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This afternoon, I dropped by the Toronto Reference Library to browse its shelves. As one would expect, Toronto's central library has a very large collection of materials in languages other than English, ready for lenders to pick up. Out of curiosity, I stopped by to see what the Scots Gaelic collection looked like.

The Scots Gaelic shelf at the Toronto Reference Library


There were two shelves of Frisian-language materials above the shelf of Gaelic books, and the Frisian shelves were packed.

This is a sort of afterthought to the death of Gaelic as a living language in Canada. I grew up in the Maritimes, in the province of Prince Edward Island. In that province, now overwhelmingly populated by speakers of English, Canadian Gaelic was once very widely spoken. It was even the main language of, among others, my maternal grandmother’s family. She did not speak the language, though, her parents choosing not to teach it to her. They said that they did not want their many children to learn their neighbourhood gossip.



(The Matheson family lived in the east of what this map calls Eilean Eòin.)

Canadian Gaelic did not persist, not even in the Atlantic Canadian territories where it had been most successfully transplanted, even though it was a (distant) third among European languages spoken in Canada. My feeling is that the speakers of the language did not value it. Part of this may have had to do with the very different statuses of the French and Gaelic languages internationally. French was a high-status language that was a prestigious and credible rival to English, while Gaelic was a much more obscure language looked down upon by almost everyone--including many speakers of Gaelic--with at most hundreds of thousands of speakers. Canada’s Francophone minorities did face oppression, but their language and their community’s existence was something their Anglophone neighbours could more easily accept as legitimate, and that Francophones themselves accepted as legitimate.

This leads to the tendency of speakers of Canadian Gaelic were not committed to the survival of their language. I mentioned above that my maternal grandmother’s parents decided not to transmit the language to their children. In this, occurring soon after the turn of the 20th century, they were far from alone. Speakers of Canadian Gaelic were generally quick to discard this language for an English that was seen as more useful. The survival of the language was not seen as especially important: For a Gaelic-speaking Protestant, for instance, the bond of Protestantism that united them with an Anglophone Protestant was more important than the bond of language that united them with a Gaelic-speaking Catholic. In Gaelic Canada, there was just nothing at all like the push for survivance across the spectrum in French Canada that helped Canadian Francophones survive in a wider country that was--at best--disinterested in the survival of its largest minority.

Fragmented, without any elite interested in preserving the language and its associated culture or a general population likely to support such an elite, the Canadian Gaelic community was bound to go under. And so, in the course of the 20th century, it did, the smaller and more isolated communities going before the larger ones. There are still, I am told, native speakers of Gaelic in Cape Breton, long the heartland of Gaelic Canada, and there is a substantial push to revive the language’s teaching and use in public life in Nova Scotia. I fear this is too little, too late. The time for that was a century ago, likely earlier. If that incentive to give Gaelic official status and a role in public life had been active in the mid-19th century, who knows what might have come of this?

(For further reading on the history of Gaelic in Prince Edward Island, I strongly recommend Dr. Michael Kennedy’s preface (PDF format) to John Shaw’s 1987 recordings of the last creators of Gaelic on Prince Edward Island.)

Was the death of Gaelic as a widely-spoken language in Canada inevitable? Or, was there any possibility of a revival movement, of a renewed valorization of Scots Gaelic? I have wondered in the past if having Cape Breton remain a province separate from Nova Scotia, thus creating a polity populated mainly by Gaelic speakers, might create some kind of incentive for Gaelic to be politically useful.

Thoughts?

(Crossposted to alternatehistory.com.)
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  • D-Brief considers if gas giant exoplanet Kelt-9b is actually evaporating.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper that considers where to find signs of prior indigenous civilizations in our solar system. (The Moon, Mars, and outer solar system look good.

  • Joe. My. God. reveals the Israeli nuclear option in the 1967 war.

  • Language Log shares a clip of a Nova Scotia Gaelic folktale about a man named Donald.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the ongoing deportations of Hispanic undocumented migrants from the United States.

  • The LRB Blog notes the brittle rhetoric of May and the Conservatives.

  • The NYRB Daily mourns the Trump Administration's plans for American education.

  • Savage Minds considers the world now in the context of the reign of the dangerous nonsense of Neil Postman.

  • Strange Maps shares a map documenting the spread of chess from India to Ireland in a millennium.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that the Russian government needs to do more to protect minority languages.

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CBC News' Stephanie Vankampen reports on the end of a shuttle connecting Prince Edward Island to the mainland. One reason I left was the question of accessibility to the outside world: I wanted to be able to be mobile. The weakness of mass transit routes, including buses, in the Maritimes generally is a serious issue. That the underlying economics might well not support unsubsidized routes just makes the situation worse.

Since the Confederation Bridge opened in 1997, shuttle service has been offered to bring Islanders to Halifax.

Many passengers have taken the bus regularly for years, to travel to medical appointments, the Halifax airport, or to and from university in the city.

