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Take a Closer Look

[I’m back in Toronto for the rest of the week, here for work and for BookCamp Toronto where I’ll be co-facilitating a session about online community building. I’ll be leading a similar session at BookCamp Halifax and would love to see you at the event. Register here and spread the word to ensure the inaugural event is a success.]

By Justine MacDonald

Photo credit: ShootsNikon from Flickr

Drive through any village, any ‘one street town’ in Nova Scotia and what do you see? A few stately homes? Perhaps. You’ll definitely come across some that have seen better days. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a handful of shops and services with, at most, another handful hidden away in people’s homes or off the beaten track.

This is how my town is. Drive down Highway #1 in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and you’ll travel through my village. It’s not quite ‘blink and you’ll miss it’, though I still wouldn’t recommend it — the road is quite curvy. We have that handful of businesses that are easy to find and the handful that perhaps only the locals know about (and even that’s debatable). Two of our three churches will never hear another prayer or echo with spiritual song. All of the community organizations struggle to keep going with a dwindling, aging membership and no fresh blood.

We have a ‘wrong side of the tracks’ — even if the abandoned rail bed is now free of actual tracks. During the summer, the village is quiet from the lack of college students; aside from one week when the attention of much of the valley turns to us and our exhibition grounds. This is all anyone sees of this little community; perhaps it’s all you see of yours as well.

Take a closer look: you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. Your town may not be as boring as you think it is…or at least it wasn’t always that way.

Take a walk. Hundreds of miles of that abandoned rail bed weave through the valley, happy to lead you wherever you’d like to explore…if you’ll take its lead. Here, a treasure can be found just passed the pool. Visit in the spring, when it seems as if winter has left for good, and you’ll see winter hasn’t given up yet, refusing to release its hold on the banks of the stream. At this time of year, the stream roars, fat and swift, down to the Annapolis. I love to carefully follow it further up the hill; I’m guaranteed not to see another person.

Take a look back in time, even just a few decades. What do you find? How has it changed? Is there any way to get back to that or is it gone forever? Is that history preserved or is it about to be lost as you lose the elders in your community? Within recent memory, my village had a bustling commercial district. The train station always seemed busy. The village band played at the grandstand on the river’s island every week. The seats in all the churches were full.

That island disappeared, I’m guessing, around the time the power plant was built further down the river. This was also the nail in the coffin for the ship building industry in the next town over. Looking at the small, struggling town now, you’d ever dream that large ships were as common in town — sailing in and being built — as the train had been; serving the large apple industry, the boot factory, the distillery. In between, hidden deep in the jungle-like forest, lies an abandoned lumber town. Only a few foundations, and the gravestones, remain to remind people of its existence.

We are lucky to have a couple that is passionate about researching and preserving our history in not one, but six (and counting) published volumes — SIX! Proof that one should not judge a place by the surface. Take a closer look and you’ll find an interesting story or two…or six…about your East Coast town.

Justine MacDonald (@AuroraLee on Twitter) made her way to Nova Scotia via the military. She’s currently an admin assistant by day and an aspiring writer in her free time. She also enjoys photography, design and much, much more!

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