The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

How N.S. symbolizes yearning of the times

- JOHN DEMONT @Ch_coalblackh­rt John Demont is a columnist for The Chronicle Herald.

“When it's mentioned in mainstream North American media,” Alexandra L. Montgomery, wrote recently, in the Journal of the History of Ideas, “Nova Scotia tends to be invoked as a kind of almost-mythical, impossibly remote place; a northern maritime Timbuktu.”

I tend to agree.

“When my wife and I told people we were going to Nova Scotia to hike, many seemed mystified,” someone named David Taylor wrote in the Washington Post five years ago. “The province is not very big, and their mental picture was of a placid landscape on a peninsula better known for high tides than high hills.”

In 2017 when Trump's ascent left many Americans considerin­g fleeing to Nova Scotia, the same paper described Cape Breton, for four or five months a year, being “a place with short days, frigid temperatur­es and icy sidewalks, where people play backyard hockey or gather in little bars and doughnut shops.”

More recently again, the New York Times, in its coverage of the Portapique massacre, referred to Nova Scotia, parentheti­cally, as a place “normally equated with stunning beauty and smoked salmon,” and in a New York Times Style Magazine piece about the architect Omar Gandhi, it called “wind-swept” Cape Breton “a glove-shaped appendage separated from Nova Scotia's main peninsula by the narrow Strait of Canso.”

Bits and pieces of the above reportage are absolutely true. But that is not the point of Montgomery's intriguing essay.

The point is that since the Europeans have been arriving here — and particular­ly during the decades around the Seven Years' War, which ran from 1756 to 1763 — “rather than an isolated fantasy land, colonial planners saw Nova Scotia as a blank space ripe for transforma­tion: the perfect canvas for imperial fantasies.”

In about 2,000 words, Montgomery, a postdoctor­al fellow in the digital history and cartograph­y of the American Revolution­ary War Era at Mount Vernon, shows us how the province has always laboured under a narrative imposed by others, hints of which can be found in the early settler names for the place, Acadia, derived from Arcadia, which implies a place of pastoral beauty, and Nova Scotia, Latin for New Scotland which she rightly describes as “a short-lived Scottish colonial venture which was over nearly as soon as it began.”

Nova Scotia, she points out, has been, at various times, “a nearly unpreceden­ted experiment in British colonizati­on,” which involved the settling of Halifax, and the arrival of the French protestant­s from Germany and France, and for the briefest of periods, in the aftermath of the American Revolution, the “envy of the American states” as the New England Planters immigrated here to take up lands left vacant by the expulsion of the Acadians.

Nova Scotia's role as the culminatio­n of the aspiration­al dreams of others has diminished, but never quite disappeare­d. My sense is that more recent immigrants from the Netherland­s and Germany have been drawn to Nova Scotia by the kind of natural splendour and wide open spaces not available back in Europe.

Montgomery's parents were part of the 1980s influx who followed the Tibetan monk and meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche when he decided to move the westernize­d Buddhist community he founded from Boulder, Colo., to a less aggressive and materialis­tic place, which, he felt was Nova Scotia.

A couple of years ago, in the Broad Cove Community Centre, on the South Shore, I met an older gentleman wearing an anti-trump pin who told me that he and his wife were Americans who had arrived in Nova Scotia decades ago, while hoping to flee their country during the Nixon years. They had spent a chunk of the year here ever since.

Trump's rise meant that folks once again fell half in love with the idea of Nova Scotia — an unsullied, East Coast Canadian Brigadoon, with cheap real estate, where they still get decent balsamic vinegar at the grocery store — even if they actually did not know much about this province. (The prevailing theme of the aforementi­oned Washington Post Cape Breton story, for example, was puzzlement.)

Now, COVID-19 has again raised our currency in the eyes of the world. After all, compared to so many other provinces this is a place with a government that believes in science and a Department of Health that has decided that wiping out a pandemic matters more than citizens' ability to shop.

In Nova Scotia, with some semblance of virtual work here to stay, it is possible to toil in a work space overlookin­g something other than a canyon of concrete and glass, and then, at day's end, walk out the door of a house bigger than a garden shed into a community where there is room to breath.

We seem, once again, emblematic of the yearnings of the times. We are as we have so often been: one thing to ourselves, another to the outside world which sees in this province what, at a particular moment in time, it needs to see.

 ?? RYAN TAPLIN • THE CHRONICLE HERALD ?? The Halifax skyline is seen from King’s Wharf in Dartmouth.
RYAN TAPLIN • THE CHRONICLE HERALD The Halifax skyline is seen from King’s Wharf in Dartmouth.
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