Six Thoughts in Search of an Epilogue

Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in “Soundings,” a series of articles jointly published by The Otter ~ la loutre and the Acadiensis Blog that considers new approaches to history and the environment in Atlantic Canada. The entire series is available here on the Otter and here on Acadiensis.

  1. Tina Loo and Sally Hermansen, Belonging to Place
  2. Mark McLaughlin, The Science before Silent Spring
  3. Josh MacFadyen and Andrew Watson, Go Big or Go Spruce
  4. Daniel Samson, Weather and Emotion in James Barry’s Diary, 1849-1906
  5. Alan MacEachern, When History Stops at the Border
  6. Claire Campbell, Six Thoughts in Search of an Epilogue (Or, writing a federalist epilogue) (Or, writing at the end of semester)


1.  Do you belong to this place?

What does it say about the state of environmental history in Atlantic Canada that none of us are writing from Atlantic Canada? Some of us are come-from-aways who went away again; some are Maritimers who went down the road or across the continent. How, how well, do we write our feelings of concern, investment, attachment from away? Does that even matter? 

What does this say about the current economics of higher education and research (especially in the humanities) inthe region? Ironically, living and working in environmental history in Canada’s smallest provinces, you can still be quite isolated. You barely need the fingers of a second hand to count the number of NiCHE members working at Atlantic universities. I suspect many more people would want to pursue questions of what and who and when and why … if they were only given the how.

What does this mean for the prospects of environmental history being used – or not used – on the ground? Is this an opening for new lines of public history (and history employment outside the academy): presenting and publishing community and local history,in dialogue with the much larger and pressing framework of environmental sustainability and climate change? A citizen humanities, to complement citizen science, perhaps also led by Parks Canada? Inversely, does digitization enhance our ability to connect with the region from away? In a region that must lead the country into a post-industrial era, how can museums, libraries, and the like be centres of opportunity (i.e. for recent graduates) as well as scholarship?
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When History Stops at the Border

Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in “Soundings,” a series of articles jointly published by The Otter ~ la loutre and the Acadiensis Blog that considers new approaches to history and the environment in Atlantic Canada. The entire series is available here on the Otter and here on Acadiensis.


For my post on history and the environment in Atlantic Canada, I want to discuss … Maine. My premise is that the U.S.-Canada border skews our understanding of the Northeast-Atlantic ecoregion and its history. Knowing either side of the border requires studying both.

Early 21st century American Red Cross map of “Miramichi and Maine Fires,”

For a time, the American Red Cross’s website contained information on historic natural disasters. Its list of forest fires began, as most such lists do, with the 1825 Miramichi Fire, and it included this map to the right.[1] The creators presumably mistook a forest fire that torched parts of the state of Maine and the neighbouring British North American colony of New Brunswick as one that torched Maine and the town of New Brunswick, New Jersey. This is somehow fitting, the messy culmination of the fire’s historical memory over the past two centuries.

Eighteen twenty-five was one of the hottest years of the nineteenth century in eastern North America, and forest fires raged throughout the region that August and September. On 7 October 1825, a forest fire swept across northeastern New Brunswick, destroying communities on the northern bank of the Miramichi River and killing at least 160 people.[2] Given that Maine shares much the same terrain, vegetation, and climate as its Canadian neighbour, it is not so surprising that the state also dealt with forest fires that day. A Bangor newspaper account would describe conditions identical to those experienced in the Miramichi – hurricane winds, panicked animals, flames suddenly bursting from the woods – with one important exception: the nature of the suffering. “But the most distressing part of our relation is yet to come,” the editor intoned. “Twelve buildings with most of their content were totally destroyed.”[3] The fires in the Pine Tree State resulted only in the loss of property and pine trees, not persons.  Continue reading

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Weather and Emotion in Barry’s Diary

By Daniel Samson

Anyone who’s ever read a farmer’s diary knows that weather figures heavily. Farmers care about the weather and so that’s what they record. Millers had similar concerns, and thus it’s not surprising that James Barry (1822-1906), a miller on Six Mile Brook (off the West River of Pictou County, Nova Scotia) also spent much space in his diary recording the weather. As this Voyant Tools output shows, weather and weather-related topics (warm, cold, beautiful, fine) competed with work-related terms (grinding, working, sawing, kiln) and his employees (Murdoch McKay, Donald Gunn, and his house-servant Barbara) for the most common terms in the diary.

