Tag Archives: nova scotia

One Who Has Been Here Before by Becca Babcock

Set on the south shore of Nova Scotia, just outside of Halifax, One Who Was Has Been Here Before by Becca Babcock is a seasonally appropriate read: mysterious, vaguely spooky, and full of emotionally complex situations. It’s very reminiscent of Gothic literature, with a strong contemporary and a very pleasing Maritime twist (for those of us who are Maritimers and devoted to reading literature set in the region).

Emma is a mature grad student at the University of Alberta, starting work on her historical auto-ethnography involving the infamous Gaugin family, who lived on a compound in rural Nova Scotia. They kept to themselves, and ultimately, the adults were all arrested for a whole host of crimes, including neglect, child abuse, incest, and sexual assault. The children were taken from their parents and put into foster care, or other situations under the care of the province. Early on in Emma’s exploration of the abandoned Gaugin compound, we learn that she was one of those children – and this journey to work on her thesis was also a journey to answer her questions about her birth family and where she came from.

“To me, the most beautifully written parts were about Emma’s mental health and the parsing of her trauma.”

Babcock was inspired by the real-life infamous Goler clan, who were very similar to the Gaugins of her novel, and alluded to in the text: Emma mentions that the raid of the Gaugin compound was inspired by crackdowns on similar families. But those looking for a lurid retelling of the life on one of those compounds will be disappointed. Babcock instead focuses on Emma’s exploration of her past and her tentative connections with those who populated it.

There are a number of “twists” in this novel; Babcock doesn’t give away much at the beginning, though as we get to know Emma and her topic area, the twists are very easy to spot and guess. To me, the most beautifully written parts were about Emma’s mental health and the parsing of her trauma. Babcock writes these with such tenderness and a keen understanding of the pain of anxiety and depression.

Overall, while this was a novel that was easy to figure out before all the pieces had been revealed, it was compelling and sensitive. I was drawn into Emma’s journey of study and self-exploration, and even enjoyed a giggle at the fictional University of Nova Scotia, a clear stand-in for Dalhousie University, down to a description of the library that matches the Killam Memorial Library. And while the novel was not particularly spooky, story-wise, Babcock created a brilliantly dark, strange, and foreboding atmosphere throughout. An excellent fall read!


Rebecca Babcock is an award-winning writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Alberta and a PhD from Dalhousie University. She often worries about being asked for medical help and having to explain she’s not that kind of doctor. She has previously published a short story collection, Every Second Weekend, and her fiction has appeared in literary magazines in Canada and abroad. One Who Has Been Here Before is her first novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vagrant Press (April 12 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 280 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771089296
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771089296

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  

UnSpoken Truth by Angela Bowden

The truth will not stay buried. This is what I hope we’ve all learned throughout this summer of uncovering violent, racist truths in Canada. We cannot have reconciliation without truth, and we cannot move forward without reconciliation. Truth means acknowledging the ugliness of our past and present. It means understanding the systems put in place to oppress and dehumanize racialized groups of people. How can we change if we don’t acknowledge what happened—what continues to happen—because of these systems? Angela Bowden’s poetry collection UnSpoken Truth addresses all of these concerns. Her poems demonstrate the importance of truth, remembrance, and resistance with a particular focus on uncovering the truths about the Black experience in Atlantic Canada. 

“The poems in UnSpoken Truth are often raw in tone and content and engage directly with Black issues in Canada.”

Bowden uses rhythm expertly in her poetry—I could sense her roots as a spoken-word artist in the rhythm of poems like “Responsibility Resist” and “A Home From a Shack”, which demand to be read aloud to truly experience the rolling sense of the rhyme. Other poems like “Scented Seasons” draw the reader into a three-dimensional world, asking us to use our senses of smell and touch to experience the vibrancy of the poem. I love poetry that takes me off the page by inciting the use of all my senses and I enjoyed letting Bowden’s language draw me in.  

