“Very Capable People”:  Thoughts on David Blackwood’s Art

By Andrew Nurse

The recent death of David Blackwood has drawn a remarkable and emotional response. Both he and his art seem deeply treasured by those who knew him. Tributes have already praised his work and re-asserted his position in the forefront of modern Newfoundland art.[1] The goal of this post is not to repeat those conclusions; I see no reason to question them. Instead, I’d like to reflect on Blackwood’s art from a different perspective that draws it into conversation with the work of his better-known contemporaries, like Christopher Pratt and Alex Colville. What this conversation indicates, I think, is that Blackwood’s art carries  with it different kinds of implications and messages.

Blackwood was born in 1941 in Wesleyville, Newfoundland a small community on Bonavista Bay. By all accounts, he was “a natural.” He opened his own studio while still in his teens and before completing his formal studies at the Ontario Art College, from which he graduated in 1963. After graduating he became art master at Trinity College School and moved to Port Hope, Ontario, where he lived until his recent death. Throughout most of his life, Blackwood also kept a studio in Wesleyville. The life, character, and history of the outports and their people are the subject matter for which he is best known. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1993 and, among other honours, held honourary degrees from the University of Calgary and Memorial University.[2]

Etching and aquatint on wove paper 67.2 x 82.8 cm. Gift of David and Anita Blackwood, Port Hope, Ontario. (David Blackwood/Art Gallery of Ontario). Image source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/blackwood-obit-july-2022-1.6509080.

Blackwood worked in a range of media but is best known as an etcher and print maker, a highly technical, time-consuming, and detail-oriented art form, the specifics of which are well captured in a short NFL documentary on him produced in the 1970s.[3] Blackwood’s career is historically interesting for several reasons. There is a haunting familiarity to his art even if he himself remained obscured by the better-known artists of his time. I suspect most people will recognize his work “Hauling Job Sturges House” from the cover of Annie Proulx’s bestselling novel The Shipping News, even if they could not readily name the artist or its subject matter. Despite his early popularity and the critical acclaim of his work, no comprehensive show of Blackwood’s art was held until 2011.[4]

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Suburbs Standing West: Potentially Untimely Thoughts on Post-World War II Atlantic Canadian Art

By Andrew Nurse

Christopher Pratt just died. I did not know him, but I did have the pleasure of hearing him speak and I’ve used his art in my classes for almost as long as I have been teaching. I can’t say that that gives me any particular insight into his imagination, although I am also certain others will take the time write about that aspect of his career. By all accounts he was a dynamic and caring individual.[1] His passing even drew the notice of Prime Minister Trudeau who lauded Pratt as “one of our country’s greatest artists.”[2]

Pratt was part of a school of Atlantic Canadian painting that emerged, in part, through Mount Allison University in the 1950s. Exactly what we might call this school of painting is not particularly clear. Perhaps, drawing on literary studies of Herb Wyile and Tony Tremblay:[3] Regional Artistic Modernism? It would include the outstanding work of his wife Mary (from whom he divorced) and that of Alex Colville, perhaps the most celebrated Atlantic Canadian artist of the post-World War II era. My aim in this blog is not to write an obituary for Christopher Pratt. Instead, what I want to do is venture some preliminary thoughts on what we might see as his historical legacy. Of necessity, this is connected to the painters with whom his work can be aligned.

Winter at Whiteway, a 2004 painting by Pratt. (Christopher Pratt/Mira Godard Gallery). Image source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/christopher-pratt-newfoundland-painter-obituary-1.6319009

I want to argue that Pratt’s legacy is mixed. By this, I don’t mean that his art is in any way “bad.” Pratt’s work has been duly and, in my view, rightly, celebrated. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy, the Order of Canada, and the Order of Newfoundland. What I mean is this: if I had to, I’d problematize the idea of good and bad art, question the appropriateness of such binary distinctions and suggest that “distinctions” of taste are far more complicated and far more interesting than simple distinctions.  As a raft of current art historiography makes clear, artistic distinctions are embedded in particular historical processes (what one generation finds artistic, another does not), contested, and inherently political, even while that politics is not always self evident or simple. I think that it is on this level that we need to grapple with Pratt’s legacy and think about the implications and importance of post-World War II Atlantic painting.

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D’où vient la Complainte de Louisbourg ?

Éva Guillorel : Université Rennes 2 / Institut universitaire de France

NOTE : Cet article est publié en collaboration avec le blogue Repenser l’Acadie dans le monde.

