Category Archives: Nova Scotia

Unfiltered: An Irreverent History of Beer in Nova Scotia by Steven Laffoley

Folks, it’s right there in plain sight, in his last name. Laff. I mean, laugh. If you want to build your expertise on all things beer, from the making of to cultural artifacts and references along the way, AND you want to be entertained while doing so, this is one to add to your collection. Laffoly weaves technical process from the mash tun to filter types in between anecdotes, folklore and fun facts about local Nova Scotian history of beer with all the poise of an expert tittering tour guide worthy of high praise and monetary tips at the end. 

“What makes Unfiltered unique is the collection of facts and stories recounted while the author drinks his ale, served by some technologically distracted servers at local taverns.”

Unfiltered’s timeline is also delivered in chronological order for ease of association with process order. In the beginning, mead-chugging Vikings who invaded farmland near the Evangeline Trail may have introduced their wares to the Mi’Kmaq. Perhaps some harm, some foul, but they eventually left in search of other places and grapes worth conquering. A few centuries passed and the French settlers arrived with supper clubs and more imbibing opportunities. If you can make sense of the Shakespeare – Harvard University – Nova Scotia connection, I’m sure you’ll win a prize at a pub trivia night, so yet another reason to read this book. 

A #ReadAtlantic book!

As any book about alcohol consumption in Nova Scotia should, a brief history of distilleries and the popularity of rum is touched upon. And as this is a tribute to Nova Scotian heritage, you’ll learn more about the rise of Alexander Keith, and the comedically tragic fall of one of his lesser great-nephews.

What makes Unfiltered unique is the collection of facts and stories recounted while the author drinks his ale, served by some technologically distracted servers at local taverns. The entire book is a literal thirst trap, so I’d recommend investing in one of your local favourite craft beers while you enjoy a fun and funny course that includes forays into temperance, the reasons why different types of beer are served in different shaped glasses, and the cast of notorious and not-so-infamous characters who collectively seeded Halifax as the pub capital of Canada. It’s definitely worth an idea to have this one produced as a multi-episode podcast to reduce incidents of drunk retelling of tales, although apparently, as cited in this book, beer makes you smart and there are studies to prove such. Don’t believe me? It’s in here, it’s true, and the cenosillicaphobia is also real.


Steven Laffoley is a writer, educator, and traveller. For almost two decades now, his numerous fiction and nonfiction books – including the award-winning Shadowboxing: the rise and fall of George Dixon, The Blue Tattoo, and Halifax Nocturne – explore the compelling people, unique character and uncommon stories of Nova Scotia. He lives in Halifax.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pottersfield Press (July 12 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 180 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989725597
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989725597

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

A Canoer of Shorelines by Anne M. Smith-Nochasak

Every once in a while, you come across a novel whose characters and stories enfold you into the pages so effortlessly that you find it difficult to extract yourself even after you turn the final page. A Canoer of Shorelines is one of those books.

Set in Nova Scotia, near Kejimkujik National Park (or “Kedge” as it is locally known), A Canoer of Shorelines is about a farmhouse, Meadowbrook Acres, and two women, Rachel Hardy and Julie Martin, who are unknown to each other, but whose lives intersect at Meadowbrook, the so-called “dream house” because of the dreams both women had whilst living there. Dreams, the need for acceptance and a sense of home are themes that permeate Canoer.

Meadowbrook Acres is the hereditary home of the Hardy family. Once a working farm, it has now fallen to Rachel’s brother Samuel to maintain. Ironically, as he doesn’t want it to pass out of the Hardy family (even though no other family members are interested in it), he needs to rent it out in order to maintain and keep it. His sister Rachel used to live there, but due to the dreams she had there, she found she had to move out.

Julie is a young schoolteacher who has been teaching in Northern Canada, but now finds herself back home in Nova Scotia after she and her boyfriend Doug split, he leaving for a teaching job in Alberta, and taking Musko, a large black dog with him. Julie misses Musko more than Doug, who is the type of person that blames everyone but himself for his problems. Julie sees that Meadowbrook is available for rent, and as it was a house she was familiar with from growing up in the region, she wants to live there. She takes on substitute teaching work to pay the bills, particularly the oil bills for heating the draughty old farmhouse. She is soon befriended by Laila, who, it turns out, is Rachel Hardy’s best friend.

However, Rachel has been missing from the area for some time. She was living in a rustic cabin (“Wasaya”) with her dogs on a small island but appears to have left that abode as well. The stories of Rachel and the Hardy family as well as her sympathies for Samuel who so desperately wants to keep his family home intrigue Julie to the point of distraction, and the dreams she has in the house draw her ever further into the quest to find out where Rachel went and why.

"The dreams are growing, mutating into horror. The bittersweet dreams that pull at the heart are giving way to darker dreams, nightmares that cling to the skin when you awaken."

Ms. Smith-Nochasek’s writing style reminded me of another Nova Scotian, Carol Bruneau, as well as the lesser-known, but just as exceptional a writer, Dian Day. Here are a few samples:

Mid-August rains were wetter, colder, and darker. They robbed you of the last dazzling bike rides and the last ice creams at the beach.
A lone axe rings hollow and lonely across the campground. Laughter over breakfast hangs in the dark air; intrusive. Grey winds flip the leaves. The boughs swing, damp and distant, and you try to call your summer back but it is gone.
Laila carries other's burdens. She carries your hard things without burdening you with hers.
"The age of phrophecy closed before the time of the Maccabees," she [Rachel] continues. "So all your dreams are just that. Dreams. Imaginings. You can't dream the future into reality."

Written from two perspectives, the first-person journals of Rachel and the third-person story of Julie, Canoer drew me in as so few novels do these days. The characters of Julie, Rachel and Laila are well-defined and exist separately as well as interactively within themselves and with other lesser actors in the narrative. Male characters are less defined, and are, interestingly enough, defined through Julie in her dreams and imaginings and Rachel through her journals.

I highly recommend A Canoer of Shorelines. It is well-written novels like this that fly under the radar and we at The Miramichi Reader love to bring them to the forefront of CanLit.

A Miramichi Reader “Best Fiction of 2021” choice!

