  to agriculture, forestry, tourism.

What is the impact of the changing technologies? What is the importance of community ?

This weekend, there will be the tenth Thomas Randall symposium, celebrating Dr. Herb Wyile 1961-2016, at Acadia University, Thoughts from the Eastern Edge.

Thanks to Edward Wedler. He is always willing to create a relevant graphic composition.


Ian McKay. 1994. The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth Century Nova Scotia. Montreal: McGill Queens University Press.

James Overton. 1996. Making a World of Difference: Essays on TourismCulture and Development in Newfoundland. St Johns: ISER.

T. Workman. 2003. Social Torment; Globalization in Atlantic Canada. Halifax; Fernwood.

H. Wyile. 2011. Anne of Tim Hortons. Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.




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 Creative writing

Striking a Balance

This story starts in Baddeck and ends in the Valley.

DSCN6052Last week we stopped at the Alexander Graham Bell museum. I wanted to catch up on the work of the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association (BLBRA). At the gift shop, I was able to pick up a CD copy of the TVO documentary series ‘Exploring Canada’s Biosphere Reserves’. It covers eight biosphere reserves and is narrated by Jim Cuddy. One of the Biosphere Reserves is Bras d’Or Lake striking balance.

Within the pavilion at the Historic Site, BLBRA have a display. One of the brochures describes the dream of ‘Walking Around the Bras d’Or’.

” The Mi’kmaq have lived here for thousands of years. The influence of the five communities in the Biosphere is what makes dreaming about ‘Awki’j’ (trail) even more vital.

” The concept of ‘two-eyed’ seeing links Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal thinking. One eye learns using indigenous knowledge and the other eye learns using mainstream knowledge. They see together.

” Think of the history, the culture and the ecosystem while walking the trail using two eyes.”

While in Iona at the Highland Village, I happened to pick up a copy of Charlotte Gray’s book, “Reluctant Genius. The passionate life and inventive mind of Alexander Graham Bell.”

20170612_110720 (1)
Chapter 14 describes ‘A Shifting Balance’ and by Chapter 16 ‘Escape to Cape Breton’. I have still to read the Cape Breton years at Beinn Bhreagh (Beautiful Mountain).

“He would stand on Beinn Bhreagh, taking great gulps of Cape Breton air and letting his gaze skim down the ten-mile length of St Andrew’s Channel to Grand Narrows. The frustrations and worries that haunted his Washington life fell away.” p.295.

On returning to the valley, I had the opportunity to read a review of ‘Wines of Nova Scotia’. The map was created by cartographer, Marcel Morin from Lost Art Cartography for the Wine Association of Nova Scotia. Morin talks about the art of Cartography and the new technology. The message, for me, was the need to ‘Strike a balance’. I did manage to pick up a copy of the map at Grand Pre Wineries.

One final story from the Cape Breton road trip. We stopped at Wildfire Pottery and Books ( I could not resist the ‘and Books”). The owner, Paul,  showed me a copy of The Fiddle Tree by Otis Tomas (including the CD). Tomas makes musical instruments. The book describes a specific tree, the process of curing the wood, the design and making of the instruments. The CD includes music written by the author, played by musicians on the instruments made by Tomas from the Fiddle Tree:  a remarkable symbiotic relationship between nature and culture


Posted in Uncategorized

There’s Nothing There: a rural myth

There’s nothing there!” scolded Joan, my plein air artist friend. “You’re sending us to a place next week, to a crossroads, where there is absolutely nothing to paint”. Joan was referring to the intersection of Black Rock Road and Brooklyn Street , Kings County, Nova Scotia — our fifth paint-out site of the season (we have 21 more to paint). “I go by there almost every week. Why are we going THERE?”