Barry Diary - Voyant wordcloud

Barry Diary – Voyant wordcloud

Voyant Tools, Cirrus output, James Barry Diary, 1849-1860 (95 terms)

Weather influenced all Barry’s saw and grist mill operations. It was his friend, and his foe. Mills need a steady supply of water to keep its wheels turning. Thus every day for 56 years Barry wrote about the weather, and the water level in his millpond. So what does one do with 56 years of historical meteorological data? To be clear, this is not “measured” data, but rather experiential data. He observed that some days were cold, and some were hot, that it rained, snowed, stormed, and that the wind blew from the east or the south. Continue reading

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Go Big or Go Spruce

Editor’s note: This is the third article in “Soundings,” a series of articles jointly published by The Otter ~ la loutre and the Acadiensis Blog that considers new approaches to history and the environment in Atlantic Canada. The entire series is available here on the Otter and here on Acadiensis.

by Josh MacFadyen and Andrew Watson

Environmental historians often search for signs of large scale energy shifts that help explain transitions at the societal and ecosystem level. Best known is the rapid adoption of coal and other fossil fuels during the late 19th century in urban-industrial economies, such as Britain, Germany, and the United States. Agriculture’s energy transition came much later, but it has received relatively little attention from historians by comparison. The articles in a recent special issue of the interdisciplinary journal Regional Environmental Change address this imbalance in energy history by asking how exactly the major flows of energy changed within bounded agroecosystems over the last two centuries. Our paper focuses on energy in Prince Edward Island’s agriculture. We found that energy transitions look different depending on the geography and scale of analysis, the quality (as opposed to the quantity) of energy, and the complex motives that shaped the decisions made by rural people. The results are illustrated by the experience of two families, the Munns and the Sheas, and the very different approaches they took to increasing their farm’s energy flows in the late 19th century.

Prince Edward Island offers a case study for examining the role of energy in eastern Canada’s woodland-livestock agroecosystems, or what some Canadian historians have called “agri-forestry.” Using a new model of energy analysis developed by members of the Sustainable Farm Systems project, our essay traces three forms of societally useful energy over four time points (1880, 1930, 1950, and 1995) that cover the transition from traditional, organic practices to modern, industrialized processes. Explained in greater detail in the open-access paper and online supplement, the three flows amount to all the energy contained in (1) the produce that leaves the agroecosystem, (2) the produce that is reused within the system, and (3) the energy introduced from outside the system. Included within the agroecosystem are all the organisms that inhabit the farmland, barnyard, and other non-managed portions of the farm. Outside the boundaries of the system exist the humans that managed and consumed these organisms (everyone from local farmers to more distant urbanites) as well as the various inputs that farmers acquire from society.

The following image shows the farm built by Thomas Shea in Groshaut, Kings County, PEI, with colour-coded arrows demonstrating the conceptual flows of energy in a variety of inputs, outputs, and internal flows. The red arrows indicate energy inputs that originated from outside the system. The blue arrows represent the produce outputs consumed by humans both on the farm (solid) and in distant markets (dashed). The green arrows indicate what we call “biomass reused” (BR) internal flows. Finally, the dashed red line shows the agroecosystem boundary, which is more a conceptual delineation than a geographic space. We converted all energy into gigajoules and divided those values by the system’s land area to allow comparison over time and between case studies at the local and international scales.

Major Energy Flows, over c1950 photo of T. Shea farm

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The Science before Silent Spring

Editor’s note: This is the second article in “Soundings,” a series of articles jointly published by The Otter ~ la loutre and the Acadiensis Blog that considers new approaches to history and the environment in Atlantic Canada. The entire series is available here on the Otter and here on Acadiensis.