About the Author

ANNE M. SMITH-NOCHASAK grew up in rural Nova Scotia and was a waitress, nursing home worker, and many other things before turning to teaching. She taught in high school, elementary, and resource programs. Working in northern and isolated settings in Indigenous communities brought her greatest joy in teaching; there was acceptance and partnership there on the learning journey. Her son traveled with her for many years, but as an adult returned to his northern birthplace to live his father`s ways. She is currently retired in rural Nova Scotia. A Canoer of Shorelines, her first novel, began as the story of a haunted farmhouse, but as the characters grew, she realized that it was a story of forgiveness, acceptance, and love. She is currently working on a second novel, a story of love that culminates in a time of pandemic.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ FriesenPress (April 16 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 366 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1525598775
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1525598777

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Last Time I Saw Her by Alexandra Harrington

Filled with mystery and drama, The Last Time I Saw Her by Alexandra Harrington is this summer’s young adult novel to read.

A year after leaving town without warning, Charlotte Romer returns home to River John, Nova Scotia. She left behind her only remaining family member, her brother Sean, who struggles to keep the lights on and food in the fridge, but remains a staunchly protective older brother. She also left behind her best friend Sophie, who was recovering from a life-changing accident and felt abandoned when Charlotte disappeared.

“The Last Time I Saw Her by Alexandra Harrington is this summer’s young adult novel to read.”

When Charlotte shows up unannounced to Sophie’s eighteenth birthday party one summer evening, tensions are high. It isn’t the homecoming that Charlotte had hoped for. As the days roll on, it becomes clear that something happened the night of the accident, and Charlotte is determined to find out what it is. But the more she searches for answers, the more the questions arise.

Family and friends are pitted against one another in this tale of broken relationships and unpredictable secrets.

The first half of the book was slow-moving—like a leisurely River John summer—but the second half picks up the pace as Charlotte rapidly connects the dots of the different mysteries enveloping her. There is an almost dizzying number of subplots pulling Charlotte in different directions, which require varying background information and draws out the start of the main plot. In the end, however, they all come together in a spiderweb of connected mysteries.

Our protagonist, Charlotte, is funny and relatable. It was easy to become immersed in the story through her eyes, to feel her grief and hurt, her joy and gentle happiness. I appreciated her wit, quick thinking, and commitment to the truth.

The slow-burn romance that develops with a childhood friend of Charlotte’s is also very well done and had me rooting for the pair the whole way. There are some brief but explicit scenes, so keep that in mind if you’re a younger reader.

Harrington’s writing is captivating, with lyrical descriptions and natural dialogue. She’s a welcome new voice in YA fiction and I’m looking forward to reading what she writes next.


Alexandra Harrington is a writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she has worked as a restaurant manager, fiction editor, and waitress. She has a degree in journalism from the University of King’s College in Halifax. The Last Time I Saw Her is her first novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing Limited (June 3 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771089369
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771089364

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop & support independent bookstores! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link:

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Claire Bennet
Some Rights Reserved  

Nova Scotia Politics, 1945-2020: From Macdonald to McNeil by Graham Steele

“How did we get here?” is a question people like to ask about the political state of the country, province, municipality, other country, etc. While some of the current state can be attributed to recent decision (such as elections), other have roots much further back. It is this, history informing the present, a straight line winding through the decades, that Graham Steele seeks to explore. Starting with Angus L. Macdonald in the post-war period to the very recent present, with Stephen McNeil’s terms and resignation, Steele provides a comprehensive overview of Nova Scotia politics in the last 75 years. There are no bombshells in this history, though Steele doesn’t falter when it comes to tackling the more salacious scandals of Nova Scotia politics in the last 75 years (corruption, sexual misconduct). For someone looking to understand why Nova Scotian politics are currently where they are, Nova Scotia Politics, 1945-2020: From Macdonald to McNeil is a wonderfully readable history of the province’s politics.

“Steele has taken the facts of the last 75 years of Nova Scotian politics and woven them into the best kind of history text: a story.”

Steele largely tells the story of Nova Scotian politics in chronological order, with chapters focusing on some of the larger, perennial problems in the province: jobs, corruption, roads, and the concentration of power in the premier’s office. Environmental racism, language, Halifax versus the rest of the province, and the total dominance of white men in Province House also play large parts in this story, and while the breadth of the time period Steele covers doesn’t allow for deep dives into these topics, he does give them appropriate attention and spotlight within the larger context of the political landscape.

Steele was an NDP MLA from 2001-2013, and is open about this in the text, as well as being reflective of the time and governments he served under. This, plus his experience in political commentary and work as a professor, lends itself to an informative, interesting story. Steele has taken the facts of the last 75 years of Nova Scotian politics and woven them into the best kind of history text: a story. That doesn’t mean this book is without political analysis – because it certainly is – but it avoids the trap of becoming bogged down in the little details of each political era, or being too academic for the casual reader. One of my personal pet peeves about the many political science texts I’ve thought were full of great, important information for people to access, is that they were very dense, and not particularly entertaining. Steele takes genuine interest and scholarship, as well as inside knowledge, and has created an excellent overview in under 300 pages.

I recommend this for both the newbie to the political history of Nova Scotia, as well as the more seasoned veteran. It’s a great introduction to the political issues of the last 75 years in Nova Scotia, as well as a great analysis of how the different political eras led to the (near) present state in Nova Scotia.

Graham Steele was a member of the Nova Scotia legislature from 2001 to 2013 and finance minister from 2009 to 2012. He is the author of two books about politics: the best-selling What I Learned About Politics (2014) and The Effective Citizen (2017). He lives in Halifax.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pottersfield Press (April 5 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 246 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989725457
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989725450

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Alexa! Changing the Face of Canadian Politics by Stephen Kimber

A #ReadAtlantic book!

Alexa McDonough is one of the first Canadian politicians I remember knowing about, for a few reasons: one, I first became aware and interested in politics as a kid in the late 90s and early 2000s, when McDonough was on the federal stage as the leader of the NDP; two, even then, I looked for women in places of power (because if they could do it, maybe that was something I could consider for my future); and three, even then, I looked for people from Atlantic Canada in places of power (because if we came from the same place, maybe that wasn’t the hindrance I thought it was). Alexa McDonough was the leader of a federal political party, with a long and respected career in politics, at a time when I was particularly impressionable. Representation matters! And this is the spirit in which Stephen Kimber wrote his authorized biography of McDonough, titled Alexa! Changing the Face of Canadian Politics. Through interviews with McDonough, her family, colleagues, and expanding on other works written about her, Kimber presents a very thorough biography of McDonough, starting with her grandparents, and working through to the present day, well after her retirement from the political stage. It is in this biography that McDonough and her family decided to publicly disclose that McDonough has Alzheimer’s, which was diagnosed when she was sixty-six years old.

“Alexa! Is a solid political biography.”

