Notes and Comments / Nouvelles brèves - 1893 Atlantic Workshop, "Culture and Community in Atlantic Canada," 29-30 September 1983, Village historique acadien, Caraquet, N.B.

Notes and Comments / Nouvelles brèves

1893 Atlantic Workshop, "Culture and Community in Atlantic Canada," 29-30 September 1983, Village historique acadien, Caraquet, N.B.

Peter E. Rider
National Museum of Man

1 In recent years two of the predominate characteristics of Canadian studies have been regionalism and the exploration of specialized themes within various disciplines. Partly this has been because of the desire of scholars to dig beneath the national generalities to elucidate the nuances of life that are, and were, experienced by average Canadians. The Atlantic Workshop held at Caraquet, New Brunswick, on 29 and 30 September 1983 demonstrated the maturity of one specialization, material culture studies, in our easternmost region, Atlantic Canada. In doing so, a major contribution was made to our understanding of ordinary life in the region over two centuries. Having as its 1983 theme "Culture and Community," the Atlantic Workshop, organized by historical geographers studying the region, is a biennial event bringing together geographers, historians, folklorists, educators and others interested in the area's past. The setting of this year's gathering, the Village historique acadien near the Acadian centre of Caraquet on New Brunswick's north coast, provided an ideal backdrop for the events. But sunny weather and the autumn leaves played second fiddle to an ambitious series of papers which touched upon such varied interests as labour history, community studies, education, and economic and Acadian history.

2 It is perhaps indicative of the appeal of material culture studies that this theme was addressed in papers by folklorists, historians, archaeologists, and geographers. No plans exist to publish the proceedings in toto although several of the papers will likely appear in either Material History Bulletin or elsewhere. Readers of the Bulletin may be interested, however, in a brief review of relevant papers and may also be able to obtain further details or copies of presentations from the authors. The reviews which follow are grouped according to the session at which the papers were presented.

Material Culture, Newfoundland

G. Pocius (Memorial University), "The Semiotics of Newfoundland Building Technology 1800-1950."

3 The tension induced when ordinary folk tried to reconcile their desire to use local materials in house construction with the wish to mimic the more refined taste exhibited in houses of merchants was the focus of this report. Data were gathered through a survey of archival sources as well as by field work on Newfoundland's southern shore. Although building material and construction skills were available locally, imported goods conferred prestige and underscored financial solvency. Hence merchant dwellings were built from offshore supplies and designs, and fishermen's houses incorporated design features inspired "from away" and used local materials in locations hidden from public view. Pocius did not define "semiotics," or "semeioties," but a furious search by a member of the audience turned up the Oxford definition as being "the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of symptoms." Presumably Pocius means "social values reflected in Newfoundland building techniques," in which case he could have said so. An interesting contribution, the paper did not require jargonistic flimflammery in its title.

Richard MacKinnon (Memorial University), "The Interrelationship of Culture and Its Built Forms: A Codroy Valley Example."

4 The Codroy Valley is a fertile region in western Newfoundland just northwest of Port aux Basques. MacKinnon, a doctoral candidate from Cape Breton, is documenting building styles and techniques brought to the valley by immigrants from Cape Breton when they settled the area between 1840 and 1880. His paper was based upon extensive fieldwork which demonstrated a clear transference of cultural values and technologies from the hearth area to the frontier. Social customs focusing on the kitchen, for instance, ensured large kitchens in the newly constructed homes to duplicate those familiar in Cape Breton. This attitude still persists with the result that some interesting modifications are made to CMHC-approved prefabs and their pokey kitchens.

David Tylor (Memorial University), "Elements of Traditional Boat Design of the Trinity Bay Region."

5 A doctoral candidate at Memorial, Taylor has already published his Master's thesis as Boat Building in Winterton, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, (CCFCS Mercury number 41, Ottawa: National Museum of Man, 1982). In the paper under discussion, the traditional reliance of fishermen on local materials and indigenous designs for their boats was described through references to personal recollections and to photographs. Communities had decided ideas about what constituted a well-formed boat, and various builders inherited designs from their predecessors. Designs were modified as experience with them was gained, but changes were improvements on traditional patterns rather than radical innovations. Construction techniques, in marked contrast to the situation with houses as outlined by Pocius, relied upon local mental templates and accommodation of the constraints of native construction materials.


Ken Donovan (Fortress Louisbourg), "Games and Gaming in 18th Century Louisbourg."

6 In introducing his paper Donovan noted that he toyed with the idea of calling it "Debauchery and Libertinage in Louisbourg," and that title indeed gives a clearer indication of its subject-matter. Although enthusiasts of tin whistles and papier-mâché dolls may have been disappointed by a review of gambling and prostitution in the French fortress, Donovan's treatment of these two vices as inevitable and to some extent necessary features of garrison life provided new insights into a neglected aspect of our social history. The predictable links between a large group of males and homosexuality, prostitution, drunkenness, and gambling were established, but descriptions of the extent and nature of these social ills broke new ground. Of particular interest was the account of gambling, an affliction that touched all classes despite ordinances against some of its forms. For the rich, gambling was an essential social grace, while all levels of society shared a passion for lotteries. A slide presentation of games and toys found at Louisbourg concluded the paper.