La Complainte de Louisbourg, recueillie de tradition orale autour de Chéticamp, est souvent considérée comme une composition acadienne locale évoquant la capitulation de Louisbourg au 18e siècle. Plusieurs enregistrements ethnographiques de cette complainte mentionnent pourtant la ville de Philippsbourg en Allemagne. Cette place forte hautement stratégique a subi trois sièges impliquant les Français entre 1676 et 1734 et de nombreuses chansons ont circulé à ce sujet. Plus généralement, les chansons de sièges de ville constituent un répertoire très en vogue en Europe à cette époque et il est fréquent de reprendre des airs déjà connus et de renouveler les paroles d’un siège antérieur pour créer rapidement une nouvelle chanson adaptée à l’actualité politico-militaire. En comparant les chansons écrites lors des guerres européennes et la Complainte de Louisbourg recueillie sur l’île du Cap-Breton, les ressemblances sont frappantes. La ville de Philippsbourg, composée par David Michelin (1700-1750), en est un bon exemple. Cet homme originaire du Piémont vaudois, qui a vraisemblablement été soldat pendant les guerres de Succession de Pologne et d’Autriche avant d’entamer une carrière de chanteur ambulant, commence sa chanson par un couplet proche des paroles qui ont été recueillies à Chéticamp au milieu du 20e siècle [1] :

Noble ville de Philippsbourg
Je viens t’annoncer en ce jour
Au roi de France il te faut rendre
Au moins ne te fais pas prier
Car tu ne pourras plus résister.

Les complaintes de siège font partie d’un vaste ensemble de récits et chants qui circulent et contribuent à une culture partagée en contexte militaire. Certaines d’entre elles sont passées dans la tradition orale, ont circulé dans le monde francophone et se retrouvent en Amérique du Nord au gré de la mobilité des soldats et de la diffusion des nouvelles de la guerre, où elles sont parfois réactualisées en fonction des réalités locales. C’est sans doute ce schéma qui explique la présence en Acadie de la Complainte de Louisbourg.

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The Hatfield Era in New Brunswick: The ‘Politics of Fun’?

By Greg Marquis

In 1969, columnist Dalton Camp informed his readers that in a year he considered bleak, he had found a reason to be hopeful. In New Brunswick, whose politics were marked by “belligerence and bellicosity,” the provincial Progressive Conservatives had chosen “a quiet young man” as their leader. For Camp, the selection of Richard Hatfield augured well for not only the party, which needed to become less vindictive and partisan and “more responsible,” but also for the province, which was facing important issues in relation to the federal government, such as regional economic development.[1]    

Slightly more than a year later, Hatfield, a lawyer from Hartland, defeated the government of Louis Robichaud, who had transformed the province over the past ten years. Hatfield, who had crossed the province in a helicopter during the campaign, was portrayed as a new type of politician. Over the next few years, the “quiet young man,” who remained a bachelor, would morph into one of Canada’s hippest premiers, befriending or socializing with journalists, writers (Alden Nowlan, Antonine Maillet), artists (Molly Lamb Bobak) and musicians (Edith Butler, Stompin’ Tom Connors) and travelling regularly to major urban centres to enjoy the nightlife. He also emerged as a prominent player in Canada’s evolving constitutional process in the early 1980s and as a political commentator in the media, a novel situation for a serving politician. More national exposure came through his role in helping to entrench francophone rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Common adjectives to describe the New Brunswick leader in this era were flamboyant and eccentric. In 1987, Fredericton-based journalist Chris Wood wrote a retrospective piece on Hatfield’s “politics of fun.”[2]     

His attraction to the metropolitan nightclub scene earned Hatfield the nickname “Disco Dick.” In 1980, a Liberal MLA claimed that the premier had the travel habits of “an oil sheik” and been out of the province for 168 days in 1978. His expense records indicated that since early 1978 he had visited not only Paris, London, Boston and Vancouver, but also New York (35 times) and Quebec City (25 times).  On Labour Day weekend in 1979 Hatfield stayed at New York’s prestigious Plaza Hotel and visited hip night spots such as Régine’s disco, La Folie, an upscale restaurant-disco in the Carlton House, and Randy Dandy’s. In the late 1970s these high-profile clubs attracted politicians like Henry Kissinger, writers such as Truman Capote, artists like Andy Warhol, musicians such as Mick Jagger, supermodels like Iman, actors such as Warren Beatty and other New York scenesters. This was a far cry from sedate Fredericton where the nightlife consisted of the bar in the Lady Beaverbrook hotel and the all-night restaurant in the Diplomat motel. The premier defended his trips by explaining that he was acting as a goodwill ambassador for the province and trying to secure investment.[3]

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2022 David Alexander Prize

The David Alexander Prize is awarded annually for the best essay on the history of Atlantic Canada written in a course by an undergraduate student in any university. The amount of the prize is currently set at $400.


