Read Nova Scotia Online

Authors: Lesley Choyce

Tags: #history, #sea, #sea adventure sailboat, #nova scotia, #lesley choyce

Nova Scotia (3 page)

BOOK: Nova Scotia
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To simply name a place is to instil a level of significance
to that geography, to foster a history or a mythology (sometimes
it’s hard to separate the two). I’m thinking of this town named for
Lawrence. I can’t say that I’m happy about who we are named after.
Charles Lawrence was an English military leader who governed Nova
Scotia in the 1750s. Considered by many of his peers to be a
military genius and great commander, history at various times
paints a picture of a man of heroic proportions. Rethinking the
past, we see a different man altogether. For it was Lawrence who
ordered the deportation of all Acadians in Nova Scotia and the
burning of their farms.

Worse yet, Mi’kmaq historian Dan Paul points out that there
is a reasonable case to be made in comparing Governor Lawrence to
Adolf Hitler for his effective program of mass genocide. In
Lawrence’s proclamation of May 14, 1756, he issued “a reward of £30
for every male Indian Prisoner above the age of sixteen years,
brought in alive; or for a scalp of such male Indian £25 and £25
for every Indian woman or child brought in alive.” Dan Paul points
out that women and children were probably not spared the scalping
as it was often not possible to determine the sex or the age of the
valued scalp. s

And so I feel some sympathy for those currently in the
province lobbying to rename the towns that have immortalized some
of our most barbaric founders. Some of my surfer friends refer to
this place simply as “Larry town,” a lighter moniker to place on
the geography than that of the man who caused so much human grief
to the French and Mi’kmaq.

It was in 1754 that Governor Lawrence and his council decided
to create a settlement in Lawrencetown. He granted 20,000 acres of
Mi’kmaq and French land and was even willing to underwrite the cost
of settlement, providing not only land but soldiers, cattle, sheep
and pigs. A road was cut from Dartmouth and a stockade of sorts
built. Concerned about the moral character of the first citizens of
Lawrencetown, Lawrence declared that those chosen must be “sober
and industrious people, rather than crowd their settlement first
with worthless wretches.” An argument had also been put forward
that the creation of the settlement of Lawrencetown would give the
Native people a foe in their own backyard and perhaps dissuade them
from travelling further down the road to harass the thriving
communities of Dartmouth and Halifax. d

The fort went up near the river here, the French apparently
having moved on or been driven off. The Mi’kmaq were not so easily
put aside. Bloody fights broke out between the Englishmen building
the palisades and the Mi’kmaq men who could not abide this invasion
of their homeland. Four settlers and three soldiers were killed.
The settlement persisted, however, until one year into the Seven
Years’ War. On Thursday, August 25, 1757, a new order went out to
withdraw settlers and troops and burn Lawrencetown to the ground.
It was simply a burden on the limited finances of the colony, too
costly and difficult to defend. Not everyone left. But by 1767,
there were only fifteen people living in and around Lawrencetown:
four English, one Scot, three Americans and five Germans. Animals
were a bit more abundant with eight oxen, thirty cows, eighteen
cattle for meat, fifteen pigrs and some chickens.

In later years, despite the influx of Loyalists to Nova
Scotia, Lawrencetown did not flourish. Thomas Chandler Haliburton,
in 1808, indicated that there were only fifty people in the entire

Today Lawrencetown has a population of less than 3,000 souls.
Despite the fact that we live not far from the suburbs, growth here
has never been dramatic. In the summÝer, fog sits heavy on the land
for weeks or even months, discouraging those who would rather be in
the sunlight, a mere nine kilometres inland. In some ways, the sea
has conjured this cloaking device to protect us from rapid growth.
The water is cold as well. Even on an inviting summer day, the sea
might still stab at your feet with what feels like hot knives, the
water is so bloody cold. But this has not discouraged the many
fellow wave riders who come here from Australia, England, South
Africa, California and Hawaii to discover the unique and ecstatic
business of surfing cold pure North Atlantic waves at the foot of a
ragged headland.