This is an incredibly detailed, bordering on dense, biography of McDonough. No stone goes unturned, no detail spared: from Alexa’s father’s involvement with the CCF (the precursor of the NDP) to her mother’s broken family, to the summer jobs which would shape her future experiences, being the first woman working for the City of Halifax to get maternity leave and setting a precedent, to her experiences as a social worker and her steps into federal politics, then provincial politics, and back to federal politics. One of the things which struck me as I read this was how familiar a lot of the misogyny McDonough rammed up against in both the Nova Scotia legislature and the House of Commons were: McDonough was a trailblazer in pushing these realms to be slightly more diverse, but it is only a start.

Packed with loads of fascinating details, in-depth explanations about how different parts of the government work, and a who’s-who of Atlantic Canadian activists, artists, business people, scholars, and politicians, Alexa! Is a solid political biography. It’s interesting, and of course, sympathetic, but also traces the history of the NDP in both Nova Scotia and Canada as a whole; shows off the long and rich tradition of drama in provincial legislatures, and for those of us familiar with Halifax, drops us back into the city, with loads of references to landmarks and the different neighbourhoods in the area. A recommended read for those interested in the history of the NDP and/or women in Canadian politics.

About the Author

Stephen Kimber is a Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax and an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster. He is the author of nine non-fiction books, including What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.

  • Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (April 20 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1773101951
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1773101958

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Nova Scotia Shaped By the Sea: A Living History by Lesley Choyce

New world opportunity has been rankled with misfortune for centuries. It’s the main gist of any introduction we read as school children on the textbook history of Canada. Seldom do we entertain a deep dive into the making of any province or territory at that age. When we’re older and ready to explore our country in more meaningful ways, we are not reaching out for our old textbooks, but perhaps a quick top ten list of interesting things through an internet search or nicely presented brochure. And that’s if we make the time to do any sort of preliminary research, even if a marginal attempt.

“…most poignantly, it offers a history of the people brought to Nova Scotia by sea.”

Pre-pandemic, we were making plans to visit some friends who had just relocated from the west coast to their new forever home in Halifax. And to be honest, I had a scarce amount of time on my hands and thought I would leave it to them to be tour guides, in their eyes and words as new Haligonians. However, time became my friend in 2020 to the present. Not only do I have true stories of bold criminalities and the seedy history of alcohol stamped as landmarks on my virtual map, but I can now patrol the Eastern shoreline and see tales unfold as if the sea could speak.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

Lesley Choyce spares no detail and presents a unique must-read history for anyone wanting to understand present-day Nova Scotia through previous journeys of the sea in the latest edition of his book, “Nova Scotia Shaped by The Sea”. To know the endurance of Acadian culture is to know the strength of Acadian women, not just through Longfellow’s Evangeline, but how they adapted their french influence to build community. To know the Mi’kmaq is to know their humanity and generosity in the face of barbaric exploration. Mass murder, poverty, riots, exploitation, racism, environmental degradation…are we speaking of history, or what we see today? This book follows a chronological timeline from early exploration, the establishment of governing rule from lands abroad, Confederation to present-day politics, industrial growth plied by early merchant trade, alcohol import and local distilleries, from bounty to threats of extinction through over-fishing.

Perhaps most poignantly, it offers a history of the people brought to Nova Scotia by sea. A cultural shift and sharing of the land amongst the indigenous, European settlers, and non-white immigrants is documented in a way you would never see in a “Top 10 Reasons to Visit the Maritimes” list. But to truly experience Nova Scotia, to know the people is to know their pain and struggle through adversity.

Lesley Choyce is the author of over 100 books, including The Coasts of Canada, The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil, and Broken Man on a Halifax Pier.

  • Publisher : Pottersfield Press; 4th edition (Nov. 17 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 360 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1989725155
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1989725153

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Peace by Chocolate: The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada by Jon Tattrie

The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 and has displaced roughly half of the country’s pre-war population of 22 million. Of those forced out of their homes, about 5 million have sought refuge in other countries. For the last decade, this humanitarian crisis has never strayed far from daily news headlines. Canada’s response to the crisis, muted at the outset, by 2015 had grown more focused and resolute. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, as of April 2019 almost 64,000 displaced Syrians have resettled in Canada. Despite these efforts, the crisis remains a story of human suffering on a massive scale: one that continues to generate new chapters in a global narrative that offers few glimmers of hope and scant reason for optimism.

One story that has provided much more than just a glimmer of hope is that of the Hadhad family’s journey from Syria to Antigonish, Nova Scotia. In Damascus, the Hadhads, led by Isam Hadhad, operated a chocolate factory that employed a sizable workforce and exported their product throughout the Middle East. Inspired by Isam’s community-focused business philosophy, the Hadhads were popular, respected and by any standard successful, even prosperous. That all came to an abrupt end one day in November 2012 when the industrial sector of the city was bombed and the factory destroyed. When their home was destroyed as well, the family’s chief concern became survival, and their options shrank until fleeing their homeland was the only course of action that made sense.

Jon Tattrie’s skilful narrative captures the tension and uncertainty of those early days of the Hadhad family’s reluctant quest for safety, which first took them across the border into Lebanon where they languished for what must have seemed an eternity. As the war raged on and hopes of returning to Syria faded, they began to consider other destinations, Canada among them. Tareq, the Hadhad’s oldest son, explored an array of possibilities and was put in contact with Canadian officials. A way forward was taking shape, but Tareq was also at the mercy of forces beyond his control. Needless to say, when he began looking seriously at Canada as a potential landing spot, he did not expect his family to end up in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

In Peace by Chocolate: The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada Jon Tattrie tells a heartening story of endurance, luck, tenacity, and human kindness. Midway through, the story shifts to Antigonish, where a determined group of citizens, deeply touched by the scale of suffering the crisis is causing, decides they cannot sit back and do nothing. The Hadhad family’s arrival in a small university town at the base of an inlet on Nova Scotia’s north shore (and in the midst of one of the most severe winters in recent memory) was treated as a major community event and became for Antigonish something of a turning point and a source of enormous pride.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

Seeking purpose and a way to give something back to the people who had welcomed his family into their community, Isam Hadhad revived his passion for artisan chocolate, initially giving away the fruits of his labour for free. But within a few months, and with the help of countless volunteers, the Hadhads had founded Peace by Chocolate and began to sell their product in a wider marketplace that quickly expanded beyond the town of Antigonish and the province of Nova Scotia to include all of Canada and the United States.