Driver Gary Meyers has been making the run — 13 hour days, 5 or 6 times a week — for the last 17 years. He knows every crack and bump on the road between Charlottetown and Halifax.

He said while the service will be missed by the regular customers, it was no longer profitable for the company to run both shuttle and bus service.
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The Globe and Mail's Christine Sismondo looks at the emergent wine scene along Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy shore, where vineyards are forming in suitable microclimates.

Despite the relative successes of the “Free My Grapes” movement – a consumers’ rights organization that was spearheaded by frustrated wine fan Shirley-Ann George a little over five years ago and works to remove barriers to inter-provincial wine trade – we still can’t find much Okanagan wine in Ontario (George’s particular grievance) nor expressions from Niagara in British Columbia. But you can find Nova Scotia’s Benjamin Bridge everywhere, even in the Yukon. The fresh, rosy-golden, peachy sparkler, called Nova 7, is more or less the headliner for Benjamin Bridge and one of the few Canadian labels you might find anywhere from sea to shining sea.

Why? Well, to hear the winemaker tell it, it’s just that good; it has practically addictive “drinkability.” Nova is no one-hit wonder, either. Benjamin Bridge’s other expressions, particularly the Brut Sparkling (a little less fruity and, arguably, more elegant), are featured on restaurant wine lists across the country, including those at the famous Hawksworth in Vancouver, Calgary’s Bar Von der Fels and Byblos in Toronto.

“There is a natural selection within the wine industry,” says Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, head winemaker at Benjamin Bridge, adding that he has spent very little time campaigning provincial liquor retailers. “Our responsibility is to make the most transparent wines in terms of sharing the story of the growing environment surrounding the Bay of Fundy. And we feel that if we succeed at that, the rest will come naturally.”

And it has. The enthusiasm for the operation’s wines is palpable, but as Deslauriers points out, it’s bigger than just his bottles or one winery. He’s working in a remarkable micro-climate and there are other wineries telling the same story he is. In response, wine lovers are eagerly listening and wine from the Annapolis Valley is trendy, possibly on the cusp of becoming Canada’s next big thing.

“It’s a little bit punny, but people here often say that the rising tide lifts small boats,” says Jenner Cormier, an award-winning Halifax bartender who recently returned to his hometown after three years in Toronto, where he was part of the opening team at Bar Raval. “For us to begin to be considered as a place that’s producing really good wine is huge for us.”

When Cormier left his home for Ontario three-plus years ago, Nova Scotia wines were mainly known for being passable seafood-friendly whites from an underdeveloped region. Upon his return, he was delighted to discover black cabs, pinot noirs and sparkling wines, many of which he describes as “unbelievably complex.” Halifax bars such as Little Oak, the city’s new wine destination, as well as the well-established locavore hotpot, Lot Six, are plucking the best of the best from wineries like Luckett, Avondale Sky and L’Acadie and offering as many as a half-dozen local options on their wine lists.
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The Globe and Mail features Stephen MacGillavray's interview with Kaye Chapman, a centenarian who at the age of 5 witnessed the Halifax Explosion 99 years ago today.

Nearly a century ago, five-year-old Kaye Chapman said goodbye to her four brothers and sisters as they rushed out the door of their north-end Halifax home. She collected her Bible and hymnbook and was about to play Sunday school, when a deafening boom swept her off her feet.

It was Dec. 6, 1917, toward the end of the First World War, when Halifax was the epicentre of the Canadian war effort.

Just before 9 a.m., the French munitions ship Mont-Blanc was arriving in Halifax to join a convoy across the Atlantic. The Norwegian vessel Imo was leaving, en route to New York to pick up relief supplies for battle-weary troops in Belgium. Both vessels were in the tightest section of the harbour when they collided, igniting a blaze that set off the biggest human-caused explosion prior to the atomic bomb.

The Halifax Explosion devastated the north end of the city, killing nearly 2,000 and injuring 9,000. The blast released an explosive force equal to about 2.9 kilotonnes of TNT. Shock waves were felt as far away as Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island. The Mont-Blanc was blown to pieces, its half-tonne anchor shaft landing more than three kilometres away.

Today, few survivors are left, likely none with the vivid firsthand recall of 104-year-old Mrs. Chapman, who lived on Clifton Street, about two kilometres from ground zero.

“As young as I was, I can see everything and I can even tell what we were dressed in,” she said at her assisted-living apartment in Saint John. “I had a little white outfit on – a tiny white dress and white stockings.”
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MacLean's shares a Canadian Press article describing the successful, if expensive, working of the first installed tidal electricity generating plant in Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy.

A massive underwater turbine started generating electricity from the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy on Tuesday, a test project the Nova Scotia government says marks a turning point for Canada’s renewable energy sector.

North America’s first in-stream tidal turbine was officially linked to the province’s electricity grid around noon, said Cape Sharp Tidal, the consortium behind the ambitious project.

The turbine is producing enough energy to power 500 Nova Scotia homes.

