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Reviewed by:
  • In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia
  • Ronald Rudin
In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia. Ian McKay and Robin Bates. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010. Pp. 481, $34.95

With this volume, Ian McKay, now along with Robin Bates, returns to issues he first raised in 1994 in The Quest of the Folk. Both books focus on how Nova Scotia was presented to tourists, particularly during the middle decades of the twentieth century. In each case, Innocence (always in caps so as to distinguish it from an individual without experience) provides the framework within which both individuals and the Nova Scotia government presented a province whose 'true essence, resided in the primitive, the rustic, the unspoiled . . . outside the rapid flow of change in the twentieth century' (76).

In the earlier volume, McKay focused upon individuals who produced songs, stories, and crafts to show the 'folk' as typical Nova Scotians, leading tranquil lives free of conflict. In the current volume, McKay and Bates build on the 1994 work to explore 'a broader range of the forms that emerged in interwar Nova Scotia, accompanying those of the "Folk" and working alongside them to construct an imagined Nova Scotia' (381). In particular, the authors examine the role of three men who sought to present Nova Scotia not merely as a simpler place, but also as one grounded in its Scottishness, leaving little room for those who had Acadian, Mi'kmaq, or African-Canadian roots.

This racialized depiction of Nova Scotia was the work of Will R. Bird, Thomas Raddall, and Angus L. Macdonald. Bird and Raddall were both writers who depicted a Nova Scotia past dominated by 'the autonomous individual, this white Anglo male who strides masterfully through history' (251). They were given the opportunity to literally leave their mark on the province, creating what McKay and Bates call 'tourism/history,' through their partnership with Macdonald, [End Page 349] Nova Scotia's premier from 1933 to 1940 and again from 1945 to 1954. Macdonald was an unabashed promoter of Tartanism, 'a matrix of ideas about and images of nature, history and race, all testifying to the Scottishness of Nova Scotia.' In the process, the province's history was cleansed 'of controversy and awkwardness,' making it a tourist destination for those seeking to escape the modern world (254-5).

Macdonald created an official Nova Scotia tartan and positioned a piper at the border with New Brunswick. Moreover, his establishment of the Historic Sites Advisory Council of Nova Scotia brought him together with Bird (its founding chair) and Raddall (a member of its board). As McKay and Bates put it, 'Under the Macdonald administration, the vision of Nova Scotia that Bird and Raddall had developed in their novels became something like the province's official narrative' (341). Moments from the past that comfortably fit into this story, such as the arrival of the Planters, were given visibility; less comfortable ones, such as the Acadian deportation (that had made the Planters' arrival possible), were marginalized.

McKay and Bates deal with the depiction of the deportation in a chapter that focuses on the early twentieth century, when Nova Scotia was referred to as the 'Land of Evangeline' and before Macdonald and his colleagues had turned it into 'Canada's Ocean Playground.' Indeed, creation of a tourist site at Grand-Pré anticipated later developments in its emphasis on a time when life was simpler and better, in the process pushing the Acadians' trauma out of the picture. As Tartanism emerged triumphant by mid-century, the focus of tourist developments shifted away from Grand-Pré, which was losing its appeal among both English-speaking tourists who were no longer reading Longfellow and French Canadians who were no longer drawn to the image of Evangeline, who had 'so indelibly incarnated clerical nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s' (123).

To make this point, McKay and Bates characterize early-twentieth-century French Canadians, both Québécois and Acadiens, as having been shaped by clerical forces, before more secular ones took hold. But in arguing along these...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 349-351
Launched on MUSE
2011-06-03
Open Access
No
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