Tattrie’s book recounts in unsentimental terms the extraordinary achievement of many people. The Hadhads, the community of Antigonish, and the Canadian immigration officials who work to open doors to refugee families triumphed over geographical, fiscal, political, and bureaucratic obstacles. At any point, the story could have come to an untimely end if someone in this fragile chain had given up. But everyone knew what was at stake and carried on.

Amidst the chaos and injustice of these anguished times, Peace by Chocolate is exactly what we need: a story that reminds us that even against enormous odds positive outcomes are possible and that remarkable things can be accomplished through hard work and perseverance.

Jon Tattrie is the author of seven books, including the Canadian bestseller The Hermit of Africville. He works as a journalist for CBC Nova Scotia.

  • Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (Oct. 6 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 216 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1773101897
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1773101897

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Year of the Metal Rabbit by Tammy Armstrong

Much of Tammy Armstrong’s new collection draws its images and scenes from southwestern Nova Scotia, especially Shelburne County, which no previous poetry has reflected and delved into so richly. Armstrong’s current residence is Shag Harbour, a seaside village about a three-hour drive from Halifax. In opening up her senses to her surroundings, she has built a book of mist and rock, foxes and coy-wolves, nor’easters and blueberry barrens, and the ocean “teething good loam and lawn into its soft, eroding throat.” Her poems also absorb 21st-century complexities and dramatize how village life connects to the global village. Only after reading the book three times did I Google “year of the metal rabbit” and learn that 2011 was the most recent example of that year type; while I leave it up to students of the Chinese Zodiac to investigate the title’s significance, Armstrong’s reference is just one of many factors giving her work a cosmopolitan reach.

               Her vision and language aren’t only attuned to the spawnings and structures of nature; we don’t travel far in her book before coming across sights such as cars nearly colliding on a highway, a fish-bait plant burning and pollution spreading. “The Vestas: Pubnico Point Wind Farm” describes 17 wind-towers, each one “named for a woman in the life of the wind backer / who sells their collective work to a Florida conglomerate.” Wittily, the poem contrasts “wrecked weather” and “dissected skies” withthe “giantesses” of turbines trying to corral and utilize nature’s turbulence. “Shells, Twigs, Vertebrae, Jaw” is another poem where non-human phenomena mix with the manufactured; oaks, robins and trumpet vines co-exist with sandwich bags, half-mirrors and quartered telephone-poles. Early on, Armstrong notes “the new cellphone tower / staked to Cape Island” and “antennas, dark with contraption,” and the poem ends:

               The neighbours raise [their cellphones] toward the sun

               scanning slow across the sky

                              between things, beyond things

               for half-caught signals.
               Just the sort of thing that drowns out a bird

               singing to all that over-handled air.

Even in a village far from dense human populations, technology makes the very air seem crowded, crisscrossed with our busy communications. Human threats to the natural world also give troubled tones and awareness of violence to the ekphrastic “Hare on the Tracks” and to “Black Market Love Charm,” with its snap-necked hummingbirds sold in San Diego’s SmokEnjoy Hookah Lounge.

               Though the Shelburne County poems glimpse human work and leisure, their speakers seem more observant than socially involved. The poems include sharply etched images of neighbours: “From the stoop, I watched the neighbour—/ gone tooth and scruff sometime over the past year / a touch of bird about him now / flocked on some upper bough of thought.” One winter day another neighbour carries snared rabbits over his shoulder, but the poet is “afraid he’ll want to talk,” and after she takes the initiative by asking, “Are those rabbits?” she feels foolish for having done so. Without making her relative newness to the village an overt theme, Armstrong implies the position of someone who has settled in after decades of living elsewhere, distinct from those whose roots in the area go back generations. At one point the poet seems to write revealingly of herself as a “shade and corner thing.” Elsewhere, however, the pronoun “we” often overshadows “I” and suggests a loving partner at her side.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

               In contrast to the collection’s southwestern Nova Scotia emphasis are poems indebted to times and experiences in Maine, British Columbia, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana and Georgia. A longer discussion of the book might trace similarities and dissimilarities between the Shag Harbour environs and distant locations remembered and evoked. A longer review might also explore in-depth how Armstrong, complementing her precise imagery of the seen and heard, also writes transformatively, plunging under the surfaces of things. In her imagination’s wilder reaches, she finds a “lamp sealed safe within [a humpback whale’s] smooth folded brain”; an interior voyage into the patterns of blue willowware china becomes possible; and under huge mounds of road salt  “poets might be interred / beside the bones of slithery greyhounds” (discovering that comic image, I thought At last, the great Canadian poem about road salt!).         

               Armstrong is attuned to both the powers and limits of words. She hints at how much of existence eludes the reach of our language: “Today, the ocean steeped a colour we could not name. / Yesterday, it was mussel hinge, and later today, perhaps moon seep.” (At such a moment Armstrong exercises multiple-metaphor experimentation reminiscent of Don Domanski, one of the four poets she concentrated on for her doctoral dissertation exploring “animal presence” in Atlantic Canadian poetry.) For one poem she’s picked as an epigraph lines from Dermot Healy about hares that “afford us a break / From the language that would explain them.” With word-compoundings reminiscent of Hopkins and Marianne Moore, Armstrong tries to translate non-human sounds; she hears petrels’ “chatter-nag,” robins “rain-warble” and grackles’ “spit-fizz”—as well as seeing a hare’s “stutter-twitch” and a river’s “bright-work.” She stretches conventions when she concentrates her language in fresh ways.  An adjective becomes a noun in “shapeless forests of fog and dim”; a noun becomes a verb when clear water could “island each one of us.” A caterpillar’s “prophetic kink bristles parable,” a quality of light is experienced as “the day’s glare-whiteness,” and a fire “puzzles soot peonies into the air.” (I get lost, however, with “the toad plodding through its cotton anniversary.”) 

               To conclude an appealingly detailed list poem titled with a phrase of Elizabeth Bishop’s, “Many Things Filled with the Intent of Being Lost,” Armstrong desires inclusiveness: “Let’s keep it all / to have more selves that we need / and no thin places between our stories.” When she writes in another poem, “No more less-than, nearly, almost, otherwise. / Those were last year’s words,” she questions hesitation and celebrates exuberance. With lines ranging from burnished and compact to loping and expansive, along with lush and percussive sounds, propulsive rhythms and intricate sentences, Year of the Metal Rabbit is driven by perceptual curiosity and linguistic energy. Armstrong’s most adventurous book of poems so far, it should make many of her long-time readers anticipate her future poetry with happy, optimistic expectations.

