Archive for the 'In the News' Category

Bluenose Landscapes: Christmas Tree Farm edition


Apple orchards, blueberry fields, Christmas tree farms. The agricultural activities that a region is successful at very often become one of the iconic landscape images of that place. I could probably name a crop and you would be able to give me a state or province associated with it: Potatoes, corn, wheat? And yet, though these iconic agricultural landscapes may appear timeless, their continued existence is dependent on market forces. Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is known for its apple orchards, but in the early 20th century, it had actually lost many of its orchards by the 1930s, cut down because they were no longer profitable. Historians have pointed out the irony that the tourism industry was making money off of Annapolis Valley orchards at a time when apple farmers were not.


Keatings Tree Farm 2006

I mention all this because I came across an article on the CBC today about market pressures currently facing our Christmas tree growers. The industry, according to the report, employees 4,000 people and generates $30 million a year.  In my opinion, the Christmas tree industry is an attractive aspect of our agricultural landscape (in short: I love the landscape of a Nova Scotia Christmas tree farm) and serves an additional leisure/tourism function. Nevertheless, it is just as vulnerable to market forces as any other agricultural activity, in this case, vulnerable to the move towards massive bulk purchases of trees by big box stores.

The loss of orchards usually does not mean the loss of productive agriculture, or at least of arable land (unless they get sold off for housing). The loss of Christmas tree farms would be a little different; they are usually located on land unsuitable for food-growing. Maybe they would be left to return to forest were they to become economically unfeasible.

Grey Jay at Christmas Tree Farm

Grey Jay at Christmas Tree Farm, 2006




“Competition Fierce in Christmas Tree Market” CBC News Online. Dec 21, 2012 9:22 AM AT

Conrad, Margaret. “Apple Blossom Time in the Annapolis Valley 1880-1957” Acadiensis Vol. 9, No. 2 SPRING/PRINTEMPS 1980), pp. 14-39.


Landscape Links with little comment


It’s a shame, I still have all my Google Alerts set up for this blog, and every week when the alert shows up in my email, I look it over, click on the links that interest me, and then leave those web pages open, waiting, for weeks, until I finally close them in defeat, knowing I will never get around to sharing them. The time and thought that I feel is necessary to make even a simple post of links “worthwhile” has been holding me back. But not today! Two links, with almost no comment, that are related to the Nova Scotia landscape:

  • This one is about an urban planning association looking for the public to vote on the best public spaces in Canada. Nova Scotia has a few nominees. Here is the link to the cbc’s article, and the link to the competition website.
  • This is a link to an article about the architecture firm MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple, their recent awards, and the goals for one of the firm’s partners (Talbot Sweetapple). I like that it’s an interview with Sweetapple, since Brian McKay-Lyons is the higher profile partner. MacKay-Lyons formed his firm in 1985, and joined with Sweetapple in 2005. I may have talked about my appreciate for this firm’s Nova Scotia work before – they are celebrated for their modern designs that are built with a real appreciation of the surrounding landscape and sense of place.

So there you go! Finally, after all this time, I was able to get over myself just enough to share some links. If I can make a habit of it, we might be back in business.

*The image is a model of a MacKay-Lyons house that I built for a first-year landscape architecture class in 2009.

Conflicting Conservations?

Wind Turbing in Pubnico, NS. Photo c. Andrew d'Entremont, used under Creative Commons license

One of the topics we addressed a few times over in my landscape architecture classes this year is the issue of our current landscape values and how new technologies may conflict with them. This was again brought to mind for me this week when I saw two news reports on the CBC – one announcing Nova Scotia’s latest commitment to renewable energy, and the other out of Lunenburg about the conflict between heritage planning values and energy conservation values.

A couple in Lunenburg want to put solar panels on their roof; this is against against Lunenburg’s heritage conservation bylaws, which are designed to preserve the town’s internationally recognized historical landscape.   It’s a conflict that we might see a lot more of in the coming years, particularly if the province’s new energy initiative has tangible results. Do solar panels work against the integrity of heritage landscapes? Are wind turbines an ugly blight on our landscape, a utilitarian sight that is merely acceptable, or an icon of sustainability and therefore, potentially, attractive? And if our landscape and coastline is transformed by these new energy endeavours, how are we going to reconcile it to our own vision of what Nova Scotia’s landscape looks like, as well as with our current tourism approach?

In the News: Art and Architecture edition

I’ve been neglectful, but my google alerts have also been rather bereft lately – news of tourism business partnerships between Nova Scotia and Stirling, Scotland, while fascinating, are generally only  tangentially related to landscape, and I try to stay on topic (although, as an aside: the description of the visit to Scotland is incredibly evocative of every single tourism trade mission to Scotland of the past 80 years).

In a bit of self-promotion, my thesis was listed on the NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment) website, probably thanks to my excellent thesis adviser. Neat!

Here’s an interesting article about Peter Gough, a landscape artist whose artistic imagination is captured by Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. A snippet:

Having roots in both is the best of two worlds, he says. While they are culturally and geographically close, the prevailing elements of their landscapes are quite different: Nova Scotia, practically surrounded by the sea, feels almost like an island to Gough, while, to him, the dominant feature of New Brunswick is its extensive, storied river systems.

I liked Gough’s emphasis on the full sensory experience of being in the landscape – I think the landscape should be more than what we see, even if the medium we will ultimately use (e.g. painting) is a visual medium.

The Chronicle Herald published an article on the architect Brian McKay-Lyons, his annual architectural project/retreat called Ghost, and this year’s project to reassemble a historic octagonal barn from Annapolis County on his own property on the South Shore. I find McKay-Lyons’ work interesting for his attempt to bring modern yet place-specific architecture to his projects, and I respect his commitment to live in Nova Scotia even when it may not always be professionally advantageous.

