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Cape Breton – Elizabeth Bishop

I was reading the Complete Works of poet Elizabeth Bishop last night, and was struck again with how perfect Bishop’s poem “Cape Breton” captures what I always thought construction season must have been like on the island during mid-century (and I thought about that quite a bit while I was writing my thesis). In the poem, the construction of the coastal road, abandoned on Sunday, serves to enhance the mystery of the interior. It’s all ocean and hill and mist and road and then a little bus rolls down the dusty road packed with people going about their Sunday business (including “today only two preachers extra, one carrying his frock coat on a

The entire poem is after the jump: Continue reading ‘Cape Breton – Elizabeth Bishop’


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?

Revised Expectations

The tulips say "spring".

I guess it was rather (okay, extremely) optimistic of me to assume that a Masters of Landscape Architecture degree would provide absolutely any time for composing thoughtful blog posts on the Nova Scotia landscape during term. So here I am on a Saturday night at the end of term, a school year away from my most recent post. I finally have time to think about a topic that still occupies an inordinately prominent place in my thoughts (just ask my fellow students – I can’t shut up about Nova Scotia).

If this job search continues very long, I may just have time to get in a few posts this summer. And it will be more useful for the homesickness than before, as it is looking more and more likely that I will be spending my time here in Ontario. Is there a set of lyrics to “Farewell to Nova Scotia”  for Bluenosers who are landlocked?

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?

Blogging on Nova Scotia’s landscape – from Guelph, Ontario

Well, I’m moved in and mostly unpacked at my apartment in Guelph.

I’ll be blogging about Nova Scotia from Ontario for the next two or three years at least. I hoped when I started this blog that it would serve as a way for me to stay connected to Nova Scotia while I bide my time doing this latest degree (which I am taking with hopes of being able to return to Nova Scotia as soon as possible with good career prospects). I hope this blog will help alleviate the homesickness and keep me tuned in to Nova Scotia’s landscape and environmental issues while I am 1,900 km away.

And of course, I am writing this post from Guelph because I finally finished, defended, and formally submitted my MA history thesis! It’s called The Road to Yesterday: Nova Scotia’s Tourism Landscape and the Automobile Age, 1920-1940. You can take a look at it in the Killam Library at Dalhousie University some time after October.

Thesis Relief/Relief Map

It’s been a while! I submitted my thesis to my defence committee on Wednesday, and I now have two weeks to prepare for a move to Upper Canada. I have a number of posts saved in my draft folder, but none that are ready to  be shared yet. So, until I have a little more time to finish those posts, I thought I might share a little excerpt from my thesis with you. Sorry about the super-long paragraphs; that’s thesis writing for you – nothing so short and snappy as the blog style. The excerpt is below the jump.

Continue reading ‘Thesis Relief/Relief Map’

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.