Erin Morton reviews Maudie

By Erin Morton

The story of the Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, self-taught painter Maud Lewis is one that has seen screen media attention since 1965, when the CBC television show Telescope first featured an episode on her life and work. Entitled “The Once-Upon-a-Time-World of Maude [sic] Lewis,” the program presented a glimpse into the life of a rural, disabled, impoverished artist who lived in a one-room cottage with her husband Everett. In many ways, this view of the Lewises set the stage for how film audiences would later perceive her—first, in the1976 National Film Board (NFB) documentary Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows and then in a second, more extensive NFB treatment in 1998, The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis. Both films picked up where Telescope left off, building their narrative arcs around Maud Lewis’s financial, personal, and bodily struggles that she somehow overcame through the joy of painting. All three screen media treatments of the Lewises rest on similar premises of poverty and isolation from the dominant society around them. However, what does transition, is the treatment of their married relationship: in Telescope, Everett is a loving companion who does domestic work so that Maud can paint, and also because she is disabled and cannot perform gendered household task; in the 1976 documentary, we see Everett six years after her death, reminiscing on his love for her; by 1998, post-humous portrayals of Everett and Maud’s marriage ranged from loving to abusive, as he both championed her art and somehow also prevented her from achieving more.


Poster for Maudie.

It is interesting to read Aisling Walsh’s 2016 feature film Maudie, the fictional version of Maud and Everett’s troubled love story, with these historical representations in mind. The film tells the standard tale of their relationship and her artmaking, tracing her secure middle-class childhood to one of precarity with Everett as she moves from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, to life with him in Marshalltown after answering an ad Everett placed for a housekeeper. Immediately, the Atlantic Canadian viewer will observe that several communities in Newfoundland stand in for these places in Nova Scotia, a giveaway when Maud enters the local store that is held up on stilts along a rocky coast. Local landscape aside, the dim-light scenes of the Lewises once Maud moves into Everett’s cottage are very much drawn from the original Telescope footage—the only known moving images of Maud during her life. This domestic space is one of both love and abuse, which follows the standard narrative of Maud overcoming hardship through her art. In one scene, after Everett hits her, and she opens up a can of green paint and finger paints the walls from the kitchen table. The next scene shows her painting with sardine cans as her palette, as she decorates the cottage walls with blue flowers.

Continue reading

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CFP: Edited Collection on Cape Breton

To All Interested Parties,

Lachlan MacKinnon and Andy Parnaby are sourcing articles for a proposed edited
collection of material relating to the history of Cape Breton Island.

There is now a significant cluster of scholars working on material relating to the Island,
and there has been no sustained attention to the historiography of the area since the
publication of Cape Breton at 200 and The Island in 1985 and 1990, respectively. We are
keen to take a renewed look at where Island scholarship has come in the last 30 years and explore where it now appears to be heading.

The CCLH series has expressed some interest in publishing this collection through
Athabasca University Press, although we remain in the early stages of developing a
prospectus for a more formalized application.

It is our hope that this collection will help to reveal some of the historiographical and
theoretical trends affecting our research, including how the analytical lens has broadened, while also offering an opportunity for each of us to reflect in a sustained way on how our research fits into a wider image of Cape Breton Island through attention to social, environmental, and working-class concerns.

If you are interested, we ask that you submit a short CV and abstract (300 words) to
either Andy Parnaby or Lachlan MacKinnon on or before September 15, 2018. We will
then be hoping to submit a manuscript to the press early in 2019 for review.

Lachlan MacKinnon (
Andy Parnaby (

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Encounter in the Northeast: A Reconsideration of Early Language Barriers

By Tabitha Renaud

Much of what historians know about early contact between European explorers and indigenous peoples in northeastern America comes from close readings of the surviving explorer journals of the sixteenth century. European expedition narratives generally “translate” indigenous “speakers” with great confidence. Contemporary authors often recorded native speech as if no language barrier existed and perfect transmission of information was occurring. Explorers often wrote “he said” or “they say” without alluding to the level of gesticulation, interpretation, mediation and guesswork involved. A standard example is found in the writing of Ralph Lane during the Roanoke encounters with the Carolina Algonquin:

But this confederacie against us of the Choanists and Mangoaks was altogether and wholly procured by Pemsiapan himselfe, as Menatonon confessed unto me, who sent them continual word, that our purpose was fully bent to destroy them: on the other side he told me, that they had the like meaning towards us.[1]

If miming is acknowledged in such texts the act of deciphering is treated with a similar confidence. George Best wrote during an arctic expedition in 1577 that an Inuk “gave us plainely to understand by signes that…”[2] Similarly, Ralph Lane wrote at Virginia that “hee signified unto mee…” and John Davis wrote at Greenland: “…as by signes they gave us to understand…”[3] In various expeditions the element of interpretation is vaguely alluded to but not considered problematic: “It seemed to me by his speach that…” and “we judged…” and “…the best conjecture we could make thereof was that…”[4] At Gaspe in 1534, Jacques Cartier indicated the interpretation of the “long oration” of an indigenous leader with the words: “…as if he would say that …”[5]  Nevertheless, the accurate transmission of information was typically taken for granted by contemporaries and became the building blocks that comprise the “known facts” of these case studies today.