The poems in UnSpoken Truth are often raw in tone and content and engage directly with Black issues in Canada (and in Atlantic Canada, more specifically). Although the truths of racism are imperative to understand and acknowledge, these truths can weigh heavy; as Bowden expresses in the poem “Sigh”, “I am exhausted from picking up the pieces of your hate” (60). 

A strong sense of community runs through all of the poems in the collection. Bowden not only explores her own experiences as a Black Nova Scotian today, but she also reaches back through the years, capturing the traumatic experiences of her parents and grandparents, and connecting these histories to the larger history of African enslavement in Canada—a truth that many contemporary Canadians don’t even realize (and many would rather ignore). Bowden’s poetry is always connected to the past, showing how history informs the present, how it shapes who we are, and how the knowing truth of the past can help us step into ourselves more fully.   

Bowden’s strong voice and clear sense of purpose in this collection make it accessible and vital: all the poems are tied together by a need for a complete understanding of Black history in Atlantic Canada and an understanding of resilience and resistance as a way forward. In UnSpoken Truth, Bowden shows she is not only an eloquent poet but a capable teacher and dedicated activist who serves her community by uncovering hidden truths and remembering important histories that must not be lost to time.  


TEDx speaker, writer, and activist, Angela Bowden is a descendent of the stolen Africans sold through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Angela’s roots were preserved through the Black Loyalists arriving in Birchtown, migrating to Guysborough County, and later moving to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, where she was born and raised.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pottersfield Press (April 6 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989725392
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989725399

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca 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: https://amzn.to/3fADYBu Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Rachel Fernandes
Some 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 Amazon.ca 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: https://amzn.to/3x9l5vG

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 Amazon.ca 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: https://amzn.to/3dFxG2B Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Images of the Keji Country by Don Pentz

From an SSP press release

Don Pentz’s Images of the Keji Country illuminates the pristine beauty of Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park and pays homage to the Mi’kmaq’s sacred ground.

June 14, 2021 (HALIFAX, NS) – Just released is Donald R. Pentz’s latest book, Images of the Keji Country. The book’s collection of gorgeous watercolours and black and white petroglyph paintings serves, in part, as a commentary on the painting process, with folksy journal notes from a veteran backwoods adventurer.

This collection of images – watercolour sketches executed “en plein air”, studio oil paintings and ink and acrylic petroglyph paintings describe a vast nature retreat that was formerly a native hunting and fishing ground – hallowed territory that the artist shows extreme reverence for.

Pentz’s history with Kejimkujik, a 380 sq. km. tract in the interior of the southwest end of the province and the National Park that was founded in 1968, goes back almost 60 years – as a woodsman, naturalist, park interpreter and artist. He has explored and sketched its farthest reaches and has developed a profound understanding and respect for its physical and spiritual place.

“Stars are not only in the sky but also at my feet—reflections of them shimmering on the mirror-image calm of the lake. Even my billy tin of freshly dipped water for tea holds a few stars. I shall drink them with my tea and then, giving thanks, stir the campfire to send a shower of sparks skyward to replace the stars I’d swallowed. And straight above me, a distant silver pinpoint of light streaking unerringly across the sequined sky.”

Don Pentz

Images of the Keji Country will be available in Nova Scotia bookstores on June 21, 2021 or online via SSP Publications (www.sspub.ca) or www.amazon.ca.

