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Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter III New Scotland’s Characteristic


One finds it difficult, briefly by means of analogy, to describe this peninsula of New Scotland. Yet it may not unfairly be compared to Old Scotland. Many of the features of the land are the same, nor is the climate unlike. But when we come to the human element we have no difficulty at all. Mixed as the population is, the Scots predominate. The late Lieutenant-Governor was a Fraser. The present holder of the office is a Macgregor, the Premier is a Murray, the Acting-Premier and Attorney-General is a Maclean, the Mayor of Halifax is a Chisholm. The Frasers, Macdonalds, M'Gillivrays, Wallaces, and M‘Inneses furnish forth the bench, the bar, journalism, and the learned professions; and it is perhaps needless to tell you that the Scot here, as elsewhere in Canada, more than holds his own —"and maybe that of other folk”— in the commercial world.

But this is not saying enough about New Scotland considered as a transatlantic habitation and hunting-ground of the Old Scot. Here are still Gaelic communities where the Sassenach tongue is not heard. On the eve of the American Revolution a tide of emigration had set in from the old Scotland to the new, the first to arrive being a shipload of Highlanders in 1773. For many years, despite the terrible conditions of an ocean passage in those days, the tide flowed on. Emigrants, in the old days, were forced to spend weeks or even months on the voyage, pent like cattle in ships frequently infected by small-pox and scurvy.

Some 25,000 Scottish peasants settled on Cape Breton Island alone, while numbers landed on the shores of Northumberland Strait, in the counties now known as Pictou and Antigonish. Their hardships were not over when they landed; but with indomitable pluck they persevered until they had carved homes for themselves out of the forest.

From one end of the peninsula to the other the cemetries are filled with the tombs of the Frasers and the Macdonalds, the Macleans and the M‘Nabs. At Shelburne, that “dead city” of the Loyalists, I copied out a lengthy inscription on a granite stone to a Loyalist heroine:

THE WIFE OF JOHN MACLEAN
WHO DIED 28TH MARCH, 1791, AGED 32 YEARS

She left her native country, Scotland, and numerous friends and companions, to follow the fortunes of her husband during the war with America in 1780. And when New York became no longer an asyium to loyalty, she joined him again on the rugged shore of Nova Scotia as an affectionate and faithful wife, a cheerful and social friend, humane and charitable, and pious as became a good Christian.

Another elsewhere oddly records that: “Here lies Angus M‘Donald and his five sons, who lived ever on the side of the King, and died on this side of the Ocean.’’

No; New Scotland is no misnomer, and the Patron Saint of the Province is—and may it long continue to be— St. Andrew.

Although the Scots thus prevail, the other inhabitants of the Province are an eighteenth century mixture of the Old and New Worlds, and of the four great European races. Cape Breton and the eastern part of the peninsula is Scotch, the extreme west is French-Acadian, there is a settlement of Germans in the middle, and the rest of the population, save for a small sprinkling of aboriginal Micmacs, are English --the fruit of the Loyalist immigration from America.

Nova Scotia, which is connected with the North American Continent by a narrow isthmus, lies roughly within the same degrees north latitude as the territory between the Pyrenees and Lake Geneva. It is 360 miles long, with an average breadth of 65 miles, and covers an area of 20,900 square miles, i.e., over two thirds that of Scotland. No part of the entire peninsula is more than thirty miles from the sea. The surface of the country is very undulating, though not mountainous, the highest ridge not being 1200 feet in height. Yet the Province boasts several of these ridges or chains of hills, to which it gives the name of mountains, generally running parallel to its length. Its picturesqueness is chiefly attributable to its numerous and beautiful lakes, its harbours dotted with islands, its rivers and streams, and a pleasing variety of highland and valley. Looked at from the Atlantic side, the country seems barren and rocky.

The seaward coast of the Province has been likened to a granite wall, indented by innumerable bays, fiords, and inlets. Wide and sandy beaches sweep gradually towards the firm soil, from headland to headland; quaint and quiet fishing villages and hamlets underlie the rocks, sentinelled by countless islands along the coast. At every point, too, history and legend are here to throw a mantle over the scene—to mingle its rays with those of the sun and moon. Here are tales of French and English adventure, of Indian raid, storm, wreck, of buccaneers and buried treasure, all the way from Cape North to Cape Sable. But if the Atlantic shore is seemingly sterile and iron-bound, bearing in this respect a striking resemblance to the east coast of Old Scotland, it is far otherwise with the interior. The peach and the grape ripen in the open air, and the growth of maize and root crops might well excite the envy of a farmer in Perthshire or Elgin. Even in those districts where the scorched and leafless stems of giant pines rear their arms upward as if in appeal to Heaven, if the traveller will leave the railway and penetrate to the land beneath, he will see a vegetation almost rank, of raspberry, wild rhododendron, alder and crimson sumach, telling of the fertility of the soil. Where the surface is not fertile, the riches are beneath, in the form of coal, iron, gypsum, and other minerals: but there are few parts of the Province where grass suitable for sheep and cattle raising does not abound.