First Contact - Francis Back

Francis Back, First Contact.

Despite its centrality to understanding early contact, the initial phase of communication between European explorers and indigenous peoples has been understudied by historians. Scholarship has focused primarily on the acquisition of spoken language and the training of spoken language interpreters. The evidence surrounding the initial nonverbal forms of communication is often considered lost, too fragmentary or beyond the training of historians. Continue reading

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Dick Hill, Re-Enslaved, Shelburne, 1787, Nova Scotia

By Harvey Amani Whitfield

This historical document about Dick Hill highlights the type of troubled freedom that the Black Loyalists encountered in the Maritimes after the American Revolution. Although Hill had obtained his freedom during the war (along with thousands of other Black Loyalists), he was still at risk or re-enslavement. In 1787, he was unlawfully placed onboard a schooner to be sent to the West Indies as a slave. Incredibly, Hill had a General Birch Certificate, which allegedly guaranteed his freedom. Unfortunately, the historical record is full of other examples of black people, who like Dick Hill, were re-enslaved and sold to the West Indies.

This source about Hill is part of the forthcoming book Black Slavery in the Maritimes: A History in Documents (Broadview Press), which will be available May 30, 2018. Continue reading

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Don Nerbas reviews Scott MacDonald and Robert D. Gregory, From Humble Beginnings: A History of the Credit Union Movement on Prince Edward Island, 1936-2016.

Scott MacDonald with Robert D. Gregory. From Humble Beginnings: A History of the Credit Union Movement on Prince Edward Island, 1936-2016 (Charlottetown: Acorn Press, 2017).

By Don Nerbas

Scholars have long recognized the unique role of cooperative enterprise in the history of the Maritimes. D. Scott MacDonald’s new book adds additional material to this subject. From Humble Beginnings surveys the development of credit unions on Prince Edward Island from their origins in the Antigonish movement during the 1930s to the Island’s credit union system of today, which commands assets of $1 billion.


D. Scott MacDonald with Robert D. Gregory. From Humble Beginnings: A History of the Credit Union Movement on Prince Edward Island, 1936-2016 (Charlottetown: Acorn Press, 2017).

The majority of the book is a 173-page chapter that lists and describes every credit union that has existed on the Island, organized chronologically from date established and consisting of 75 individual entries. It is, in effect, a reference book and institutional history. The narratives centre on the local presence of credit unions: the physical structures that housed them, their financial histories, as well as anecdotal accounts of events and initiatives associated with them. This is a work clearly geared towards a local audience, and does not appear to have been written to be read from cover-to-cover in one sitting.

Its utility as a reference work is mixed. The lack of an index, one suspects, will impair the book’s use for readers. And researchers will be disappointed that specific sources are not attributed to the many interesting stories and details that the book offers. On the other hand, the map indicating the location of credit unions and the reproduction of primary source materials in the appendices are useful features.  Continue reading

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Atlantic Canada Studies Conference – May 4-5, 2018

Today’s coverage of the Atlantic Canada Studies Conference occurs via Unwritten Histories, who have graciously agreed to share Stephanie Pettigrew’s observations of the conference.

By Stephanie Pettigrew

This year’s Atlantic Canada Studies Conference took place in the beautiful and historic Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Located just steps away from the Grand-Pré UNESCO World Heritage site, it seemed a very apropos location to be discussing the state of Atlantic Canada studies. Acadia did a great job hosting, and pulled off a fantastic conference.

Before I start my coverage of this spectacular event, a caveat: there were so many great panels, many of them happening concurrently, and it was physically impossible to attend all of them. Therefore, I can only include details of the ones I went to personally (although in a few cases my good friend and University of Saskatchewan PhD Candidate Michelle Desveaux went to other panels to take some notes for me; but even then, we still missed most of the conference due to the impossibility of attending everything). For those of you who wanted to hear more about panels that I did not attend, I apologize. If I could split myself into four people and attend every single concurrent panel I absolutely would have, because everything sounded amazing. I particularly regret missing panels that featured Rachel Bryant, Chantal Richard, Natasha Simon, Nicole O’Byrne, Sarah Spike, and Tina Loo, to name only a few.