  • ISBN 978-1-989347-09-6
  • 10” x 8”, PB, colour,
  • 136 pages

Donald Pentz is a Nova Scotia artist (oils, watercolours, acrylics) currently residing in Halifax. Graduating with a Fine Arts degree from Mount Allison University in 1966, he later completed a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Regina (1979). That was followed by a bursary to take part in a special six-week painting program at the Banff School of Fine Arts. A recipient of Canada Council and Nova Scotia Arts grants, his work has been exhibited in galleries across Canada and as far afield as China, England, Cuba, France, Japan and the United States. Pentz has been exhibiting his work since 1967 and is an elected member of the Royal Academy of the Arts (R.C.A.) and the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour (C.S.P.W.C.).
A segment of Pentz’s art career was spent working as a zoological illustrator for the Museum of Natural History in Ottawa, drawing everything from massive dinosaur bones to minuscule sand fleas (amphipods). After a two-year stint in Ottawa, Pentz moved back to Nova Scotia in 1970 and eventually worked as a naturalist/interpreter for Kejimkujik National Park and then as an illustrator/naturalist for the Nova Scotia Dept. of Lands and Forests. His paintings can be seen in over thirty corporate and university collections as well as numerous private collections. In 2007, he was inducted into the Visual Arts Nova Scotia Honour Roll.
Still active as an exhibiting artist, Don continues to go out on solo canoe trips to paint on location.

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca 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: https://amzn.to/2U43DLa Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: SSP Publications
Some Rights Reserved  

Poor Farm by Ronan O’Driscoll

“I took to walking with my son Martin. He is autistic and needs a lot of outside activity. On one of our outings, we came upon a grove of wooden crosses, the only remains of a 19th-century Nova Scotia poor farm for the “harmlessly insane”. This was the spark that turned into Poor Farm. My second novel is an attempt to imagine what life would be like for somebody like Martin, at that time.” (Excerpt from an Irish Times article by Ronan O’Driscoll)

Inspiration for a novel can happen at the unlikeliest of times in the most random places. Similar to the finding of mass graves near Residential schools, the so-called “Poor Farms” and “Poor Houses” have burial sites of their former residents (or inmates). Those relegated to such places were deemed “harmlessly insane”, “paupers” as well as those escaping a past life with nowhere else to go. The author wonders how his son would have been treated on such a farm, which led him to write this historical novel.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

Poor Farm is the story of several people from the strata of society as it existed in Halifax in the late 1800s. There are those on the city council who wish to put the city’s indigent to work on farms outside of the city. Then there are those who are placed in such institutions because the family cannot care for them, or they have run away from an abusive home. Then there are those tasked with running the farm who are given inadequate funds by the city and must continually deal with all sorts of residents with special needs. One can feel the exasperation of the farm’s caretakers.

Poor Farm was a gratifying read, despite the many trials, abuses, and government meddling that takes place. As historical fiction, it is quite good, and if there is anything negative to say about Poor Farm is that it suffers from a few too many characters and the subsequent changing of scenes, which works well in a visual medium, but in a printed work, can make some characters unclear to the reader, if not a little confusing at times. However, this is a book that needed to be written, and Nova Scotia’s Moose House Publications has performed a great service by publishing it.

Originally from the West of Ireland, Ronan O’Driscoll lived in Chicago, Dublin and Japan before settling in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with his wife and children. A software developer and educator, he has always enjoyed writing. His first novel, Chief O’Neill, pays homage to his love of history and traditional Irish music.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Moose House Publications (April 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1777293782
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1777293789

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca 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: https://amzn.to/3wywF3K Thanks! 

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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The Emily Taylor Smith Interview

Emily Taylor Smith grew up in Salisbury, New Brunswick, taking her first wooded hikes in the southeastern part of the province and learning about nature from her father, an avid writer, gardener and trapper. She developed a love of long-distance coastal hiking as a young woman and has now walked the coastal roads of all three Maritime provinces: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, as well as the Gaspé peninsula. She raised money for the Diabetes Association by walking 100 kilometres in 19 hours from Halifax to Truro. Emily moved to Nova Scotia to attend university at Acadia and performed on stage with the Atlantic Theatre Festival for four seasons. She wrote three short plays which were produced in Halifax. Later, she founded Local Tasting Tours, a culinary walking tour in the HRM, and wrote briefly for the Local Connections Halifax magazine. Her book Around the Province in 88 Days was published by Pottersfield Press in 2019. Emily lives in Dartmouth Nova Scotia with her husband Darren and their three pets, Woody, Weslie and Wilson.

MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

I remember being intrigued by Dennis Lee’s rhyming poetry as a child, and I was fascinated with every one of L.M. Montgomery’s characters. My fifth grade teacher, Arthur Crooks, gave us short writing assignments and showered me with encouragement about my poetry especially.

Bartibog Bridge, NB (Author photo)

MR: Your first book, Around the Province in 88 Days was, as our reviewer put it, “the kind of adventure I feel we all want and need. Connections and connectivity.” Can you comment on that? What was the reaction to your book?

When I mapped and planned my hike around Nova Scotia I needed places to stay and also wanted to get people involved, so I arranged billets and invited walkers to join me along the route. As I was writing the book I realized the theme was really about the connection I had made with so many supportive Nova Scotians whom I met and learned about on the trip. After I got home, it became very clear that the connection I had made with those people and with nature had truly changed me. The most common reaction I had to the book was people telling me it had inspired them to take trips and explore their province.

MR: Now let’s move on to your newest book, No Thanks, I Want to Walk: Two Months on Foot Around New Brunswick and the Gaspé which is about your travels around New Brunswick and the beautiful Gaspé region of Quebec. Tell us, what do you see as the differences and similarities between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick? (I’m thinking of landscapes, the people, the roads, etc.)

I planned this second journey as a completely different type of excursion because I knew how solitary it would be, camping alone. To avoid trespassing, I asked permission to set up my tent on private land each night and had the same warm and helpful interactions as I had in Nova Scotia. I underestimated how much more challenging it would be to carry more weight and walk farther each day on this trip, and my pace had slowed since my Nova Scotia walk. Rediscovering familiar locations in New Brunswick which I had visited as a child was a moving experience, and walking through the Gaspé was like being on a different continent. I recommend that everyone take the time to explore that extraordinary, mountainous coastal route.

MR: So much of Northern and Central NB is all forests, with no access other than logging roads, which I imagine you avoided. What was the loneliest part of your journeys around those areas?

I walked the length of Kouchibouguac Park in one day, doing a sort of zig-zag out to Kelly Beach; for the last several hours I saw nothing but forest and was exhausted and even frightened by dusk. There were hours at a time on the north shore of the Gaspé when I followed a narrow road with sheer cliffs to my left and the ocean to my right (and nowhere to use the washroom). One of the things I love about following the secondary coastal roads in the Maritimes is coming upon small communities perched along the water. I never walked too far before finding a cheerfully painted house or some folk art.

Loggieville, NB (Author Photo)

MR: Do you have a favorite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?

Every few years I pick up one of the L.M.Montgomery books which I have read so many times before and thoroughly enjoy it all over again. I am a great fan of Eckhart Tolle and often re-read his books and get something new each time. Otherwise, I feel there is not enough time on this earth to read all the books I want to read, and I’m always finding new ones.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

I find myself fascinated by people who have had solitary and spiritual experiences in nature like John Muir, Peace Pilgrim, Henry David Thoreau. I recently read Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell and would love to talk to him and learn more about his isolated life with otters in Northern Scotland. I want to know what it felt like and what went through his head as he spent months alone with the wildlife on the desolate coast.

MR: What are you working on now? Walking around PEI? Newfoundland and Labrador?

I have my eye on a series of well-developed coastal hiking trails in Wales. I read an article about them years ago in a travel magazine and had an immediate emotional response to the photographs. I would also love to explore the coastal roadways in a circular route around the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, and I understand there are a number of popular trails there as well. My husband is not keen on my taking another long hike all by myself so I plan to bring my cousin Janet along, who walked a full day with me near Chester when I hiked Nova Scotia.

MR: For all that walking, what type (brand) of shoe do you prefer?

For me, a good, light running sneaker is ideal for long hikes. I have used New Balance and Asics and found them both fine. SmartWool socks are also key for breathability.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?