However, so far as our cultural/historic landscape goes, I’m not really sure how much value this gesture holds. Taking a building away from its original place turns it into more of an artifact than an object in the landscape – however the cumulation of all these preserved built “artifacts” can still be useful in picturing historic and/or vernacular architecture. While I cringe at the assumption that “saving” an old building by moving it is by definition virtuous and right – and the collecting impulse that accompanies it – I do like the idea that re-using old buildings if worthwhile if only for the purpose of reducing waste. What do you think? Are any of you as conflicted as I am?

In the News – Woods and wastelands

Nova Scotia loses over 1/10th of its forest in 17 years. (link may expire)

“It is a concern because certain species require intact forests for their best survival,” said Cheng. “It is significant that this amount of landscape can change, especially this quickly, when in other forest management zones across Canada it is much lower.”

The Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia deflects by claiming that Hurricane Juan cleanup, as well as “parking lots and highways,” could have been a significant portion of the forest, half the size of Cape Breton, that has disappeared since 1990.


Nova Scotians might be concerned to hear that we are harvesting our forests at twice the rate of places like Northern Ontario and inland British Columbia. If there is a good reason this is being done, and if the forestry companies are taking measures to restore the forest sustainably (and not just for harvesting in another 20-30 years), tell us. Don’t pretend parking lots are the villain.

If you’d like to read Global Forest Watch’s report, you can read the press release here. A link to download the report can be found here.

To be fair, this more detailed response of the Forest Products Association is better phrased and raises some good questions about the report’s methods.


If you go for a hike on the Eastern Shore, you might find that wooded path has become a 485-hectare clearing. Harvesting wood for biomass, the new up-and-coming energy source which really means, “first we clearcut, then we strip and chipper every last bit of branch and twig and add it too a pile until we’re ready to burn it in a giant furnace” is causing concern among environmentalists.

If you read the comments section of any article, I always advise you use the “agreed” comment sorting option, and pay attention to how many people voted “agree” or “disagree” on the comments. It will make you feel better.

In the News – Lighthouses, always.

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, by Scosborne

Tourism approaches like Nova Scotia’s, which rely on a certain amount of “rugged charm” to draw in the visitors, walk a fine line between picturesquely abandoned and dilapidated sights, and just plain neglected and ugly. Combine that with jurisdictional/responsibility issues, and you’ve got a news story.

Take, for example, the recent dust-up over the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse. Despite the millions upon millions of dollars the Conservative government has decided to bestow, graciously, upon the taxpayers who gave it to them in the first place (I never said this blog was apolitical), the government itself was apparently unable to round up the $25,000 necessary to pay for cement work and paint on the province’s most recognizable lighthouse this year (it was supposed to happen last year).

After making the news a few days in a row (with DFO offering to donate the paint to volunteers who were willing to paint the lighthouse – now there’s a liability issue if I ever heard one), some provincial MPs have announced that the lighthouse will, after all, be painted. Of course, the minister in charge of the DFO didn’t make this announcement, but the minister in charge of ACOA, who has decided to give DFO the money. Right.

This is an example of the kind of problems that can emerge when multiple jurisdictions or levels of government have responsibility for different aspects of one landscape – especially when goals are divergent. DFO only really cares if the light is working – the tourism industry (as well as many Nova Scotians) cares what it looks like as well.

Places – Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island is in the news today over the issue of its lighthouse – will it be saved, and by whom, and why it should be, and so on.

Anyone from Nova Scotia who reads this blog probably knows that Devil’s Island is the outermost island in Halifax Harbour. The island is maybe best known for being the place where Helen Creighton did some of her earliest folklore collecting, most of that from Ben Henneberry. I grew up hearing about stories of how the devil once showed up to a Sunday night card game on the island, and was identified by his cloven hooves.

Devil’s Island is low-lying, and you might assume from afar that it is a sandy barrier island, but it is not. Devil’s Island is actually bedrock, or slate, similar to the “ironstone” that makes up the old drystone walls and foundations in the oldest parts of Halifax (although it could be related to the bluestone found in parts of Lake Echo, I’m not sure – where’s a geologist when you need one?). The ocean side of the island is sharply corrugated by the rock striations, and littered with flat cobbles.

I visited Devil’s Island a few years ago, and these pictures I am sharing are from that trip. When I was there, the old house, the second-most prominent building on the island other than the lighthouse (pretty much the only other thing left standing), was empty inside save for a moudly old armchair and some makeshift kitchen counters. An old boyfriend of my mother’s once Went Hermit and spent a couple months squatting in the house. I don’t think my mother was impressed; she kept searching and found my father.

The island is mainly covered in grass and various weeds and wildflowers. There are lots of little hummocks on the east side of the island, old seagull nests. Little paths crisscross in and out and around the hillocks – they’re rat paths. But don’t worry, they’re little rats, nothing near the size of their waterfront cousins. Just don’t plan for a picnic on the island if you’re rodent-averse.

Despite the bald lighthouse and empty house, there’s nothing particularly menacing about Devil’s Island, no bad vibes or ghostly fingers on the spine. But standing on the island and looking back at the harbour still gave me an odd sort of feeling. The island seems abandoned and forgotten by the bustling inner harbour denizens, and yet it is so close that it is never beyond the glow of the city lights.

I’m not going to say that the lighthouse should be preserved for nostalgia alone. And yet, how wonderful is it crossing the harbour in the winter dusk and watching the navigation buoy lights blinking all the way out to the open sea? It’s true that lighthouses don’t guide the way for very many storm-tossed vessels in our day and age, but I think they serve a new purpose – reminding us to look out beyond ourselves and tell stories and even daydream, however inaccurately and nostalgically, about where we came from.