John Johnston (Fortress Louisbourg), "The Preservation and Commemoration of Louisbourg 1895-1940."

7 In an extended version of a paper appearing in the spring 1983 issue of Acadiensis, Johnston drew to the audience's attention the fact that Louisbourg itself is a study in material history. Different generations commemorated their past in various ways. Although the present reconstruction, begun as a job creation project by the Diefenbaker government, rides the current wave of popularity of outdoor museums, it is only the most recent of several forms of interpretation of the site. Until 1895 the fortress was regarded as curious ruins, but in that year a private group of Americans erected a small monument to the Anglo-American victory on a plot of privately owned land. A second stage followed in which a non-official society was formed to preserve some of the casements, to provide a crypt in which to deposit mortal remains, and to organize a museum. Success was limited and the first government steps were taken in the 1920s, steps which involved the erection of historical markers and the landscaping of the site. A museum and further site preparation followed, emphasizing the twin objectives of preservation and recreation, a situation which continued until reconstruction became a desirable economic goal.

Rosemary Hutchison (Fortress Louisbourg), "The Furnishings Programme at Fortress Louisbourg National Historic Park."

8 Having as one of its objectives the presentation of a total environment at a certain moment in time, the concept behind Louisbourg places exacting demands on the curators of the artifact collection. In a wide-ranging review of the problems of re-creating an authentic setting, Hutchison outlined different attitudes between then and now regarding dirt, use of space, and appreciation of colour. Sources for identifying likely items were noted as was the considerable difficulty caused by the lack of evidence and artifacts pertaining to the lower-class majority.

Andrée Crépeau (Fortress Louisbourg), "Practical Applications of Material Culture Research."

9 Crépeau's paper followed naturally from Hutchison's. An archaeologist, Crépeau is denied the likelihood of finding an artifact that is intact and about which the method of fabrication is known. Working from various pieces excavated before digging stopped in 1978, she has attempted to obtain authentic duplicates of earthenware vessels unearthed at the site. A master potter from Sherbrooke Village, Gil Hancock, was retained to duplicate potting techniques as well as methods of colouring, decorating, and firing the containers. Exacting care, detailed records, and considerable imagination were required to produce satisfactory results, examples of which were displayed for the audience. An interesting extension of the project will require minute study of original specimens since archaeological evidence about the use of objects does not always confirm written probate evidence.

Landscape Perspectives

Peter Ennals (Mount Allison University), and D. Holdsworth (Historical Atlas of Canada, Toronto), "Aspects of Folk/Vernacular Building in the Maritimes."

10 The Ennals-Holdsworth team has become an accustomed feature of scholarly gatherings in Atlantic Canada, and, taking advantage of the workshop setting, they reviewed a problem they are currently facing in making examples of architectural style compatible with ostensibly serviceable typologies. Definitions were offered for "formal," "vernacular," and "folk" which seemed to distinguish clearly between the three classifications. Yet the refined, trendsetting taste exhibited in formal architecture made its way into vernacular structures built from pattern books and standard plans. Even folk architecture in which ordinary people constructed buildings exhibiting their origins and occupations was touched by influences of high style as exemplified by neo-gothic touches in the homes of carpenters engaged in the construction of churches. Conversely the functional practicalities to which folk architecture responded were also recognized in vernacular structure. Thus the material evidence defied sorting according to apparently practical definitions.

Graeme Wynn (University of British Columbia), "Promoting the Landscape of Evangeline."

11 In a paper well illustrated with copies of early photographs, Wynn demonstrated efforts made to lure tourists to Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley by creating an attractive public image. The work of Amos Lawson Hardy, a photographer in Kentville, Nova Scotia, was used as an example. Beginning in 1892 Hardy photographed scenery and public events buttressing the theme, "The Land of Evangeline." Although some shots of daily life were made, most reflected an image suited to tourist promotion: quaint and picturesque. The target group was Americans who would be drawn to Halifax via the Yarmouth or Digby ferries and the Dominion Atlantic Railway and pass through the valley on their way. In this fashion the public image of Nova Scotians and some of the documentary evidence of their lives was influenced by practical economic motives not necessarily concerned with authenticity.

12 Beyond the substantial selection of scholarly presentations, the conference offered an informal congeniality which encouraged discussion and social interaction. The restaurants of Caraquet, surprised by an unexpected post-seasonal influx of tourists, bore up nobly. Local nightspots tolerated, with good humour for the most part, greying professors proving they could out-party upstart graduate students. And one noted historian, an occasional contributor to this publication, who hails from New Waterford, Cape Breton, was proud to announce he no longer feared fast ladies from Glace Bay wearing their dancin' shoes.

Peter E. Rider