You should have asked, “What do you like to do when you are not writing or walking?” I am definitely at my happiest when I find time for those. I enjoy cooking for others, watching really good films and theatre, and I love studying languages and literature and hope to do more of it one day. I’m a people person too, and love discussing life, art, love and spirituality with good friends.

MR: Finally, tell us an interesting fact about yourself!

I studied classical piano for ten years. I also think it’s interesting that the people in my family had children relatively late, and my grandfather was actually born in 1895!

Photo credit of Emily Taylor Smith: Michelle Doucette

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

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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: https://amzn.to/3f64NhL Thanks! 

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The Speed of Mercy by Christy Ann Conlin

Structure. Architecture. Let’s start there. The firmness of it all. The stern lines and sharp corners of Victorian brickwork, perhaps, and the imposing towers and staggered batwings of Dr Kirkbride’s asylums. Kirkbride’s ideas of healing architecture govern the thinking of a male character who seeks something there: perhaps peace and meaning.

What structures The Speed of Mercy? Water, perhaps: currents and tides, how water is timeless, how water can drown and save. The currents and tides feel more organic than the potentially stern lines and sharp corners of beginning-middle-end, which is not to say there’s no momentum. Far from it. Conlin rides tides and weaves webs to support her themes of women and girls out of time, and outside time, to ask “Where are their voices?”

A quick synopsis, quick because I am not interested in repeating plot summaries in reviews: Stella Sprague is institutionalized in rural Nova Scotia and has not spoken for most of her adult life. She seems at peace – if a peace derived from drugs and routine. One day, a young woman called Mal turns up, asking difficult questions.

Conlin is working on several levels at once in The Speed of Mercy. Its gothic atmosphere initially feels familiar, even strangely comforting, like a cardigan. One may soon get too warm. Conversely – or perhaps not –  it also feels like a cool parlour on a hot day, the sort Flannery O’Connor might invite you into and then guide you to confront terrible truths. The title of Conlin’s novel is a nod to O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away, but Conlin is no imitator. Her voice is solid, strong, and entirely her own.

I expect some of the novel’s metafictional conversations flew over my head, perhaps those with Elizabeth Bishop and Maud Lewis; I don’t know their work well. No doubt The Speed of Mercy will reward re-reading and study.

“With a timeline not so much disrupted as tidal, Conlin guides us to terrible truths.”

I said earlier that Conlin’s narrative technique supports her themes of control, trauma, violation, and voice, and this is something we don’t see enough of in what gets called Canadian literary fiction, where so often it’s linear realism as a matter of course, with little apparent thought as to how and why linear realism works. With a timeline not so much disrupted as tidal, Conlin guides us to terrible truths. Yet there is no nihilism here, no giving in to horror and thereby accepting it with a shrug, no succumbing to the mindset that intentional and unjust power, however menacing, is immutable.

I could guess Stella and Cynthia’s trauma long before Conlin revealed it. That is not a weakness in Conlin’s writing; it is part of her theme. I am not surprised by the trauma. Appalled, yes, and sickened – but not surprised, and there lies the tragedy. Conlin does not wallow in tragedy. She recognizes it, recognition in the sense that William Gaddis uses, and that Flannery O’Connor practises: revelation and acknowledgement. Her characters are not to be pitied but honoured. Once we recognize tragedy and trauma, we can start to heal – and that’s how hope, a driving force behind any storytelling, weaves the novel together.

CHRISTY ANN CONLIN is the author of two acclaimed novels, Heave and The Memento. She is also the author of the short fiction collection Watermark, which was a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, The Miramichi Reader’s “The Very Best!” Book Award, and the Forest of Reading Evergreen Award. She was born and raised in seaside Nova Scotia, where she still resides.

  • Publisher : House of Anansi Press (March 23 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 384 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1487003404
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1487003401

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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

*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: https://amzn.to/38icVHx Thanks!

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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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