To get to what we call ‘The Place’ you drive through the middle of Nova Scotia, from Halifax, straight through to Antigonish, down the Monastery Road, and on into Guysborough. But the prettier, if longer, approach is along the Eastern Shore of the province.
You take the winding, sea-bound road from Dartmouth through Musquodoboit, Clam and Sheet Harbours on your way, by turns, to Ecum Secum Liscomb, Sherbrooke and Stillwater until you somehow find yourself entering the outskirts of a cartographic afterthought called Port Shoreham.
The Place sits on a 90-acre plot of land overlooking the grand Chedabucto Bay. It’s been in my family since Napoleon met his Waterloo in the breaking years of the 19th Century. Recently, my sister and I inherited it from our parents. It’s hard to explain what it means to me. Ask any Maritimer what his ancestral homestead – should he be lucky enough to have one – represents, and you’ll evoke the same quizzical expression.
A couple of years ago, John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail noted, not unkindly, “After decades of declining fortunes, the Maritime provinces now find themselves trapped in what one observer describes as ‘a perfect storm’ of economic and demographic decline. The cause of that storm is no mystery; governments have been grappling with it for years. ‘Everyone knows what the problem is,’ says Peter McKenna, head of political science at UPEI. ‘It’s just that no one knows what to do about it.’”
Mr. Ibbitson continued: “Because of their fading economies, PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are running out of people. Last year, 1,000 more people left PEI for other parts of Canada than arrived from them. The population of Nova Scotia has been falling since 2011, when it peaked at 948,000; over the next two decades, another 20,000 people are expected to leave. New Brunswick is in similar straits. Between the middle of 2012 and the middle of last year, the population dropped by almost 2,000, to 754,524.”
Guysborough County is, by all accounts, the most sparsely populated in the region. The irony, perhaps, is this is one of the locales that helped modern Canada get its start. A serviceable Wiki entry declares, “The Mi’kmaq name for the village of Guysborough was Chedabuctou. The Prince Henry Sinclair Society of North America believe (the explorer) landed at Chedabucto Bay in 1398. (A) monument was erected on November 17, 1996. It is a fifteen-ton granite boulder with a black granite narrative plaque located at Halfway Cove on Trunk 16 in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.
“The village of Guysborough was first settled by Europeans in 1634 by Isaac de Razilly. He built a fort named Fort St François à Canso at the entrance to the harbour. In 1655 Nicolas Denys, governor of the new St Lawrence Bay Province, built Fort Chedabuctou on Fort Point to serve as his capital. The fort was later replaced and renamed Fort St Louis.”
Later, “In 1682, a permanent settlement was started by Clerbaud Bergier. A group cleared land and spent the winter with the first crops being planted in 1683. Louis-Alexandre des Friches de Meneval landed at Chedabouctou in 1687 when arriving to take up his position as governor of Acadia.”
Shy of people, but steeped in history, this part of the country remains – including our own piece of it. My sister and I may now own The Place, at least on paper. But I feel less the laird of the manor than I do the current generation’s steward. It shall be a living link to a vibrant past for future generations.