Tammy Armstrong has published two novels and four collections of poetry. Her first collection of poetry, Bogman’s Music, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Recent work has won the iYeats International Poetry Prize, and Prairie Fire’s Bliss Carman Poetry Prize. In 2018, she was a finalist for the National Magazine Awards. She lives in southwestern Nova Scotia.

  • Publisher: Gaspereau Press (2019)
  • Language: English
  • Paperback: 109 pages
  • ISBN-13: 9781554472031

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The Jill Martin Bouteillier Interview

Jill Martin Bouteillier is the author of Return to Sable and was a consultant-historian for the National Film Board and White Gate Films. She worked on educational committees in BC and NS both developing and marking provincial exams. For many years she was an educator on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, serving as the last principal of Lunenburg Academy. She lives in Lunenburg with husband, Carl, and resident cock pheasant in a home overlooking the mighty Atlantic. From Thistles to Cowpies, now available from Crossfield Publishing, is her latest book.

What inspired you to write From Thistles to Cowpies?

Inspiration came from a variety of places, not the least was turning 70.  When I had retired from teaching in 2012, I decided it was time to finally explore the artefacts I had received on my mother`s death about the family’s connections to Sable Island. My great grandfather, Robert Jarvis Bouteillier, was the longest serving Governor on the island from 1884 to 1913. Clarence Bouteillier, his third born was my grandfather. He and a younger brother, Dick, and sister, Trixie left Nova Scotia for Saskatchewan in 1910.

In 2015, I self-published Return to Sable about the Bouteillier’s growing up on Sable Island. In 2016, Nimbus published my non-fiction, Sable Island in Black and White. It won the 2017 Atlantic Book Award for historical writing.

I had spent four years of retirement writing about my maternal ancestors. It was time to delve into my paternal ancestors, the Thomsons from the highlands of Scotland.

I started that journey the winter of 2017 digitizing my old black and white photos which led me to Ancestry. The discoveries about my Thomson roots started a fire. There is a book here and you need to write it.

My children had also asked if I was going to stop writing once the Bouteilliers had settled in Saskatchewan where I and my mother were born.

Fat chance, that.

I found my father’s Primary Scribbler in which he had drawn his letters and pictures when he was four in the Methlick Primary School. Brown and heavy paper with onionskin sheets between each page. A treasure. I discovered letters my dad had written in 1948 to the Peoples Journal, after his own father had died, in search of Scottish relatives. I read those letters and they stirred my narrative voice.

In 1986, five years before my father died, I and my daughter took him to Scotland. Dad met William Thomson, the illegitimate child of his father’s brother. How could I not tell the story? I had grown up hearing dad’s stories about the troop ship, the Zeppelins, dancing the fling onboard.

I wanted to keep alive an era that few have knowledge about and at the same time leave a legacy for my own children and grandchildren.

From Thistle to Cowpies tells the story of my mother, a Bouteillier and my father, a Thomson. How they came to be in Saskatchewan, how they met and how they lived during the dangerous years 1929-1945. How they grew up around blacksmiths, farms tilled by horses, and fox ranches. Such experiences are very foreign to readers today. The narrative structure leaped to the page as if it was writing itself. Open with the U Boat crossing in 1915 and then flash back to the planning of the leaving. Tell the Thomson story, then the Bouteillier story ending at the same point when my mother and father meet for the first time in 1929. Then delve head first into the stock market crash, marriage and WWII.

What was the process like as it relates to conducting Interviews for the book? It must have taken a considerable amount of time.

I lived the stories my parents told of growing up, meeting and all that went with that. My sister who is 13 years my senior and who is still alive, has a memory that continues to amaze me. She filled in a lot of gaps about the years before I was born, especially the war years. 

I was also fortunate to meet my cousin, Robert, the son of my father’s young brother who had photos of our Thomson ancestors while they lived in Scotland. One that he sent me a few months ago, taken in 1899 shows Wee Grannie Thomson and her eight children – before one died young and three left the Old Country for Saskatchewan.

For you personally, what was the biggest challenge or the most difficult part to finish?

Creating the love story and writing love scenes between my parents. They were in their forties when I was born. Learning things I didn’t want to know – embezzlement, disloyalty, secrets.

What stood out as a big learning experience from this book?

I learned a great respect for my ancestors who left the known to cross the Atlantic to a new land and an unknowable future were uncommonly brave. To do that in the mid-1700s or during WWI must have been equally terrifying.

I learned there is much more to know about my Scottish ancestors. Growing up, we had always visited my maternal ancestors. I knew more about them because of their growing up on Sable Island and their emigration to Halifax/Lunenburg in 1752 under General Lord Cornwallis protestant resettlement program in Nova Scotia. I wrote two books on Sable Island.  I live in Lunenburg. History is all around me.

In the 1700s, they sailed in two-masted ships, The Betty, Sally and Speedwell, none of which was more than 190-220 tons (about the size of the HMCS Bounty). These small, crowded dirty ships carried 60 to 100 families. On average, the crossing was 2-21/2 months. Many died at sea.

My Bouteillier ancestors from the province of Montbeliard received the Charter to emigrate. The parents died at sea. The four sons survived quarantine and disease of that first winter in Halifax before the government took them to Lunenburg in June 1753.

During WWI, my Thomson ancestors faced a different threat. The crossing was shorter, but the dangers from U Boats hunting convoys must have kept everyone on edge. Every day fear gnawing at them. Soldiers on board, amplified the terror of war. Many sailors on board were returning to Newfoundland following their 1 year commitment. My father and his sisters remembered the trip as only children can in danger. It was exciting. 

This is also the story of your parents too, correct?

My father emigrated in 1915 from a small croft Northwest of Aberdeen in the Scottish Highlands. He was 6, his two sisters, 9 and 7. Their mother and the children were on their way by train to Liverpool and ship to Saint John, NB and then train to Saskatchewan where they arrived December 24 1915. They sailed on the Pretorian, Allan Line.

My mother’s parents left Halifax in 1910 by train for Saskatchewan. My grandfather was a carpenter. The first thing he did was build a house at the corner of Avenue B and 32nd Street. My mother was born in that house April 1912. That same year, my grandfather built his homestead at 6 miles east of Viscount on the CNR line.

My mother’s father was a 6th generation of the Foreign Protestants who settled  in Lunenburg in 1753. I am an eighth generation Foreign Protestant.

Do you think there is a greater interest in one’s ancestry these days?

