by Edith Cody-Rice
John DeMont is a senior writer for the Halifax Chronicle Herald, a man of the semi-old school, that is, young enough to have missed the really golden age of newspapers, but steeped in nostalgia for it and with a great sense of the history of the trade, and of his province.
During his career Mr. DeMont traveled the back roads and byways of Nova Scotia, chronicling the rich history of this province, once financially the wealthiest in what is now Canada. He has published four other books on the Maritimes and its inhabitants: Citizens Irving: The Irvings of New Brunswick and The Last Best Place: Lost in the Heart of Nova Scotia, Coal Black Heart, the Story of Coal and the Lives it Ruled and a Good Days Work: In Pursuit of a Disappearing Canada.
Now, in this his memoir of 30 years wandering the province, Mr. Demont combines history, personal narrative, and a deeply affectionate perspective on the life of Nova Scotia and Nova Scotians. He reaches back to the arrival of Europeans and then recounts the stories of migration and immigration about which most of us know little: the 18th century arrival of the Scottish from the highland clearances, the arrival of the thousands of “Planters” from New England as those fertile lands filled up. Planters were so named as they had arrived from Europe to “plant” a new England on the East Coast of North America. They were attracted by the Acadian land, abandoned after the expulsion of the Acadians.
After the American war of independence, Americans loyal to the kind arrived by their tens of thousands overwhelming the local population By then, for them, Britain was too foreign a place, Canada too cold and too French, the West Indies too far away, fever-ridden and foreign. Nova Scotia was their choice by process of elimination.
Mr. Demont wanders through the once rich communities outside Halifax and dredges up fascinating stories of their colourful characters. Joseph Howe, the legendary Nova Scotia newspaper owner and politician, we learn, could barely read nor write when he reached adulthood, yet he was entirely self-taught and published a newspaper. Characters like Slocum, the legendary merchant and sailor dominated the societies of their time and a clutch of merchants held the province in thrall, becoming rich. American pirates raided Nova Scotia communities and were a major 18th-century concern.
This is a fascinating story of a history steeped province. It makes one realize how deeply personal and rooted in stories our most compelling history is, and it makes one realize the enormous variety of Canada. Nova Scotia is one geographical area among 10 provinces and three territories, each rich in the stories of its people. A must-read for anyone travelling to Nova Scotia to live or on holiday.
Published by McClelland & Stewart