By Mark McLaughlin

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) has had such a tremendous influence on environmental thought that it can seem almost larger than life. It might then be surprising to some to learn that one of the major influences on her study of the effects of the indiscriminate use of pesticides was the small Canadian province of New Brunswick. This connection between Carson and New Brunswick was the result of the province’s emergence as a resource science powerhouse in the years after the Second World War, which was to a great extent intertwined with efforts to control the eastern spruce budworm and save the provincial forestry sector. Indeed, a budworm outbreak in 1945 acted as a major catalyst in what I refer to as the gradual but systematic “laboratization” of New Brunswick landscapes and waterscapes. By the end of the 1950s, this process had proceeded to the point that the province’s laboratized spaces and associated published findings had attracted Carson’s attention.

The eastern spruce budworm. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

When I originally outlined aspects of this history several years ago, I focused on the scientific work conducted after New Brunswick’s spruce budworm spraying program began in 1952. Silent Spring‘s ninth chapter, titled “Rivers of Death,” focuses on fish mortalities resulting from contact with pesticides in rivers around the world, and it opens with a long section relating the disastrous results of DDT spraying on New Brunswick’s Miramichi River basin in the 1950s. Key to Carson’s case were the monitoring efforts of scientists with the Atlantic Biological Station, particularly C.J. Kerswill and P.F. Elson. Also important was the work of Bruce S. Wright, the founder of the Northeast Wildlife Station. He was the first person to bring scientific wildlife management to New Brunswick, and he saw the effects of the DDT spray first-hand through his wildlife studies in the province’s forests in the 1950s.[1] By limiting my focus only to post-spray studies, however, I missed contexts that I think are vital to understanding the connections between Carson and New Brunswick scientists.

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The David Alexander Prize, 2018 / Le prix David Alexander, 2018

The David Alexander Prize, 2018

The David Alexander Prize is awarded annually for the best essay on the history of Atlantic Canada written in course by an undergraduate student in any university.

Conditions: Entries must be undergraduate essays between 1500 and 5000 words in length on some aspect of the history of Atlantic Canada, written in English or French. They may be research, interpretive or historiographical efforts. The author must be part-time or a full-time undergraduate student in a degree programme at an accredited university or college. The essay must have been written to meet the requirement of an undergraduate credit course during the 2017-2018 academic year. Previous winners of the Prize may not compete.

Submissions: Entries shall be submitted by course instructors no later than 30 June 2018. No instructor shall submit more than two entries. Essays must be typed neatly and should not bear the instructor’s comments or a grade. Entries should be sent to The Secretary, Acadiensis, Campus House, University of New Brunswick, P.O. Box 4400, Fredericton, N.B.  E3B 5A3.

Adjudication: Entries will be judged by a panel of three distinguished historians. The winner will be announced in the autumn of 2018. No runners-up or honorary mentions will be designated.

Prize: $400.00.

Le prix David Alexander, 2018

Le prix David-Alexander est accordé annuellement à la meilleure dissertation portant sur l’histoire des provinces de l’Atlantique réalisée par une étudiante ou un étudiant dans le cadre d’un cours de premier cycle.

Conditions : Les dissertations soumises doivent avoir été effectuée dans le cadre d’un cours de premier cycle. Elles doivent compter entre 1 500 et 5 000 mots, être rédigées en français ou en anglais,  et traiter en profondeur d’un aspect de l’histoire des provinces de l’Atlantique. Il peut s’agir d’un travail de recherche ou d’un essai de type historiographique. L’auteur doit être inscrit à temps plein ou à temps partiel dans un programme de premier cycle dispensé par une université ou un collège reconnu. La dissertation doit avoir été rédigée à titre d’exigence dans le cadre d’un cours de premier cycle offert durant l’année universitaire 2017-2018. Les personnes ayant déjà reçu le prix ne sont pas éligibles.

Dépôt des candidatures : Les dossiers de candidature doivent être présentés par les professeurs avant le 30 June 2018. Aucun professeur ne peut présenter plus de deux dossiers. Les dissertations doivent être dactylographiées et ne comporter aucun commentaire ou note de la personne responsable du cours.

Résultats : Les dossiers seront évalués par un jury formé de trois historiens de renom. Le gagnant sera connu au plus tard à l’automne 2018. Aucun prix de deuxième place ou mention spéciale ne sera accordé.

Prix: $400.