Lawrencetown Beach has been recognized before as
a place of beginnings. In the early 1960s, the National Film Board
was out here shooting the opening scenes of a film called
The Railrodder
, where Buster Keaton emerges from the sea
riding a bicycle up onto the shore. Not far away he catches the
train and he’s off for a trek across Canada.

The train no longer travels by the beach. About sixteen years
ago I watched a work crew tear up the tracks. The ties were sold
for landscaping, the iron sent for scrap. The steel rail that
tethered this place to the rest of Canada is gone. A forgotten
steel spike or two and a trail of cinder and rock are all that
remain. The old railroad bed is now a good place to ride mountain
bikes with my kids as it snakes its way past the beach and along
the shores of a brief Acadia and across to the site of Lawrence’s
military attempt to control this place.

But from what I can tell, all efforts to fully civilize and
tame this shore have failed. Each winter the sea undoes the
boardwalk and at least one storm will send wave plumes crashing
down on the road by the headland. Protective boulders weighing
tons, hauled here from inland to save the highway from extinction,
groan and shift and sometimes give up and roll off into the deep.
Even as the sea carves and reshapes this coast, it has reshaped my
own life as well. As a result, I feel twinned with the history of
this province, this Nova Scotia that has been both victim and
benefactor of the North Atlantic that surrounds

The sea, along with the weather
that belongs to the sea, has been the great dictator of history in
Nova Scotia. The foggy, cold weather where I live continues to slow
the pace of development and progress. While Canadians across the
continent consider moving to warmer places like coastal British
Columbia, relatively few think of moving to the Eastern Shore of
Nova Scotia because of the relentless effects of the sea. Were it
not for the stiff southerly flow of the cold Labrador Current
pushing the Gulf Stream away, we’d have a climate more like
continental Europe. And the history here would be a whole other

But things are getting warmer. For good or bad, the planet is
changing and I can see these changes in my own lifetime. Every so
often a monster of a tropical storm even lashes this coast and
reminds Nova Scotians how little power we have over elemental
forces, cold or warm. The classic case is the Saxby Gale of October
4, 1869, which hit the Fundy area the hardest and ripped up miles
of forests near that coast. A more recent example is Hurricane Juan
a Category 2  hurricane that plowed through Halifax and Nova
Scotia on its way to Prince Edward Island in

This book is very much about the
sea and about the people of Nova Scotia. It is episodic by design
and parcelled up into small units for easy digestibility. As I
researched and wrote this project, the weight of history has sat
heavily upon me as I found myself discovering more about what went
wrong than what went right. There is joy here but there is also a
long legacy of hardship and despair. Maybe the same can be said of
the history of any part of the world.

The story of Nova Scotia inevitably encompasses the political
and military conflicts involving the British, the French and the
Americans. It also embraces the Mi’kmaq, the Acadians, the Blacks
and the many immigrants whto have found their way here. While war
appears to be such a potent ingredient of this province’s history,
I have found myself less interested in military or political
strategies and more intrigued by motives, personalities and the
lives of civilians directly affected by war and politics. Rascals,
rebels, reasoned men, feisty women, financial schemers and
relentless dreamers have all shaped the human history of Nova
Scotia. Despite my great love for this place, I was not about to
cover up the legacy of tragedy and the flaws in our decision-making
that have led to the ravaging of the sea and forest, the tragedies
of Africville and Boat Harbour, as well as the sad fate of so many
coal-mine casualties.

I have tried to create a book that would be of value to both
readers who live here and those who have never set foot on Nova
Scotian soil. For the record, I own up to certain biases that have
shaped the story. Anything and everything regarding the sea was of
paramount interest. Those individuals whose lives were enmeshed
with the North Atlantic are given plenty of ink.