Then when we get on the North, or “Fundy Side” of the peninsula, we meet the broad alluvial plains, intersected by tortuous rivers or indented by wide and crooked basins, floored with red mud which the ebb-tide reveals, as though each were a ruddy gash in the bosom of Mother Earth. This is the land of the monstrous Fundy tides, whose high-mounting, foaming “bore," or tidal wave, sweeps irresistibly shoreward, making the smallest creeks to fill like turbulent rivers, but met and baffled along the low-lying shore by the “dykes” which were first reared by the Norman peasants three centuries ago, reclaiming the rich marsh land from the salt tide, and only here and there permitting the fertilising ocean to trickle in at certain seasons to reinvigorate the soil. Here is situated, too, that “hundred miles of apple-blossoms,’’ otherwise known as the Annapolis Valley, sheltered, between the North and South Mountains, and also the famous marshes of Tantramar.

At the other and eastern end of this peninsula stands Cape Breton Island, a province in itself, cut off by the Strait of Causo, one of the most picturesque of regions, itself reversing, as has been said, the definition of an island, inasmuch as it is land surrounding a body of water. That golden arm of the sea—the Bras d’Or lakes—nearly divides the land into two halves—both rich in the natural diversifications of hill and dale, crag and fell, forest and moor, and runy streams and islets.

Everywhere are the shores indented, often to the extent of several miles, with harbours, rivers, coves, and bays, usually connecting with the interior waters. The loftiest cliffs, about 500 feet high, lie on the coast between Mahone and Margaret’s Bay, and is generally the first land descried by voyagers from Europe or the West Indies. From the summit of Ardoise Hill, between Halifax and Windsor, which is 700 feet high, one may command a prospect of Windsor, Falmouth, Newport, Wolfeville, and the basin of Minas country. Further on to the west are the Horton Mountains, running nearly north and south, and twenty miles beyond begins another chain of hills, traversing east and west, the North Mountain and the South Mountain, the former of which is washed by the Bay of Fundy. Between these two ridges lie the fertile Annapolis and Cornwallis valleys.

To the great inequality of the surface of the soil is due the prevalence of so many lakes, the largest in the peninsula being Rossignol, twenty miles from Liverpool up the Mersey River. There used to be a great uncertainty concerning the dimensions of this inland lake—which Haliburton thought was thirty miles long; but it is now known to be twelve mites in length by eight broad. The difficulty seems to have arisen by confusing it with adjoining lakes, of which there are numerous others in the vicinity. About Yarmouth, at the southern extremity of the Province, there are no fewer than eighty; while, as to Cape Breton Island, the whole interior of the southern half is one vast lake. A chain of lakes almost crosses the Province between Halifax and Cobequid Bay, suggesting many years ago a junction by canal. A company was formed and work begun, but nothing came of it. Another such chain nearly unites the source of the Gaspereaux in King’s Country with that of Gold River in Lunenburg. Many of these thousand and one lakes which bejewel the entire interior of New Scotland are of great beauty, containing timbered islands, whose foliage, together with that of the surrounding hills, is most variegated and attractive, especially in autumn, when the scarlet of the maple, the yellow of the birch and gradations of green of the oak, elm, and pine, present a truly gorgeous spectacle. Even in winter, when the ground is covered with snow, the presence of enormous numbers of evergreens is an agreeable feature of the landscape in most parts of the Province. There are, however, others, which are either stony and barren, or boggy, or where the forest has been the prey of fire. In the latter parts, the “burnt lands,” the tall dead trees remain upright, black and forbidding, the picture of desolation. But in these cases, although it is a long time, owing to the fire having destroyed the soil and the seeds within it, before a new growth appears, yet this is easily afforested or converted into good arable land. The arable lands, in spite of all that has been done to foster agriculture, still remain only a fraction of the total cultivable part of New Scotland, and these are chiefly confined as yet to the vicinity of the rivers, harbours, and coasts, and the oldest townships. In these, however, the aspect is luxuriant, extensive, and various, reminding one here of the Scottish lowlands, there of Kent or Devonshire, in respect of cultivation and picturesqueness. Even the hedgerow's, unknown in America, occasionally greet the eye.