S’addresser à: The Secretary, Acadiensis, Campus House, Université du Nouveau-Brunswick, C.P. 4400, Fredericton, N.-B.  E3B 5A3







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Belonging to Place

Editor’s note: This is the first article in “Soundings,” a series of articles jointly published by The Otter ~ la loutre and the Acadiensis Blog that considers new approaches to history and the environment in Atlantic Canada. The entire series is available here on the Otter and here on Acadiensis.

By Tina Loo and Sally Hermansen[1]

The fog comes in quickly around Tilting, Newfoundland. So it was only the crunch of gravel that announced the arrival of a stately beige Buick of 1980s proportions. Its elderly driver rolled down his window.

“Do you belong to this place?” he asked, smiling.

“Sorry?” we replied, giving him his answer.

“Do you belong to this place? Are you from here?”

It turned out the Buick driver did belong. Though he had moved with his family to Grand Falls under the government’s resettlement program and lived there still, it wasn’t where he belonged. Tilting was.

Some forty years after leaving Fogo Island he and his wife were taking a driving trip to show their friends – who waved from the back seat – the place he was born. His was a sentimental journey, one that also recalled the wrench and resentment of leaving Tilting for what the government promised would be a better life.

A new generation of Newfoundlanders is experiencing many of the same emotions now. With the economy faltering because of a decline in offshore oil revenues, the province has embarked on yet another version of resettlement, incentivizing communities to relocate.

As with Smallwood’s Centralization Program (1954-1965) and the federal-provincial Fisheries Household Resettlement Program (1966-1975), the current Community Relocation Policy insists that the government “will only consider relocation requests that are community-initiated and community driven.”

But then as now, communities consisted of people with different interests. And then as now, the distress started long before people left, in the course of deciding whether to take the “shifting money.”

The pain of relocating is often explained with reference to Newfoundlanders’ deep connection to place. When local journalist James McLeod decided to leave the province at the end of last year, he knew most people wouldn’t be joining him: they were “as rooted as the tuckamores on the East Coast Trail.”

And I can’t blame them. Newfoundland and Labrador is magic, and in its best moments, it’s beautiful, whimsical, primal and profound. The sense of nationalist identity beats in the hearts of so many people here, and leaving it would be a little bit of treason.

But there is and was more to Newfoundlanders’ attachment than aesthetics or ideology – as powerful as they are. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, people’s “sense of place” was grounded in material considerations. Gender, age, technology, and sunk costs structured their sentiments and shaped decisions about whether and where to resettle. Continue reading

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Negotiating Medical Encounters with the Grenfell Mission

By Heidi Coombs-Thorne

The Southern Inuit were the first Indigenous peoples of Labrador with whom the Grenfell Mission, or International Grenfell Association, came into contact. They traditionally lived along the Labrador coast south of Groswater Bay and practiced seasonal transhumance: fishing on islands and headlands during the summer; trapping through the interior and living in sheltered coves and bays during the winter. This settlement pattern was a survival strategy which ensured that Southern Inuit families had ready access to essential resources throughout the year – cod or salmon in summer, timber and trap lines in winter. However, it also made it difficult for Grenfell Mission medical and nursing personnel to reach Southern Inuit families at certain times of the year.

Spotted Islands c. 1930 (RPA, Fred C. Sears Photograph, IGA Collection, A 58-109)

Spotted Islands c. 1930 (RPA, Fred C. Sears Photograph, IGA Collection, A 58-109).

My current research explores the strategies that the Southern Inuit developed to meet their own health needs and to facilitate Grenfell Mission services in the region. This approach stems from my interest in the history of medicine from the people’s perspective of the medical encounter, rather than an institutional, organizational, or practitioner perspective. Although historian Roy Porter called for a patient-oriented history of medicine as early as 1985, this approach has been slow to gain momentum in the field. In his article, “The Patient’s View: Doing Medical History from Below,” Porter pointed out that “…in the past, managing and treating sickness remained very largely in the hands of the sufferers themselves and their circles, the intervention of doctors being only one weapon in the therapeutic arsenal.”[1] However, the history of medicine continues to be dominated by the practitioner lens.