  • Entries must be undergraduate essays between 1,500 and 5,000 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 full-time undergraduate student in a degree program at an accredited university or college, and the essay must have been written to meet the requirement of an undergraduate credit course during the 2021-2022 academic year. 
  • Previous winners of the prize may not compete.

Submissions: Entries shall be submitted by course instructors no later than 30 June 2022. No instructor shall submit more than two entries. Essays should not bear the instructor’s comments or a grade. Entries may be sent as an electronic copy or a printed copy.

Adjudication: Entries will be judged by a panel of three distinguished historians. The winner will be announced in the autumn of 2022. No runners-up or honorary mentions will be designated.

Entries may be submitted by email attachment to the Acadiensis Administrative Assistant at acadnsis@unb.ca, or by post to:

Alexander Prize Committee
c/o Acadiensis Administrative Assistant,
Campus House, University of New Brunswick
P.O. Box 4400, Fredericton, N.B.   E3B 5A3

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The Good Life of Wallace Brown

By Peter C. Kent

After Wallace Brown retired from his 30-year teaching career at the University of New Brunswick, he started a newsletter entitled “Sergeant Brown’s Tips for Better Living”, linking back to his British National Service days as a sergeant in Hong Kong in the early 1950s. He sent this amusing newsletter to his friends around the world in his retirement years. The newsletter promoted good food, good drink and good companionship, which represented the good life as Wallace had lived and enjoyed it. As he wrote of himself, “he liked mystery novels, fly fishing, beer, hiking, curries, wine, jazz, theatre, pubs, alcohol, the films of Jean Renoir, the poems of Thomas Hardy, and the company of women”.

Wallace Brown, 1933-1922

Wallace could best be described as “mid-Atlantic”, with the accent to prove it. He was born in Alberta, raised and educated in England from the age of 5 to his graduation from Oxford. Then, graduate studies in the United States for an MA at the University of Nebraska and PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. In spite of his familiarity with all sides of the Atlantic world, his favored corner was Scotland and, in Fredericton, he helped to keep the Scottish tradition alive as an active member and promoter of the St. Andrew’s Society and as a founding member of the Fredericton Whisky Tasting Society.

After short stints of teaching at the University of Alberta and Brown University, Wallace arrived at the University of New Brunswick in 1967 as one of three American historians in an expanding department. In the department, he was a very agreeable colleague; charming and easy going with a fine sense of humour.

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23rd Annual J.B. McLachlan Memorial Lecture at CBU

On Thursday, March 10, 11:45 – 1:00, we are excited to work with the School of Arts and Social Sciences to feature the 23rd Annual J.B. McLachlan Memorial Lecture, held virtually on Zoom. This year, Dr. Jennifer Evans will present “Learning from the Germans about the Legacy of Genocide”. A professor of history at Carleton University, her talk will consider what Canada can learn about decolonization from the Germans’ experience dealing with its Nazi past. Click here to register on Zoom.

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In her recent article “The TRC, Reconciliation, and the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School” Martha Walls suggests that John Reid’s book Nova Scotia: A Pocket History (2009) does not mention the SIRS. Reid’s book does, however, address the school’s “painful history” (p. 32) and its important role in intensifying the assimilation agenda of the state. The author and co-editors of Acadiensis sincerely regret this error, especially given Dr. Reid’s many contributions to Indigenous history in the Atlantic region, and to Acadiensis.

Every article published by Acadiensis undergoes a thorough peer review process, and editorial oversight. Readers of Acadiensis expect that published articles are accurate, complete, and free of errors. We regret that this error was not caught during peer review or by the co-editors.

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Acadiensis at 50

Acadiensis is marking 50 years of publication with a special edition featuring the cover art of Mi’kmaw artist Loretta Gould’s Share Our Teachings. The back cover image reproduces the original Autumn 1971 cover, which we have purposely scanned in such a way that readers can see the material qualities of that paper issue. We chose these two images to represent the past and the present, as we think about the last 50 years at the journal and plan for the next.

Our current editorial team acknowledges with gratitude the scholarship and labour that has kept Acadiensis as a dynamic and cutting-edge journal. We will pay tribute to the legacies of the Acadiensis generation on the blog throughout the 50th year. Stay tuned!

