Thursday, December 27, 2018

Nova Scotia, I barely knew ye - a paean to Google Maps

I do a lot of traveling in Nova Scotia these days and play tickle with my Scottish roots, thanks to Google maps. I'm totally taken with this tool for taking me to places I've known all my life of 78 years (well, much of 71 of them, at least, to be more precise). You can google the name of a town like Tracadie, for example, the sound of which amused me as a ten-year old, with its suburbs Big Tracadie and Upper Big Tracadie, and then you can zoom in with your space camera and plop yourself down anywhere and wander through the streets of the town, looking at the store fronts and the architecture, and getting an idea of how prosperous or hard-put the locals are by how shabby the place is or, or at the other end, how well-clipped the grassy lawns are and how recently the houses have been painted.

I can zoom out and view the Maritimes from Outer Space. Then zoom back in again at my cousin’s apartment house in Halifax or the Cabot Trail or at my sister's house in Goldboro or my niece's house in Pictou. Then get back on the Trans-Canada Highway and hop over to the eastern part of the province, to the two towns most familiar to me: Guysborough and Antigonish.

I once spent a month in a hospital in Antigonish, tended to by the nuns at St. Martha's Hospital and the priests who would stop by from St. Francis Xavier University next door to visit the young lad from Conneck-ti-cut and answer his questions about the Gaelic language, which they spoke natively. My folks were Protestant. Not ardently religiously so, but ardently ethnically so, and there was always something suspicious about the Catholics. We spent our summer vacation time with Aunt Carrie and Uncle Charlie, who spent most of their waking hours tilling the soil on a small farm off a small village road not far from the town of Boylston next to Guysborough, the big town we repaired to when my mother needed to get back to the city. Guysborough’s population today is 922, and it’s the county seat. I’ve written about it before. It originally carried a Mi’kmac Indian name, Chedabucto, but was renamed after the Governor General of Canada and Commander of the British Forces in 1780, as they were nursing their wounds after losing their hold on what would become the United States. I like to think Sir Guy Carleton found the gesture just compensation.

Uncle Charlie was known for his dislikes. He had strong feelings about the French and hated the fact they owned so much of Canada. I thought he was going to smack me hard one time when I suggested we should use the French name for Nova Scotia – Nouvelle Écosse – because it was more melodious. For some reason, he hated the inhabitants of Cape Breton Island even more, however. My father fulfilled a lifetime dream of Uncle Charlie’s the day he drove him across the causeway to Cape Breton so Uncle Charlie could go out into the woods and take a dump on the island. It was only 50 kilometers from the farm to Port Hastings on Cape Breton, but he’d never owned more than a horse and wagon and had never made the trip before.

The Catholic-Protestant divide that played such a big role in the social life of the adults I lived with as a child was different in Connecticut and Nova Scotia. In Connecticut, the Catholics were Italian, mostly. Some Poles, some Irish, some French Canadians. The biggest divide in my family was the Scots-Irish divide. We wore orange on St. Patrick’s Day, not green, in sympathy with the Protestants of Northern Ireland. So it was a bit of a stretch for a young teenager to get his mind around the fact that in Nova Scotia, it was the Scottish descendants of Mary Queen of Scots who were "the Catholics". There were no Italians in sight. And I had a 16-year-old’s crush on Father John, who never missed a day visiting me in the hospital that month of August back in 1956 when I lay there without other visitors for a month. My family had had to get back to their regular lives in Connecticut after my accident, and Uncle Charlie and Aunt Carrie’s horse and buggy couldn’t make the 45-mile trek, even if they could have spared a day milking the cows and harvesting green beans. Father John wanted me to come to his college, and if not for a strong-willed mentor who wanted me to go to Middlebury, I might have been persuaded. I’ve thought about Father John in the years since the child abuse scandal first broke out in the Catholic Church, wondering how many of the abuse cases involved sexually precocious 16-year-olds tempting a handsome young priest to break his celibacy vows. Always more to those stories, I thought.

Nearly three-quarters of a century of memories of Nova Scotia make the bonds insoluble. I’ll always go back there, given the opportunity. With three members of my family to consider – two dogs and my husband – getting there would require some shuffling of priorities, but I sense I’ll figure it out in time.

Joe Izard of Guysborough
I’ve written about all this before – see here for example. And I’ve included the part about learning what role runaway slaves played in the formation of these towns. I mentioned Isaac of Isaac’s Harbour (q.v.).  But just today, it turns out, I discover that they had a role in the founding of Guysborough, as well. It wasn’t just in my family where there were relatives who left New England as loyalists to the English Crown. It was also black slaves from South Carolina (and I imagine other colonies as well) who accepted the promise of freedom in exchange for loyalty to the cause. Must keep these folks in mind when I’m tempted to beat the drums about the Stars and Stripes. (OK, so that’s a sentence without substance that just rolled out of my head from God-knows-where!) Here’s a picture of Joe Izard, of Guysborough.

Now that I’m getting up there in years, much of the contact I have with this province of my
 MacLean St., corner of MacKay, New Glasgow
youth comes in the form of obituaries of family members. I recently lost a MacKay relative, the husband of a second cousin, and that brought out the fact that, in Nova Scotia, the family name MacKay is probably more common than Smith or Jones. While flying around with Google Maps over New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, I found a lovely looking house – one I’d like to live in, were I to move to New Glasgow – at the corner of MacKay and MacLean streets. You don’t hardly get no more Scottish than that. Of course, I might find others I’d like, at the intersection of MacDonald and McColl, maybe. Or where McDonald runs into MacIntosh just south of where the employees of MacLeod Insurance no doubt meet for a pint at the Glasgow Pub, just a block down.

One of the games we play these days is imagining where we’d flee to if Trump succeeds in dismantling American democracy and the financial sector collapses and chaos breaks out in the streets. Japan is top of the list because it’s where the husband's folks live and he believes the best food in the world can be found. Not Nova Scotia. He isn’t bothered as much as I am by the number of people who don’t realize they are supposed to capitalize the second C in my family name – a problem I am pretty sure doesn’t exist in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia - or any other part of the province.

And the girls? Well they may belong to a haplogroup which takes them back on their mother’s side to Mexico – they are noticeably Chihuahuan. But if we needed to, we could surely switch focus to their father’s side. They are half Jack Russells. They’d fit right in in New Glasgow.

The stock market is in the toilet and my life savings don’t look all that great at the moment.

But fortunately, die Gedanken sind frei! (one's thoughts are free!). And so is flying around in the google-o-sphere. It opens the world to me, probes the memories and piques the imagination.

A wondrous thing is Google Maps.

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