Day One
On to the panels I was able to attend! The first featured Patrick Callaway of the University of Maine, whose paper was titled “Restrictions, Selective Enforcement and Obedience: Commerce in the Northwestern Atlantic, 1807-1814.” His research focuses on trade relationships between the United States and Nova Scotia during times of war, and the highly regulated sanctioning of these continued relationships in order to bring very specific trade goods into Halifax, such as grain, in order to relieve Nova Scotia’s lack of domestically-grown goods. Zachary Tingley of the University of New Brunswick followed, with “Littoral Space, the Lighthouse and its Imperial Meaning in New Brunswick, 1793-1867.” This paper was based on Tingley’s MA research on inter-provincial lighthouse cooperation between maritime provinces. He also spoke about how the building of lighthouses was the empire’s way to tame wild spaces, making them safe. You can read more about Tingley’s work on his recent post on Borealia.

Continue Reading …


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History on Appeal: Originalism and Evidence in the Comeau Case

This article is being cross-posted with our friends at Borealia and ActiveHistory.

By Bradley Miller

The Supreme Court declined this month to radically change the way that Canada works. In R v Comeau, lawyers for a New Brunswick man ticketed for bringing too many bottles of beer into the province from Quebec urged the justices to use the history of the Canadian federation to improve its future, at least as they saw it. They asked the court to find in section 121 of the Constitution Act 1867 – a long-ignored little provision that says that the products of each province shall be “admitted free” into each of the others – a right to largely-unfettered free trade between provinces, a move that would put at risk a vast array of regulatory schemes that in one way or another end up limiting or burdening the flow of goods across Canada, such as the beer that the RCMP hauled out of Gerald Comeau’s car after he was pulled over in October 2012.

Molson_export_canMany people loathe the kinds of restrictions and regulations that might have been killed by Comeau, and there’s lots of evidence that they massively hike costs on consumers and badly damage Canadian productivity. So the notion that the constitution could bridge the boundaries that are too often created by provincial laws and that the justices could find a right to economic liberty in the way that they’ve laudably found rights to so many other pieces of modern Canada was dazzlingly tempting to many of our brightest commentators and public policy thinkers.

The case drew even more attention because of the role of history and historians in the litigation: elements of the pro-free trade argument entailed an originalist analysis, a technique which is often a tool of social conservatives seeking to squash rights for women, LGBT people, and others, and very uncommon in Canadian constitutional cases. In the telling of Comeau’s lawyers, free trade wasn’t a new right at all, but rather the recognition of one that had been there since the Fathers of Confederation and Britain’s legislative draftsman finalized the British North America Act in 1867. They backed this point up in the New Brunswick trial and the Supreme Court appeal using the Confederation debates of the 1860’s, the expert testimony of a Canadian historian on nineteenth-century trade and the intentions of the BNA Act’s framers, as well a secret 1924 letter describing a clandestine meeting between judges and politicians that purportedly delegitimized a foundational precedent on section 121. Their case, in other words, was that the court should restore a key plank of the original Confederation deal. Continue reading

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New Issue of The Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society

By Anne Marie Lane Jonah

This week the Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society is finally available. We have to apologize, but the Journal had a very challenging year last year, losing the founding editor, Brian Cuthbertson, to a well-deserved retirement, but also, very sadly, coping with the passing of beloved genealogy editor Terry Punch. After some time to regroup, the Journal is up and running again, although not yet right on schedule. I have been entrusted with the role of editor, and Kenneth Paulsen that of genealogy editor. Along with long-standing and very supportive book review editor Karen Smith, we have at last produced our first edition, Volume 20, out this week.
In this period of changes, we are happy to have the guidance of the editorial board, and the society executive, and the support of the new president Sara Beanlands.

Together we decided that henceforth our publication needs to include an acknowledgement of ancestral, unceded Mi’kmaw territory. This change was made with the support of the board and the executive, and with the guidance of John Reid, whose familiarity with the contents of all the society’s publications for its close to 150 years of history is mind boggling. John pointed out that in a paper published in the Collections of the Society in 1881, the Reverend George Hill had described the Indigenous people (not the Reverend’s words) as “the undisputed owners of the soil.” It is not news or new to historians to acknowledge the reality of Indigenous territory. We feel that in this moment it is vital that a publication based on place acknowledges the history of that place and includes it fully.  Continue reading

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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?
Continue reading

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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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