Yes, absolutely, people are more interested in Ancestry now. The appeal of non-fiction stories of ordinary and famous people continues to grow. Burrowing into the past, one might discover secrets or stories or crimes or long lost family members, the discovery of illegitimate children or marriages no one spoke about. I found cousins I didn’t know I had, descendants of five of my grandfather’s siblings. They are scattered across Canada, US and around the world. They are excited to read my book.

For more information on this book, please visit Crossfield Publishing’s website.


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Halifax and Me by Harry Bruce

In 1971, Harry Bruce, recognized as one of Canada’s top non-fiction writers, lost his mind—according to his peers—when he left bustling, lucrative Toronto and moved his family to the tough little seaport of Halifax. Harry was already acquainted with Halifax; at eighteen, he lived at HMCS Stadacona as an officer-cadet in the Royal Canadian Navy. He joined the navy chiefly to lose his virginity. “For what finer way could there be to serve queen and country?” Though he did not achieve his goal, that summer gave him his first whiffs of the port whose magnetism he would one day find irresistible.

I can’t necessarily speak for Harry Bruce, but I’m willing to give it a go. You see, a funny thing happened to me on my way out of Halifax. I’d been in town for a convention and a few days of travel lit research. Coming off an intense stretch of conference activities—workshops, breakouts, meet-and-greets—I was in full-on conventioneer mode, every sentence starting with, “Hi, I’m Bill, from Vancouver …” From this I went directly to Halifax Stanfield Airport, where I found myself in an elevator with a woman in a suit, wearing a lanyard, same as everyone I’d spoken to in the past week.

“Hi, I’m Bill, from Vancouver …” I said with a smile, extending a hand.

“Hi Bill!” she said, shaking my hand. “Really nice to meet you!” A momentary pause, then, “Gosh, I have to apologize, I don’t remember where it was we first met.”

It was then I realized I was no longer at a convention. Just an effusively friendly weirdo at the airport. To which I said, somewhat ashamed, “Oh. Yes. Right. Well in fact we haven’t actually met. I’ve just come from a conference and was in auto-pilot, meet-and-greet mode. I apologize.”

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To which she laughed, relieved. “Thank goodness for that!” she said, “I pride myself on remembering people I meet. You see, I’m Lieutenant Governor here and I admit I fall into that trap too sometimes. But it was lovely to meet you Bill. Have a good flight.”

Which I did, chuckling most of the way across Canada. The other thing that encounter accomplished was to take a city I enjoy and imprint it permanently into my psyche. So when I learned eminent author Harry Bruce had written a memoir of this place he too loves, well, I simply had to jump in.

But if Halifax was gloomy, it was also dramatic. For it had the sea, and all the stories, ships, tugs, horns, toots, whistles, harbour lights, and fogs, tides and roaring winds that went with the sea. What awaited me in the strange streets of this world port? In what manly adventures would I excel while sailing o’er the bounding main? I was eighteen, and on my way. Halifax was my oyster.

This is poetic prose delivered with journalistic directness. And with that, we’ve met not one but both our protagonists. If I didn’t already have vivid visuals of this alluring maritime city, I do now—every sense engaged—the touch of ocean breeze, the saline taste of spindrift—sights, sounds, aromas. The potential of someplace new.

From the balcony of our eleventh-floor condo near Windsor and North, I see the bridges to Dartmouth, bridges that didn’t even exist in 1953; the white ferries, toys at this distance, nipping back and forth on the blue of the harbour; and in the south, the high-rises on the downtown waterfront, skyscraping cranes, the green mound of Citadel Hill; and if I lean far enough over the railing, even a stretch of the open Atlantic. The view reminds me, sixty-seven years after my fling with the navy, that the deal with the oceans was a major reason why I finally came to call Halifax home.

A sentiment I can relate to. And one I suspect you may too, in reading Halifax and Me. It reads, quite naturally, like the recollections of an old man, which is exactly what it is. As an old man myself I’m comfortable in that shared space. Some readers might wince on occasion at a turn of phrase that could be interpreted as sexist. Yet our narrator is sincere, articulate, and worldly. I read no malice in the words, only the observations of an acutely aware observer of a certain age, living in the midst of those observations.

Like any memoir or story set somewhere we’ve been, familiarity not only engages but can literally pull us once more into that common ground. I feel this with Harry Bruce’s Halifax and Me with an intensity that surprised me. Yes, the city itself is a touchstone, a personal landmark, but more than that it’s the words and communicative capability of this author, something he does exceedingly well in recounting his story.

(This review originally appeared in Atlantic Books Today, and is reproduced here by arrangement.)

About the Author: National award-winning author Harry Bruce has been a journalist for more than forty years. His books include Down Home: Notes of a Maritime Son, and Maud: The Life of L.M. Montgomery. He lives in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.

  • Title: Halifax and Me
  • Author: Harry Bruce
  • Publisher: Pottersfield Press, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781989725177
  • Pages: 190 pp

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Planet Digby: Future Landscapes by H.M.S. Smith

I’ve just spent some quiet time poring over Planet Digby, and I had to keep telling my brain I was looking at photographs and not paintings. The collection of images – photographs of reflections of fishing boat hulls in Digby harbour – is complemented by a selection of poetry and even Biblical passages. Together, the photos and poems act as a commentary on the Earth, its ecological changes and humankind’s relationship with the two.

“What will the Earth look like in 100 years, 1,000 years, 10,000 years?”

H.M.S. Smith

“What will the Earth look like in 100 years, 1,000 years, 10,000 years?” Smith asks. “What you see on Planet Digby may not be familiar. Looking thousands of years into the future may be unsettling, but the Earth, with our help, might still be beautiful.”

Smith created the breathtaking photographs, which have not been edited or enhanced in any way, over a period of two days in October, 2018. “At times, I could not believe my eyes and it seemed like it was out of my hands – that someone or something else was taking the pictures,” says Smith.

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The photos in Planet Digby were originally displayed in a show at the Artz Gallery in Halifax, NS, during Nocturne Festival in October, 2019.

Questions for H.M.S. Smith

Q. Scott, in the Planet Digby’s Afterword, you mention that the photographs are reflections of fishing boats’ hulls. Were you actually on the boats themselves or on a smaller boat alongside (or on the wharf) when you took the photos?

A. We were on the wharves that the boats were moored against James.

Q. The colours! These look like oil paintings and not photographs, which you claim are “all raw images and have not been processed or enhanced in any way”. It’s difficult to believe that due to them being so abstract. Surely you must have employed some type of photographic “tricks” to get these types of images?

A. No, I swear they are all raw images. Sometimes I don’t believe it myself but the late afternoon light in October was very rich. A few of the images have been cropped to fit the page.