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Paul Robeson in Saint John, 1945: A Concert that was More than a Concert

By David Frank

I remember listening to Paul Robeson, many years ago, in a class on American history. It was an LP called Ballad for Americans, and we played that ten-minute title track, first recorded in 1939, over and over. Robeson’s bass baritone boomed out a condensed version of American history, and as we listened, we covered the board with words such as Liberty, Equality, Slavery, Exploitation, Discrimination, Democracy – terms that captured the tensions between the American dream and the American reality. It was a perfect introduction to the course.

PIC 1 Paul_Robeson_1942

In the 1940s, Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was at the peak of his fame as an actor, singer and political activist, but within a few years, he would be subject to a blacklist and persecution by the American state. This 1942 photograph for the Office of War Information is by Gordon Parks, himself a leading African American artist and activist. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

And it was a perfect introduction to Robeson. He was born in New Jersey in 1898. His father was a runaway slave who became a minister in the Presbyterian Church. His mother came from a family of free blacks active in anti-slavery agitation. As a young man, Robeson distinguished himself as a scholar, athlete, actor and musician. In between stage, film, record and radio work, Robeson toured as a concert artist, performing in the world’s biggest concert halls.

An accomplished citizen of the world, Robeson never stopped loving his home country. But he was also a critic of its failures, especially in protecting the rights of African-Americans. He attracted an enormous FBI file, and in the 1950s his passport was taken away on the grounds that it was “not in the interests of the United States” for him to travel abroad.

In 1945, Robeson was at the peak of his fame. He had finished a long run as Othello, the first black actor in more than a century to play Shakespeare’s tragic hero. In September Robeson returned to New York City after performing for troops in Europe. Then he started a seven-month North American tour. One of his first stops was Saint John. Continue reading

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Making History in Moncton: The RCMP Canada Labour Code Trial

By Greg Marquis

Recently, history was made in a court room in Moncton, New Brunswick. Provincial court Judge Leslie Jackson convicted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on one count under the Canada Labour Code: “Failing to provide RCMP members with appropriate use-of-force equipment and related user training when responding to an active threat or active shooter event.” The RCMP as an employer was acquitted of three other charges and both the defence and prosecution will return in January to learn the sentence, which will be a fine of up to $ 1 million. Most of the fine, whatever the amount decided, will be given to programs that help victims of crime.


RCMP Officer – Source: Wikimedia Commons

The trial was unique in that RCMP defence witnesses, including outgoing Commissioner Bob Paulson, testified for the defence which argued that the force had exercised due diligence in training, equipping and supervising its officers in order to keep them safe on the job. While being a police officer in Canada is not as dangerous as driving a taxi cab or working on a fishing boat in terms of the chance of dying on the job, it can be risky and the RCMP rank and file seems convinced that it has become more dangerous even as overall crime rates fall.  The incident that prompted the investigation of Employment and Social Development Canada was a rampage in the summer of 2014 by Justin Bourque, who roamed a residential neighbourhood of western Moncton, dressed in combat clothing and carrying a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun. Within minutes he had fatally shot three members of the Codiac Regional RCMP: Dave Ross, Fabrice Gevaudan and Doug Larche. The men left behind widows and, in two cases, children.  Constables Éric Stéphane J. Dubois and Darlene Goguen were wounded by Bourque, who eluded the police for thirty hours. By the time he surrendered to Emergency Response Team (ERT) members, Bourque had paralyzed much of the city and prompted one of the biggest deployments of RCMP and municipal police units in Atlantic Canadian history.

In the end Bourque pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two of attempted murder. After apologizing to the families of the victims, he was sentenced to three consecutive sentences of twenty-five years, meaning that the twenty-four year old had no hope of parole for at least seventy-five years. Despite his anti-police and anti-government views, and his explained motive of wanting to target police in order to set off a rebellion against the state, Bourque was not deemed a terrorist. Also, despite initially appearing to paralyze the second largest police service in the province, and forcing much of Moncton’s west end to be ‘locked down,’ the active shooter incident generated little debate on gun control. This was despite the comments of defence lawyer David Lutz, who partly blamed the tragedy on “right-wing, gun nut culture” and Canada’s weakened gun control laws. [1] Continue reading

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