While the book is primarily organized in a chronological
manner, I have felt the need to fashion specialized chapters about
single subjects in order to provide a clear perspective on such
topics as the early Acadians, coal mining or the death of the

The history of Nova Scotia is deep and broad and could be
told in many volumes instead of one. Hard decisions were made as to
what to leave in and what to leave out. I don’t believe there is
such a thing as “objective history.” I have attempted to tell the
story as truthfully as I could, but I agree with Samuel Johnson’s
observation that “Every man has a right to utter what he thinks is
truth, and every other man has the right to knock him down for it.”
Thus I offer up not only what appears to be fact, but also some
opinions where I see the need to cheer the heroes on and curse the
scoundrels as I see fit. My hope always has been to inform,
entertain and exercise the writer’s prerogative to question when
necessary. t


Chapter 2

Chapter 2


The Drowned Coast

As I walk along the shoreline near
my home, I am walking on a part of the continent that will be gone
all too soon. It will be covered with water; the sea will have both
risen and washed away the sand and rocks beneath my feet. I live on
what geologists call a “drowned coast.” It’s drowning slowly – or
rapidly if you want to figure it in geological time. Someday the
people of Lawrencetown and Halifax and other coastal communities
will have to retreat. It’s that simple. I think it’s a fair
reminder to those of us who live here what a tenuous hold we have
on this place. The sea is still ultimately dictating the future and
I’m happy for that.

Someday “Farewell to Nova Scotia” will have a different
meaning altogether. But then, much of the coastal world will have
changed too. The seas are rising, the polar caps are melting. Or it
could go the other way. Anorther ice age might actually help the
continent to advance back into the ocean.

Continents in Collision

It’s always good to begin a history
at the beginning, so just to set the record straight, I’ll mention
that the earth is about four and a half billion years old. The
first four billion years are not really recorded in Nova Scotia
rocks, so I can’t enlighten you much about these early days.
Continents tend to build up from the centre and we’re way out here
on the edge, so our rocks are fairly young – prepubescent even. The
oldest rocks stashed in the earth here are 570 million years

Now for the interesting part. Barrie Clarke, professor of
geology at Dalhousie University, points out to me that the real
history of Nova Scotia begins in Morocco. What? you say. Morocco?
Yes, as in Africa, or to be more precise, its predecessor, the
extinct supercontinent of Gondwana.

From his office at Dal, Barrie points outside to some loose
rock walls that divide the campus. “See those stones out there?
Those are sedimentary rocks and the sediments didn’t come from the
rest of this continent. They came from Morocco.”

I tell him that it looks like the same loose slate that my
house is built on. “Sure,” he says. “You’re living on a chip of
Africa.” And suddenly I feel a whole new heritage coming on that
I’d never known. “The rock is made from material shed off the
Saharan Shield and collecting on the margin of Gondwana – deposited
sediment from 500 million years ago.”

Gondwana was in the southern hemisphere and it was
equatorial. But that was where my property was way back then. It
started out as warm, dry desert land.

Not all of Nova Scotia was African. There’s an identifiable
place on the Trans-Canada Highway where you leave the geology of
old North America and enter into the leftovers of Gondwana. “There
should be a sign on the highway near Londonderry,” Clarke suggests.
“Put up an information centre and hire a couple of students to say,
‘You are now entering Africa.’” Barrie’s been to Morocco.
“Geologically speaking,” he says, “it feels just like

I dug a well in my backyard once and hacked away at a lot of
this African slate. It chipped and shattered and some of it was
peppered with iron pyrite. I thought I’d found gold but it was the
fool’s variety. I never understood why the slate didn’t lie flat;
the sheets of it are nearly upright. It all had to with continental
collisions. Yes, collisions. Bang – real slowly. Two continents
literally crashing into each other. “Stuff gets reatlly crumpled in
a collision,” Barrie says. “It gets pushed around from its original
place. Some of it standing on end. Slate used to be mud, fine silts
from the Sahara that got compressed then jacked upright.”

BOOK: Nova Scotia
5.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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