Q. Do you plan to do any more of this type of compilation?

A. I have enjoyed matching the poetry passages to the images – such a pleasure to revisit such beautiful language. I have lots of abstract images but this experience was surreal – lightning in a bottle. As I said, something took over, like I was a passenger. I think the message is positive – that the planet could well survive and still be beautiful – but different.

About the author: Photographer H. M. S. Smith is a former architect and project manager. Born in Montreal, he attended Mount Allison University and the Technical University of Nova Scotia (now Dalhousie University). He co-founded SS Publications Ltd. (now SSP Publications) in 1995 and has authored three best-selling architectural histories of Prince Edward Island.

  • Publisher : SSP Publications (Nov. 15 2020)
  • Paperback : 60 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1989347088
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1989347089
  • Item Weight : 505 g

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While Crossing the Field by Deborah Banks

These poems traverse the coastal seasons with contemplative reflection. A canvas of emotion drawn from the colours of grief, loneliness, and gratitude. There is a certain fascination with the palette of nighttime and the musicality of being brought forth in the darkness.

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The first several poems emerge from winter, human and animal reawakening their senses alongside the earth’s rebirth. We are witnessing love letters to nature and self. It is here where we find an acknowledgement of the strange relationship of quiet, respectful observance between human and animal.

It’s hard to choose just one, or even limit myself to a handful of poems to bookmark for later re-reads.

There are tinges of regret, contemplative pondering of what could be the humane thing to do, even after the fact. These poems are very conscientious of self and place within nature, as being neither more or less important that any other living creature, plant, body of water, and so on.

in Lost Bird: “We did nothing….
Like a dragon’s exhaled breath, a yawning monster, that giant sea,
The lost and tossed birds with their crooked wings, unfolding behind us.”

in Spring Along the Stone Wall: “I find an egg intact, cold and condemned:
An ancestral voice that will never speak”

in Spring Fever: “My rubber boots are thick with fresh mud
– the cloying earth swallows their choked treads.”

Awash with wonder in death and managing the beautiful confusion of living sweeps prominently through Starfish and a sweet tribute in Coming Home (for Bonnie).

Stunning imagery and phrases are delivered memorably and swiftly. They are not extravagant but strike unexpectedly, a subtle beauty within the free verse structure.

in Fenian Raid: “when an ear is only a sheltering outcrop
That masks an inner cave”

Banks is standing at the edge of the world, waving us towards the pathways that help us see things unfold in natural time, with empathy and grace.

Deborah Banks grew up in the Eastern Townships of Quebec where her love of the natural world was ignited by her surroundings. She taught English for thirty-four years and now lives in rural Nova Scotia.

  • Paperback : 76 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1989725139
  • Publisher : Pottersfield Press (June 1 2020)

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Daring, Devious, and Deadly: True Tale of Crime and Justice from Nova Scotia’s Past by Dean Jobb

Historical non-fiction can sometimes present itself as a stained parchment paper timeline of facts, the kind that is best saved for a game of trivia or a college term paper. Other times, it can deliver as a timely, fascinating excursion. In this case, Daring, Devious, and Deadly is definitely the latter as an easy, must-read work. Author Dean Jobb does an extraordinary job of winding several notorious, landmark cases in Nova Scotian history into a book that should be on every Canadian History bookstore shelf. Each tale reads as a dramatic episode of a favourite mystery or court case TV program. In part, due to the verbatim capture of dialogue that journalists recorded at the time, Jobb was able to thoroughly research and document these criminal cases as captivating stories rather than daunting historical text. A read that is hard to put down mid-tale; history is held under a page-turning microscope, not too subtly blowing the dust off Nova Scotia’ sordid, unsettling history of deceit, bloody violence, and various courtroom shenanigans.

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This book, which could serve under another apropos title of “Anglo Saxon Men Behaving Badly over Two Centuries”, opens with the sharp-tongued comedic legacy of A.B. MacGillivray, an early 20th century Cape Breton magistrate. Presiding as judge over cases resembling present-day courtroom reality tv, we are offered an initial flavour of Nova Scotia’s shifty legal system. Episode one features corrupt magistrates hastily resigning after a contentious libel case involving a victorious newspaper press. As if binge-watching Netflix, we are quickly spun into Death at the Waterloo Tavern, a suspenseful whodunit or who-done-who wrong at an 1850s brothel. 

Every tale in this book was an attention-grabbing newspaper headline. Highlights include the controversial beginnings of the Bank of Nova Scotia, featuring decades-long mismanagement and embezzlement, and how bank tellers’ fear of missing out when the PT Barnum circus came to town led to a robbery in broad daylight; mariner crimes involving mutiny, murder, and libel; gruesome homicides, the resulting prosecution, public executions, and time served; and one of the most deadly cases in Nova Scotia’s history, earning it a 100-year commemoration by Canada Post, the 1917 Halifax Explosion.

“Every tale in this book was an attention-grabbing newspaper headline.”

Given the current global climate of radical political unrest, another timely historical piece, Death at the Polls, may have you wondering if this isn’t something that could occur in the present. 

Earlier in 2020, I’d originally planned to visit a friend who recently relocated from the West Coast to Halifax, a city I’ve never travelled to before. Needless to say, with travel plans indefinitely cancelled, I am glad I had an opportunity to explore a piece of Nova Scotia’s controversial underbelly this way, perhaps fuelling a future trip with a connection I otherwise wouldn’t have considered while mindlessly traipsing down Barrington Street in Halifax. When the time comes, I will impress my dear friend with my knowledge of brothels, infernos, and hangings in her new backyard, as one does, post-pandemic. 

Dean Jobb is an award-winning writer and the author of Empire of Deception. It won the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize. Dean writes a monthly true crime column for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and he is a professor of journalism and a member of the faculty of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Program at the University of King’s College in Halifax.

  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1989725238
  • Publisher : Pottersfield Press (Sept. 21 2020)

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Pearleen Oliver: Canada’s Black Crusader for Civil Rights, Edited by Ronald Caplan

As the Black Lives Matter movement advances, there have been many, many new books released focussing on the history of slavery, segregation and outright racism that existed and still exists in Canada. This is particularly true in Atlantic Canada where many former slaves and black Loyalists sought freedom and new lives, only to face the same issues they were escaping from in the Thirteen Colonies.