En Plein Air sketch of decaying home along Brooklyn Street, Kings County, Nova Scotia by Edward Wedler at

That’s part of the problem. Through familiarity Joan has become numbed to the nuances of this rural setting — the details many would miss just driving past. Along with six other artist friends we rhymed off to her the many scenes that can be captured there. “You can do the graveyard or the decaying house across the road from the Grafton Community Hall. What about the cows or the rows of corn in the farmer’s fields? Have you ever looked up the road, towards North Mountain, to see the thick fog hanging in the air from the Bay of Fundy? If you drive up the mountain you can look back at the patchwork quilt of farmer’s fields and see the sunlit silos across the Valley on the South Mountain. “

My wife, Anne, was trained in acrylic art by Floridian artist Joseph Melançon. He paints in the form of the Canadian Group of Seven artists and can create masterpieces from what look like banal landscape photos, devoid of details. He opens our artists’ eyes to the understated geography of rural settings. He creates something from what appears to be nothing.

In my travels across Canada it was the Prairies that struck me most as an artist. The smallest glimmer from a pond, the most subtle grouping of wild flowers, the flutter of startled ducks, the line of telephone pole after telephone pole, was magnified ten-fold in contrast to the expanse of fields and open sky. One notices more clearly the slightest shift in colour, line and form.

I have learned that, through artist’s eyes, when we focus we begin to see what may appear ordinary but in a new light. Bear River photographer and film maker, Tim Wilson, reminds me of that every time he posts another photo or video to his Facebook or website from rural Nova Scotia. Anyone see the film Maudie? Stricken with arthritis and almost stuck in a small house in rural Nova Scotia folk artist Maude Lewis managed to paint and paint and paint. There was always something to paint.

Look carefully and maybe stop awhile. There is always something to see (and do). To say that there’s “nothing there” is a rural myth.


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 Creative writing

In Praise of Libraries

In a recent email, John Montgomerie mentioned a letter written by Ernest Buckler in 1976 to the Halifax newspaper. It expressed concern about cut-backs to libraries in rural Nova Scotia. ” Buckler relied heavily on the bookmobile services to provide him with the necessary resources to aid his writing, for which he was so grateful”.

John and I are both Board members of the Ernest Buckler Literary Event Society (EBLES). It is hosting an event next Saturday, June 3rd. ‘Reading where we live, a celebration of local authors and literature’ (see The Reader,


If we go forward forty years, we still need to protect library services. After living in Nunavut for the last six weeks, it is a joy to return to the Lawrencetown branch of the Annapolis Valley regional library, the Dr. Frank W.Morse Memorial Library and to requests number of books through inter-library loans. These books allow me to write a regular blog for GoGeomatics and contribute to a conversation with Geomatics professionals and Geographers across the country (see latest blog, Atlantic Geography: through books and film).

Many thanks to Jaki Fraser and other librarians across the province. I can only echo Ernest Buckler. As we approach a provincial election, it is important to remind everyone that books and film allow us to tell our stories, about who we are, and where we are.

There are many examples. This weekend, there were four sold-out showings of Maudie at the King’s Theatre in Annapolis Royal. You could augment your understanding by reading Lance Woolaver’s book ‘Maud Lewis. The Heart on the Door ‘.

If you are a tourism operator, you must wonder about the relationship of the film, its setting in Newfoundland, and the cuts to the Nova Scotia Film Tax credit. For more insight, check out Darrell Varga ‘Shooting from the East. Filmmaking on the Canadian Atlantic’.

Posted in Nature

A Day in Nunavut (April 27)

The day started around 1:30 am.


Juniper, a female Eskimo sled dog started giving birth to puppies in our garage. Even though the mother is brown and white all nine pups were black and white; the same colour as the father, Niksik. The birthing process took until mid- afternoon.

Later, around 4:30 pm, Julia (daughter-in-law) and the high school students arrived at the airport. They had been on a school trip to Costa Rica. Because of Spring blizzards, their return was delayed for two days in Ottawa.

After supper, we needed a break and so went to the free Thursday night movie at the Visitor Centre. The film was to be a documentary ‘Martha of the North‘ about Martha Flaherty. Unfortunately, the showing was cancelled because of ‘staffing issues’.

Instead, we hastened to the Frobisher Inn to enjoy a drink and dessert.

Hardly, a typical ‘birthday’ however it illustrates the uncertainties in a community which still has close ties to the land. Indeed, just by looking out of the kitchen window, it is very apparent where the land/sea meet the town boundary.