|Tracadie Baptist Church Youth Choir|
With Google always at the ready to distract me from the laundry or cleaning the pile of junk off my desk, I went looking for answers. Turns out it’s Micmac, (or Mi'kmaq, if you’re not doing simple government work and want some precision) and in Micmac/ Mi'kmaq it means either “Ideal Camping Location” or “My friends (plural),” depending on whom you ask.
|STOP! in Micmac|
You might also like to know that Mi'kmaq uses free word order, based on emphasis rather than a traditionally fixed order of subjects, objects and verbs. For instance, the sentence "I saw a moose standing right there on the hill" could be stated "sapmi'k ala nemaqt'k na tett ti'am kaqamit" (I saw him/there/on the hill/right-there/a moose/he was standing) or "sapmi'k ala ti'am nemaqt'k na tett kaqamit" (I saw him/there/a moose/on the hill/right-there/he was standing); the latter sentence puts emphasis on the moose by placing ti'am (moose) earlier in the utterance.
But I digress.
The reason the name Tracadie has left an indelible mark on my memory (no mean feat, with this memory) is that it was always associated with evidence that the long three-day journey from our home in Connecticut to Aunt Carrie’s house in Manchester, Nova Scotia, was almost over. The turn off the Trans-Canada Highway to Monastery was a sure sign we were almost there. And Tracadie (Upper Big Tracadie, actually) was right there just a few miles down the road from the turn-off.
But let me go back to the beginning.
There’s a story I used to love to hear told as a kid in Connecticut about the Daughters of the American Revolution coming to visit my grandmother, my father’s mother - the one from Nova Scotia. They had uncovered her roots among early American settlers. We used to like to think they came over on the Mayflower, but I have no evidence of that. In any case, she served them tea and spoke of her pride in being from Nova Scotia, where she and six generations or so of her ancestors that she knew of had lived before her. When the DAR went a-diggin’ for her Pilgrim ancestors they probably should have continued digging until they uncovered the loyalist ones who fled to Nova Scotia in Revolutionary War days and stayed within smooching distance of George III.
She may have reconnected with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, or whatever it’s called today, and married a Scotsman from Dumfries and raised three boys there, including my father, but she was still Canadian at heart. As soon as she was able, she snatched said Scotsman grandfather off to live in the old homestead at the end of the road in North Ogden, in Guysborough County, where she was born, near where her sister and several brothers still lived. The house, if it had had any self-respect, would have fallen to the ground decades before, but it was still standing when I was a kid and used to sleep in the attic with the bats.
That house was a bit too far off the beaten path for my mother, and we ended up spending most of our time when I was a kid with my grandmother’s sister, Carrie, in a town called Manchester, just outside of Boylston, which is just outside of Guysborough, the county seat.
|Guysborough Main Street|
I was sixteen when I went to get water from the well one day and fell and cut seven tendons in my right hand and ended up spending an entire month in St. Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish, the nearest place with a doctor who knew how to reach up to my elbow, find the tendons and connect them back to my right hand. My parents had to go back to Connecticut, and I was there all alone for a month while I recuperated.
|Antigonish in English and Gaelic|
For a time, so taken with this Father John was I that he almost had me convinced I should go to college at St. Francis Xavier. I even developed an ear for the bagpipes, which could be heard an hour every day on the radio.
The fates had other plans, but I got to live life with the notion of Antigonish as a path not taken.
In the 1940s and 1950s, it used to take three days to get from our home in Connecticut to Aunt Carrie and Uncle Charlie’s. Eventually, when freeways went in in New England, the trip could be made in sixteen hours, but in those early days it was a long haul indeed. We used to break it down in our heads to a series of accomplishments – crossing the border into Canada at Calais (pronounced like callous), entering Nova Scotia, and making the turn off the Trans Canada Highway a half hour beyond Antigonish, to Monastery, and then the final stretch down to Guysborough.
During my googling adventure the other day to jog my memory about where exactly Upper Big Tracadie was, I learned something unexpected. Upper Big Tracadie, it turns out, is a black settlement, one of two in Nova Scotia, where freed slaves ended up. The end of the long journey on the Underground Railroad.
I remember staring out the window of our 1948 Ford the first time I saw that collection of shacks by the side of the road with black kids playing out front and hearing that we were passing through Lincolnville and being told why it got that name. It was not an inviting place, and when I suggested once that we stop and take a look, I remember my parents quickly changing the subject and making it clear stopping for tea would not be in the cards. We never talked about the place. We just knew it wasn’t our kind of people.
Where I came from in Connecticut, we were all about who was Italian, or German, or Polish. In Nova Scotia, where a picture of Queen Victoria was on the wall in the bedroom where I slept, “difference” went only as far as being French-Canadian. You admitted there were English people here and there, but mostly people had names like MacLean, MacLeod, MacKenzie, MacDonell, MacDonall, and MacDonald.
Lincolnville and Upper Big Tracadie are still essentially black towns today, half a century after I first learned about the Underground Railroad. There may still be shacks there along the highway. But if this video is any indication, my guess is things have gotten a whole lot better.
The Guysborough County Heritage Association has some interesting facts about the origins of the place I knew as a child and still identify strongly with. While most of the blacks from the American South who came to Nova Scotia ended up in Shelburne County, where the boats first landed, about 900 made their way to the eastern end of the province, to Guysborough and Antigonish Counties in 1783-4, and only today did I learn that this included the towns of Country Harbour, Isaacs Harbour and Goldboro; the last of these villages is where my sister has a home today. Turns out Isaac was black, as were the first settlers of this place. Goldboro today has a population of 450, including my sister and brother-in-law.
To wonder too hard would be to see the glass as half empty. There is good reason to see it as half full. The Nova Scotia Heritage is, in fact, making the contributions of Black Canadians known. See here and here and here, for example.
Amazing what you can turn up if you go back in your personal history and dig a little deeper.