For the 50th anniversary journal Autumn issue, we mark this important anniversary by looking at the state of the history of the Atlantic region today and consider the future.  Jerry Bannister (Dalhousie) reflects on this moment as he introduces a set of three articles on this issue. Michael Poplyansky (La Cité – University of Regina) writes on “Le tournant transnational en historiographie acadienne,” Heidi MacDonald (UNB Saint John) asks about “Atlantic Canadian Women and Gender History: Where Is It Going and Where Should It Be Going?” and Daniel Samson (Brock) urges us to think about “Building Research and Community Networks: Putting Acadiensis at the Centre of a Digital Community.”

Three reflections draw on practical experience in research, teaching, or editing. Martha Walls (MSVU) focuses our attention on regional history and “The TRC, Reconciliation, and the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.  Recently retired Nicole Lang (Edmunston Campus of l’Université de Moncton) shares her experience “Enseigner l’histoire de l’Acadie au Canada atlantique,” and our own Stephen Dutcher traces his involvement with the journal since 2003.

Emerging scholars and doctoral students Courtney Mrazek (UNB) and Mercedes Peters (UBC) offer concrete evidence that the field continues to grow, thrive, and change. Courtney Mrazek engages John Reid (Saint Mary’s) in an interview and Mercedes Peters takes us along on “A Thought-Exercise in Decolonization: Reflections from a Mi’kmaw Historian Revisiting the Acadiensis Readers.”                     

COVID continues to shape our lives and incoming Acadiensis co-editor (January 2022) Peter Twohig (Saint Mary’s) connects this to his research on labour in nursing homes, while Raymond Blake (Regina) uses the 2021 Newfoundland election to write about political campaigns in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In addition, the Autumn 2021 issue features research articles by Willeen Keough (Simon Fraser) and Leanna Thomas (doctoral student, UNB), as well as a review essay on Canadian history podcasts by Janis Thiessen (University of Winnipeg).

Happy Reading.

Erin Morton and Suzanne Morton


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CFP: Northeast and Atlantic Region Environmental History Forum

Northeast and Atlantic Region Environmental History Forum
Call for Papers, Ninth Annual Workshop
Backyard Environments: Encountering Nature at Home
Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25, 2022
University of Maine Hutchinson Center, Belfast, Maine
Deadline: January 31, 2022

The Northeast and Atlantic Region Environmental History Forum (NEAR-EH) brings together a group of scholars exploring the environmental history of the northeastern United States and northeastern Canada. This group first met in 2012 at the Massachusetts Historical Society with the basic premise that the environmental history of this region has its own story to tell. For several years, the group has sponsored a workshop for which participants submit pre-circulated papers that are then discussed in-depth, going well beyond the typical level of engagement authors get at a standard academic conference. Many participants have since published their papers as articles, chapters of books, or essays, or have used the feedback to advance their scholarly agenda and win competitive research grants.

While NEAR-EH has not met for two years due to the COVID pandemic, the group plans to meet in person in 2022, hosted by the University of Maine’s Canadian-American Center at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Maine. There may be a graduated registration fee (scaled for faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, etc.), but we hope to keep it to a minimum.

However, there will be some funds for help with travel and accommodations. Once participation is confirmed, the organizers will circulate more detailed information about the workshop.

The workshop theme this year is “Backyard Environments: Encountering Nature at Home.” The organizers welcome submission of papers that reflect the reality that many of us have been spending more time at home recently and reflecting on the green spaces nearby. As such, there is growing interest in informed reflections on local places.

Previous NEAR-EH workshops resulted in the McGill-Queen’s publication The Greater Gulf: Essays on the Environmental History of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (2020), and it is hoped that this workshop could act in a similar capacity.

The organizers also welcome submissions that fall outside of the workshop theme but still focus on the environmental history of northeast North America.

We limit paper submissions to twelve so as to ensure a meaningful experience that includes close examination and discussion of the papers. Anyone, of course, is welcome to attend the discussion.

Please submit proposals of 250 words with a shortened CV (max 2 pages) to Mark McLaughlin at mark.j.mclaughlin@maine.edu no later than January 31, 2022. Additional information concerning the workshop or Belfast, Maine in general can be directed to Mark McLaughlin at mark.j.mclaughlin@maine.edu.

Acceptance into the workshop will be announced late February 2022. Papers are due for circulation to other participants on May 27, 2022.

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