Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres - James E. Candow, ed., Industry and Society in Nova Scotia: An Illustrated History

Book Reviews / Comptes rendus de livres

James E. Candow, ed., Industry and Society in Nova Scotia: An Illustrated History

Kris Inwood
University of Guelph
Candow, James E., ed. Industry and Society in Nova Scotia: An Illustrated History. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2001. 218 pp., illus., paper $24.95, ISBN 1552660605.

1 This illustrated book contains ten articles most of which were presented at a conference in 1998 sponsored by Industrial Heritage Nova Scotia. Fortunately, the articles remain highly informative and readable. A substantial introduction by Debra McNabb and editor James Candow tells the story of a locomotive, the Samson, shipped from Durham, England, to Pictou, Nova Scotia, in 1839. The General Mining Association used the locomotive during four decades, after which the Samson began a new life as an "artifact" on display to document and remind us of the industrial past. Beginning in the 1880s the locomotive was exhibited in Chicago, Baltimore, Halifax and eventually, in 1950, Pictou County. It is now a centrepiece in the Nova Scotia Museum of Industry in Stellarton. Ironically, the Samson has travelled further and lived much longer as an industrial artifact than it did as a working locomotive.

2 The editors use the Samson story to introduce the importance of industrial heritage and the challenge of conserving it. It is worth remarking that more than half of the authors contributing to this collection of work in the heritage industry. A second main theme of the book is the importance for politics, society and everyday life of the industrial transformation experienced so powerfully by Nova Scotia.

3 Several articles consider aspects of the province’s iron, steel, coal and metal-working complex. William Naftel’s account of the iron works at Londonderry adds new detail to earlier accounts by Andreae, Matheson, Inwood and Pryke. Michael Earle, in two articles, describes the origins of the Steelworker Union Local 1064 in Sydney and surveys the long-term evolution of the coal industry in Nova Scotia. By the 1920s, according to Earle, extraction costs were significantly higher in Cape Breton than in competing coal fields. He does not make the point explicit, but Earle’s account would appear to imply that rising costs increasingly handicapped the Cape Breton mines before 1920. Nolan Reilly has published numerous articles about the evolution of organized labour, industry and community in Amherst, Nova Scotia. Reilly’s chapter in this volume, "The Rise and Fall of Industrial Amherst" may be the single most effective overview of this community’s experience from 1860 to 1930. The chapter by Robert D. Tennant Jr usefully documents the numerous industrial railways, many of them small and hitherto unknown, that operated in Nova Sotia.

4 Other chapters in this collection move beyond the traditional Nova Scotian emphasis on heavy industry. Margaret Dixon and Del Muise provide a brief but evocative snapshot of Yarmouth’s transition from wooden shipbuilding and shipping to factories and other industrial ventures and, then, by the end of the nineteenth century, to tourism. James D. Frost draws upon his extensive knowledge of the Stairs family in a well-turned discussion of the important and long-lived Dartmouth Ropeworks. One of the least conventional and yet most informative chapters, by Peter Latta, is a documentation and analysis of stone quarrying. Latta’s sensible discussion of technological choice marks a significant step forward in our understanding of this complex industry. Janet Guildford’s thoughtful essay considers the contributions of Nova Scotian women to the province’s industrial transformation. She situates several fascinating case studies in a broader framework developed from original research and a review of the limited secondary literature. This is a useful reminder that industrialization even in Nova Scotia involved more than capital and labour in heavy industry. The economic transformation also involved women and men who shaped and in turn were affected by legal change, increasing consumer choice, expanding work in the service sector and fundamental changes in the circumstances of family life.

5 The final article returns to the theme of industrial heritage conservation. Anthony Barlow examines the regional metal-working firm, the Starr Manufacturing Company, which like the Samson is as important to the world of industrial conservation today as it once was to business and work. Its importance arises from its size and varied history, and from the sad circumstances of its demise. The company failed for the final time in 1996. Historical, archaeological and architectural investigation during the following four years uncovered a great deal about this company and associated industrial enterprise including the Shubenacadie Canal. Unfortunately, these uniquely interesting nineteenth-century buildings were demolished in 2000 during the preparation of this article.

6 This is a successful collection. The various chapters support and complement each other in the presentation of a rich panorama of the industrial past. Each chapter is strikingly visual. More than eighty photos, illustrations and diagrams are individually fascinating and collectively instructive. This book will interest anyone with an interest in social, business and technological aspects of industrial history and the role of heritage activities in shaping collective memory and identity.