Dark and Dreary Be

Farewell to Nova Scotia, the sea-bound coast,
may your mountains dark and dreary be.
For when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed,
Will you ever heave a sigh or a wish for me?
The Chorus to “Farewell to Nova Scotia”

On the surface, Nova Scotia is a happy bustling place, but scratch the surface and there is a depressing tale about to erupt. At first I chalked this up to the dourness of Scots’ Calvinism, but when I visited Grand Pré, I found another sad tale emanating from the French history.

In the mid 1700’s the British rounded up all the French living in Grand Pré and deported them to various parts of British territories in the New World from Massachusetts to Louisiana (“Cajun” is a bastardization of “Acadienne”) to the Caribbean. Then they burned their houses and farms. Many died of sickness on the ships.

In the video production they talk about how hard life was in Grand Pré—building irrigation dikes, building houses that would withstand the winter winds, etc.—then being taken away from it after they had made it their own. “We are no longer French, we are Acadian!” Some managed to hide and stay with the local Mi’qwak Indians and others managed to find their way back to the area, highlighting their diligence and pointedness of mind.

The Miners’ Museum in Springhill was a monument to the 74 miners and rescuers killed in the Springhill mining disaster of 1958. The museum itself was upbeat and positive. They focused on the heroic efforts of the rescue teams (Drägers, named after the inventor of the 50 lb respirators they wear) and ran a short CBC documentary made on the 50th anniversary in 2008.

Similarly, the Inverness mining museum focused on the life and times of the miners, but did highlight the fact that the tunnels in the Inverness mine were so low that miners often spent the whole day working on their backs. The lovely young docent also talked about the children working in the mine and their first job of taking care of the “pit ponies.” These ponies hauled the coal out of the mine and were born, raised and died in the mines, and so could see in very low light. If they ever got outside, they would go immediately blind, so the main job of the children caring for them was to keep them from getting out.

Visiting the Maritime Museum in Halifax, there were some great exhibits about local ships but the thematic exhibits were about the Titanic (Halifax was the closest port and most of the survivors—as well as the recovered bodies—went through it) and the explosion of a munitions ship during WWII. In fairness, the later was a truly spectacular tragedy: hundreds of lives were lost, blocks of the city were destroyed, a 500 lb cannon was thrown 5.5 km and windows were shattered 100 km away. And few Americans know about it.

A photo of the devastation from the Halifax explosion

A photo of the devastation from the Halifax explosion

Don’t get me wrong, the tales of woe, mistreatment and disasters of deportation, mine collapse and shipwreck are real—and US history contains plenty of the same kinds of things—but here in Nova Scotia they are placed front and center.

On the up side, there is always a silver lining—the survivors of the shipwrecks and mining disasters, the Acadians returning to L’Acadie, and presumably the author of “Farewell to Nova Scotia” made it somewhere to write the song—but as George Carlin said, “Around every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud.”

Footnote: I did finally find an activity here that didn’t have a depressing backstory: The theatrical tour of the Alexander Keith’s brewery, where the saddest moment was the singing of “The Parting Glass.”

Zeke and Christina in front of a joyful boat

Zeke and Christina in front of a joyful boat

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Filed under Nova Scotia, July 2013

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