New Scotland is divided into counties, which are themselves parcelled into districts and townships. The Scottish origin and element, I am bound to say, do not come out very strong in the names of these counties, such as Halifax, Sydney, Cumberland, Hants, King’s, Lunenburg, Liverpool, Shelburne, &c., albeit there are some Scottish names in the districts and townships.

When all is said of the products of New Scotland, of “BLUE-NOSE” PRIDE her coal, her iron, her fish, and her fruit, it still remains that her chief and most notable product is that which is Old Scotland’s proudest boast—her men. Is it that a seafaring folk are always superior to those who are bred far inland? Is it that there is a wider outlook, a sense of vicissitude and adventure for the people, who are in touch with that vast, restless flood, itself touching far-off climes and changing zones? Who is they do not sail a ship themselves or battle with storm and breaker, only with the men who do, who know what it is to grapple with a wreck, what the cry of the widows and orphans of a lost crew is like? Surely this must breed a stronger soul: or is it, as a Manitoban hinted to me when acknowledging the intellectual superiority of the Nova Scotians, that to a fish diet must be ascribed that which for a century has been so manifest in the history of British North America?

Proud is New Scotland of the men who have sprung from her loins. This cherishing of the memory of their worthy forerunners is perhaps the most marked characteristic of Nova Scotians to-day, the one in which this people differs in spirit from their neighbours.

The term “Blue-nose,” long a current one applied to the Nova Scotians, brings me to the New York and New England irruption into the Province at the period of the American Revolution. As is now widely conceded, the best blood of the American Colonies—the oldest, the wealthiest, and the best educated—were United Empire Loyalists.

Amongst the “True Blues,” the pioneers of Shelburne, was Gideon White, of Salem, descended from the first white child, Peregrine White, born in New England. To-day, Gideon’s grandson, an able lawyer of charming manners, lives in Shelburne, and courteously showed me many of the interesting family papers he still possesses. Shelburne is now a small village, but its spacious, grass-grown streets, its Governor’s mansion, its thickly strewn churchyard, tell the tale of its past glory. But although the “True Blues” left Shelburne, they scattered themselves through the Province, and there are hundreds of families who trace their ancestry back to the Pilgrim Fathers. “You can see they’re ‘True Blue’” said a Yankee derisively. “Now they’ve gone to live in such a cold country as Nova Scotia they carry their colours in the middle of their faces!” And so the epithet “Blue-nose” stuck, although it is difficult to say why the nasal appendages of Nova Scotians should be of a more azure tint than those which are blown by the pocket-handkerchiefs of the New England folk--since the climate is about the same- if anything, less rigorous in the peninsula.

“Blue-nose,” as I have already hinted, has long been a synonym for sloth amongst the Yankees; but now we hear of Blue-nose booms, Blue-nose “boosters,” and Blue-nose hustlers. The “Flying Blue-nose” express, which runs from the Boston docks at Digby to Halifax, might easily give points to many American express trains, besides itself furnishing proof that the term “Blue-nose” is as acceptable to the New Scotlanders as Yankee is to the New Englanders, through whose less fertile homesteads the “Filing Yankee” rushes.

Before me as I write is a placard redolent of the new spirit, which is mingling with, yet not destroying the old:—

“BOOST" NOVA SCOTIA!

Do YOU believe that Nova Scotia, acre for acre, is the equal of any other Province of Canada?

Do YOU believe that Nova Scotians, man for man, are the. equal in intelligence, industry, and ability, of any of the other inhabitants of this planet?

If so, lend a hand and “boost” Nova Scotia!

“Every town, every county,” remarks a Nova Scotia writer, “cherishes traditions of its old famiiies, its first settlers; of the pious missionary, the minister who gave half his scanty income to redeem the slave; the adventurous sea-captain, whose life reads like one of Smollett’s novels; the man who settled half a county; the evangelist who stirred the souls of men; the founder of the first academy; the man who first resisted the insolence of office; the loyalist who lost all for his dog.”