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One of the literary benefits of the BLM initiative is that we are discovering our own Black leaders in our past. Viola Desmond has come to the fore, but she was never a spokesperson or advocate for desegregation in Canada, she was more a symbol of it. In a new book edited by Ronald Caplan of Breton Books, the spotlight is squarely on Pearleen Oliver, a true crusader for civil rights. She and her husband, the Reverend William P. Oliver were active in the Halifax area from the mid-thirties to Pearleen’s death in 2008 at age 91. Throughout that time, she was instrumental in getting black nursing students accepted in Halifax-area hospitals, getting Little Black Sambo out of the schools, breaking colour bars, and helping scores of young girls to pursue education and religion. Pearleen was also very active in speaking out about injustices whenever and wherever she could.

“So I was asked to go to another dinner. I went into every hotel. Went in the main door, was led in and taken to the table where I wouldn’t be allowed to sit ordinarily, and served a beautiful dinner. And I got up and told them how bad things were for my people, and I was not nervous because I was telling the same story over and over. I not only hit Nova Scotia, I hit Canada.
So, when I hear the kids today talking about racism, I just think, they don’t even know. They weren’t born, and they don’t even know what it was like. They can go into any hotel they want to go into, eat in any restaurant, live on any street they want to live. We couldn’t do that, so we had a real battle to fight.”

Mr. Caplan’s book is based on recorded interviews with Ms. Oliver, personal papers an photographs made available by her family for him to construct this informative and highly readable book. Written in the “voice” of Pearleen, it has a certain charm and the reader feels as if they are listening to her talk. There are also several glossy pages of black and white and colour photographs which are a nice touch. All in all, a very fine and informative book from a small Cape Breton publisher.

Additionally, all royalties for the book are donated by the family of Pearleen and William P. Oliver to a Pearleen Oliver memorial fund of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

About the Editor: Ronald Caplan is the publisher of Cape Breton’s Magazine 1972-1999 He is the editor and publisher of Breton Books and the author of A Stone for Andrew Dunphy. For his contribution to the preservation of Canadian culture and heritage, he has received several recognitions including an honorary degree and a scholarship in his name from Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia’s Cultural Life Award, and the Order of Canada. He serves on the Advisory Committee of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia.

  • Pearleen Oliver: Canada’s Black Crusader for Civil Rights, Edited by Ronald Caplan
  • Paperback : 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1926908813
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1926908816
  • Publisher : Breton Books (Sept. 10 2020)

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Around the Province in 88 Days by Emily Taylor Smith

Early on a May morning, a young Nova Scotia woman straps on a small backpack and leaves the Halifax Common to start her journey along the coastal roads of Nova Scotia. Planning to cover almost a marathon a day, she will walk the perimeter of the entire province in just under three months to raise awareness for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Brigadoon Children’s Camp Society. She billets with locals each night and meets countless Nova Scotians who come out to walk with her, support her project, and tell their stories.

I do likes me a bit of travel writing—whatever subgenre that may be—travel lit, travelogue, travel memoir. Naturally I consider much of it the same thing. The classification that is, not the stories, writing, or individuals involved. So when I had an opportunity to read Emily Taylor Smith’s Around the Province in 88 Days, I pounced. We were in the earliest days of lockdown, still uncertain what this pandemic, social and physical distancing truly entailed. But stockpiling reading material, and travel writing in particular, seemed prudent, in this case offering a Pacific coaster the opportunity to further explore a scenic stretch of Atlantic Canada.

It feels like Christmas Eve. I’m packed. I try to think of things I might be missing. I take my time, turn on CBC radio, and make myself a huge plate of pasta with lots of chunky sauce, and even throw in a package of spinach. Sitting on the living room rug, watching my backpack like a television set, I’m so excited that I hum and tap my feet a little with each giant mouthful. I go to bed early, knowing that when I get up at six a.m. the next morning, my backpack will be ready and waiting for me, and all I will have to do is pick it up, step out the door, and start walking Nova Scotia.

And like that (finger snap) I feel our author’s—our explorer’s—excitement. Which I want to be part of. To experience. (Apart from spinach in the pasta.) Of course, most of us know that anticipatory sensation that precedes travel in whatever form it takes—a book, movie, physical departure, or simply something imagined. Escape. Adventure. The unknown! That delicious blend of anxiety and childlike wonder—character traits of Dora we inherently possess and long to hold on to through adulthood. Yet how often can we actually tackle that endeavour—taking, in this case, three months “off” to pursue a dream? I applaud our author for the courage, commitment and conviction required to make her aspiration a reality.

Beginning in Halifax, a pair of crows appeared each day. I thought of them as “my” crows – and here they were again. I knew it was foolish, but it felt like the same two crows had been visiting me every day since I started, showing up as a pair to check on me at various points throughout the day. I decided I would let them represent loved ones who had passed away who might be there to remind me I was not alone.

“Throughout this pleasantly paced journey we’re introduced not only to our author but people she meets, shares with, listens to and befriends. This is the kind of adventure I feel we all want and need. Connections and connectivity.”

Relatable sentiments shared with sincerity. Throughout this pleasantly paced journey we’re introduced not only to our author but people she meets, shares with, listens to and befriends. This is the kind of adventure I feel we all want and need. Connections and connectivity. Set to the cadence of a long, determined walk. At times a stroll, others a demanding hike, persevering through injury, exhaustion, and occasionally questioning one’s ability to carry on.

As Smith’s story progresses, however, I’d enjoy a deeper sense of engagement. Greater personal discovery, or more revealing connections with “characters” along the way. At times I feel we’re simply sharing an ever-lengthening list of brief encounters. With an alluring trek such as this, I long for more. In other words, what did that mean to you? What was your takeaway from that experience or interaction? Perhaps this speaks to an author still seeking those answers. To which I’d say, “Say that.” If you’re uncertain of what that meant to you, then as a reader I’d like to know uncertainty is what you feel. Because we all, at times, don’t know what any of it means. This is an exceptional journey communicated admirably. I look forward to reading more from this adventurer-explorer-author, and with it, further insight and introspection.

About the Author: Emily Taylor Smith has walked the perimeters of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, the coastlines of New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula. Born in Salisbury, New Brunswick, she moved to Nova Scotia to study theatre at Acadia University, and perform with the Atlantic Theatre Festival. She is the founder of Local Tasting Tours, a culinary waking tour of Halifax. She currently lives in Dartmouth with her husband, their poodle Woody and Wilson the cat.

  • Title: Around the Province in 88 Days: One Woman, Two Pairs of Sneakers, and 3000 Kilometres of Nova Scotia Coastline
  • Author: Emily Taylor Smith
  • Publisher: Pottersfield Press, 2019
  • ISBN: 9781988286686
  • Pages: 367 pp

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