August 3, 1938
The Flavour of Nova Scotia
By Nellie L. McClung
"Look mother!" a little girl on the train cried, "That cow is drinking out of the ri-ver!" I looked too. But I could not see any cause for excitement. Surely the cow had a right to a drink from the river if she wanted it. I had always known that Nova Scotia is the home of culture and learning. But cows are just cows, even here! Still, drinking from the river, was, I could see, a social error. Now what a fine piece of advertising that would be. "Our cows are carefully trained, and so imbued with a sense of their high calling that they drink from certified streams only." I could see plenty of wells and windmills in the farm yards and pastures. These no doubt would be the legitimate drinking places. But the truth did not come to me until I reached Hantsport.
Nova Scotia has more rivers than any other part of Canada. The map is veined with them like a maple leaf under the microscope. You wonder where all the water comes from. The Province came close to being an island, as the map shows. The Missiquash, which forms part of the boundary between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, when in full tide spreads out over a marsh, near the source of the Tidnish, which runs northeast into Baie Verte.
The coming and going of the tide is a matter of perpetual interest, not only to a visitor, but to the people who have lived here always. The tide flows in for six hours, and out for six hours. The two oclock tide is the highest one. Bathing is done when the tide is coming in. On a Sunday the Avon Beach looked like English Bay in Vancouver, or Matlock Beach on Lake Winnipeg, until the tide turned, and then the swimmers left the water, and groups sat for a while on the long grassy slopes.
Fishing is done by the tide, the boats drifting on its current. Even life and death feel its influence. When the tide turns to go out, vitality is at its lowest, and it is then that the old people slip away.
"No wonder the people who live beside a tide water are God-fearing," one of the women said to me. "We see before us every day the proof of Gods existence, a God of order, and precision, whose tides are never delayed, or hurried."
I am writing this beside the Avon, which runs here more than a mile wide on its way to Minas Basin. The Avon shows great stretches of "middle ground" of red mud, when the tide is out. But when the tide is in carries fine large steamboats with loads of gypsum from Wentworth, on their way to New York. The passing of the gypsum boats, Empress Queen and King, is an event, which no one misses. There is no question of when the boat will come back, when it goes up the river to the Gypsum quarries. It can only get in, and out on the tip of the tide.
I saw the Gaspereau when the tide had gone out, and it was only a red ditch with seamed and welted sides. We crossed it near Grand Pre, over a covered bridge, one of the last of these in the Province.
Nova Scotia is the only one of the Canadian Provinces that has its own flag, and next to the Province of Quebec it has preserved its own flavour more than any other.
I talked to a woman on the train, going in to Halifax, whose brother had left Truro some years ago, for Winnipeg, where he lived seven years, and then returned to his birthplace.
"But it is a mistake," she said sadly. "He is changed someway. Restless and dissatisfied."
I thought, of course that the spirit of the West, was in his blood. But this was her story, so I did not say so.
"East and West do not mix," she went on. "Even though he was absent but seven years, the mark is on him. I can hardly explain the change . . . But it would have been better if he had stayed away . . . I prefer to remember him as he was . ."
Her tone was of pious resignation, and made me think of the old lady in Bruce County, Ontario, who said she had three sons living, and one out west.
Seeing Nova Scotia at this abundant season of the year, when the fields are heavy with crops, and the flowers, wild and cultivated, are spilling their fragrance, and color, everywhere, one wonders why the people came out to us in the West in such numbers. They have coal here, and lumber, water power, fishing, pulp mills and much land that is standing idle. The days, since I came here have been days of golden sunshine, birds sing from the fence posts, and from the trees, flickers, cedar-wax wings, blue jays, robins, martins and gold-finches. The apples are ripening in the orchards, and better gardens, of corn, beans, peas and all the vegetables, I have never seen anywhere.
Even the uncultivated land is beautiful with its heavy crop of grass, and purple vetches which one of my friends here tells me are the "tares" mentioned in the parable.
Of course, I hasten to say we are glad that the Nova Scotians had the quest for adventure, and we hope that more of them will come to us. We like them and appreciate them. They became our teachers, preachers, college professors and doctors and gave direction to our lives in many ways. Perhaps a certain missionary zeal burned in their hearts. I think of F. H. Schofield, of Wolfville, who guided the destinies of the youth of Winnipeg in the old collegiate on Kate Street in the early nineties. How he piloted us through the mysteries of the Binomial Theorem! Signs and co-signs were childs play to him!
I cannot understand the empty houses on these lovely old farms, and in the villages. We passed one with its seventy-five acres near Grand
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The Flavour of Nova Scotia
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Pre, its grey gables almost hidden in the trees.
We had the privilege of visiting one of Grand Pre's old homes, a fairly recent one, not much more than a hundred years old. Outside a sycamore spread its arms towards the house. A huge butternut tree had dropped some of its crop of nuts on the lawn, and I saw for the first time a maiden-hair tree, the leaves of which are exactly like the fern, but heavier and larger.
Inside, the house, with its solid oaken floors and broad stairway, still holds its treasures. Amethyst and agate pieces stand on the what-nots. Carved corner cupboards hold lustre pitchers, and one large lustre jug has the sheep on it in deep blue. There is a picture over one fire-place of oxen drawing a cart on the tide flats of Minas Basin. The cabinets are full of china and silver. Patchwork quilts are on the beds.
I asked the owner why she does not sell it, for she only uses it now for a few months each year.
"I think I could part with the house," she said, "but I could not sell the woods above. You saw the elm, the big elm on the hill. You know it is related to the other big elm that stands above the water. They signal to each other when the storms are coming. Ive seen them do it many times. No, I could not sell the woods . . .My mother had twelve children, eleven boys and me . . .When she was worried or troubled with family cares she would leave her work, here in the kitchen, and go up to the woods and something happened. Something sweet came to her from the trees above, her head and the flowers under her feet, and her troubles fell away . . . If I sold the place someone might cut down the trees!"
NELLIE L. McCLUNG.