The Nova Scotians have, more than any other people, been helped to this self-continence, this habit of reverence, by their comparative isolation, by the fact that so many of her sons went out and so few newcomers entered, by there being no destructive spirit of unrest abroad, no substitution of cheaper ideals. No Province in Canada, I had almost written no nation in Canada—for is not this the day of small and separate nationalities?—where memories of the past are sweeter—where yesterday has a magic that to-day can never impart. Far be it from me to deride this sentiment; but as my eye glances down the columns of the Nova Scotian newspapers, I find here and there an insistence upon men and events that belong to yesterday, indeed, rather than to the day before yesterday; which must strike the folk of an older civilisation as very odd. Thus in an Amherst paper I find the following:

OLD BAGATELLE BOARD A Relic of the Early Eighties found in the Academy Garret when the old Academy on Acadia Street was being turn down some years ago, a rude bagatelle board was found away up among the rafters. The finders were mystified, and there was only one of the “Old Boys” in town who could throw light on its existence although, since that time the maker of the board has taken up his residence in Amherst. We refer to Will Casey who taught the class in electricity in our technical school so successfully last winter. Even in boyhood he was a mechanical genius, and the bagatelle board was not his first piece of manual work. Will brought the board to school one morning long before the arrival of the teachers. A ladder was put up to the manhole in the ceiling, the board taken up and the ladder after it. There were four boys late for school that morning. More than one game was played up among the dust and cobwebs. “Len” Wheaton, now a well-known engineer, became an expert; “Hae” Gaetz, son of Rev. Joseph Gaetz, would occasionally take a hand in the game, and a long-limbed chap from Doherty Creek, who now adorns a New York pulpit, was, if we mistake not, once admitted into the sacred precincts of the old garret. There were others too, all scattered abroad, but we would like to see them home this year to talk over some of the episodes of our school life in the early eighties.

All this might have appeared in a Maidstone or Peebles paper, only it would there be descriptive of something which happened in 1830, not in 1880. Here anything that happened a century ago is antiquity indeed, while an occurrence of two or three centunes since is like something before Noah’s Ark. i.e., the Mayflower.

There are some people who never experience a sense of the insignificance of time—of what is called the ages. We all know men of ninety—some of us know centenarians. Twenty such lives and we are back at the beginning of the Christian era—even five such lives as Lord Strathcona’s, and Columbus had not discovered the New World. But those who do not experience this sense of the real modernity of antiquity, turn their eyes back upon a world of awfulness and mystery, as well as of poetry and beauty. The shortest journey of the memory or the imagination backward is bordered by shadows and by dreams. Men and scenes are not the men and scenes we know, but something quite other and heroic. And the best of it is, it may be so. We can by no means reconcile our knowledge of the world to-day with what has come down to us of that world dead and buried even these hundred years. That is where our poetical faith comes in —our refusal to measure the people and customs of long ago by the psychological yard-stick of this our time. We refuse to see in Champlain, Lescarbot, and Poutrincourt, only the seventeenth century equivalent of Mr. Nansen, Dr. Grenfell, and Commander Peary, people who, in spite of their heroic achievements, are surely prosaic folk.

Something of the glamour of the past is already falling upon the figure of Joseph Howe—Nova Scotia’s great hero. Nova Scotians speak of Howe as Americans speak of Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the Province, in the towns, the villages, and the countryside, you will find plenty of old men who remember “Joe” Howe in the flesh, who exchanged greetings with the “patriot, poet, and orator,” who, maybe, held his horse, or fetched him a draught, not, I fear, often from the village pump, but from the village inn, and who, and whose descendants, bear him the same measure of affection which in Ontario is accorded to Sir “John A”—Canada’s first Premier, the gifted, wayward, prescient Macdonald. At Truro, two old cronies stood beside the “Joe Howe” falls—a picturesque cataract in the woods of the public park. “Fluent, eh, Tom?” “Oh, aye, Andrew, fluent.” “Copious, eh, Tom?” “Oh, aye, copious.” “And noisy, eh?” “True, noisy.” “But eternal, Tom?” “Yes, by G , eternal. Nothing can stop Joe Howe, and nothing can stop these falls. They’ll go on—both of ’em, shining as long as Nova Scotia—as long as the world lasts.”

Of other famous names than Howe’s there is Haliburton’s, of whom I will speak elsewhere in these pages. De Mille, although a native of that former part of the Province known as New Brunswick, wrote here all his novels. There are Sir John Inglis of Lucknow, and General Fenwick Williams of Kars. Samuel Cunard, the first to bridge the Atlantic with a line of steamers, and the founder of the Cunard fleet, was a Halifax merchant. From one single county—Pictou—came five of Canada’s college presidents--Dawson of McGill, Grant and Gordon to Queen’s, and Ross and Forrest to Dalhousie—whereas no other single county probably ever gave so many as two. From Nova Scotia came Sir Charles Tupper, Prime Minister of Canada. From the same province hails both Mr. William Stevens Fielding, the prospective successor to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and Mr. Robert Borden, the Leader of the Conservative Opposition in Canada.


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