[. . .]

The partnership behind the project includes Halifax-based Emera Inc. and OpenHydro, a French conglomerate that specializes in naval defence and energy. Its two-megawatt turbine was lowered to the bottom of the bay two weeks ago.

The 1,000-tonne machine is about five storeys tall, but it is only a test model. It is anchored on the seabed at the eastern end of the bay in the Minas Passage, a five-kilometre-wide channel near Parrsboro, N.S. The powerful tides there left a smaller test turbine badly damaged in 2009.

A second test turbine will be installed next year.

The completed four-megawatt demonstration project will use a fraction of the 7,000 megawatt potential of the Minas Passage, the government said.
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This BNN.ca article makes me wonder. Nova Scotians, is this island-buying a noticeable trend?

There’s a growing interest in the private island market – and you don’t have to be among the ultra-rich to own one, according to a real estate broker specializing in the sale of islands around the world.

“The trend nowadays is people who are buying islands aren’t just looking for a vacation home, they’re looking to monetize it as well,” Chris Krolow, founder and CEO of Private Islands Inc., told BNN in an interview. He said investors are increasingly interested in buying an island, building it up and renting out a portion.

Krolow, who also hosts a real estate reality show called “Island Hunters,” is based in Toronto and has been selling private-island real estate since 1999. He sells anywhere between 30 and 35 islands a year.

But you don’t need to be as wealthy as Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison who bought a Hawaiian island for US$300-million, or magician David Copperfield who dropped an estimated $50-million to buy an island in the Bahamas.

You can buy an island for as low as $50,000 in Nova Scotia, according to Krolow, who said Canada’s east coast is home to the world’s cheapest islands.

“Chances are you might have some issues building on it if it’s too small,” he warned. “Of course getting there is a bit of an issue. Most of the people buying in Nova Scotia aren’t locals. They’re coming from Europe or they’re coming from the U.S., so that kind of drives the price down because there’s not a lot of demand there.”
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  • Apostrophen's 'Nathan Smith talks about his upcoming session at the Naked Heart literary festival here in Toronto.

  • blogTO notes that Metrolinx is set to kill Bombardier's LRT contract.

  • Centauri Dreams talks about the discovery of planets in the system of HD 87646, one not unlike Alpha Centauri.

  • Dangerous Minds talks about a documentary on skinheads.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to two papers about the discovery of planetary debris in orbit of white dwarfs.
  • The Dragon's Tales links to a paper speculating if the primordial atmosphere of Titan was ammonia.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog talks about the vote and immigrants.

  • The LRB Blog notes the worrying state of Brexit rhetoric.

  • The Map Room Blog links to a digital atlas of Mi'kmaq names in Nova Scotia.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at China's powerful new Long March 5 rocket.

  • Towleroad notes Kim Davis' large legal bill.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr supports Hillary, another noting how Utah can save the US from Trump.

  • Window on Eurasia argues Putin's Russia is more dangerous than the Soviet Union and suggests that the official definition of the Russian nation is brittle.

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I approve of this, reported by MacLean's after the Canadian Press, quite strongly. We have to start somewhere.

Daniel Christmas helped transform his near-bankrupt First Nation into one of the country’s most successful.

Now, named what is believed to be Canada’s first Mi’kmaq senator, he says he hopes to use his experience to “rebuild” Ottawa’s relationship with aboriginals.

Christmas, senior adviser for the First Nation of Membertou, N.S., said it was his top priority after being appointed one of nine new independent senators Thursday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I hope to bring a lot of my experience and lessons learned and know-how to try to point to a way to try and rebuild that relationship,” said the 60-year-old, who believes he is the first Mi’kmaq senator. “I have some definite unique experiences that will share a certain perspective on how this can be done.”

Bernd Christmas, a longtime friend and former Membertou CEO, said the new senator was instrumental in the development of his home community, which during the late 1990s was on the brink of bankruptcy and grappling with a 95 per cent unemployment rate.
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At Demography Matters, I blog about the ongoing and inevitable depopulation of Cape Breton.
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CBC News' Jennifer MacMillan reported about a Cape Breton company, The Farmer's Daughter Country Market, that has gained quite a lot of attention with its offer of free land and a job to Canadians willing to relocate to work there.

A family-run business is trying a unique approach to recruit people to live and work year-round in rural Cape Breton by offering two free acres of land to people who are willing to relocate.

Farmer's Daughter is a general store and bakery in Whycocomagh, N.S., which has a population of about 800. Sisters Sandee MacLean and Heather Coulombe took over the business earlier this year from their dairy farmer parents, who started it nearly 25 years ago.

MacLean told CBC News that the store has great employees — but it needs more of them to expand their operations.

[. . .]

The business would like to increase the number of year-round employees from 12 to at least 15, but hasn't gotten much response to traditional "help wanted" ads. Many young people have left the community to work in places like Halifax or Alberta.

MacLean and Coulombe came up with the idea of offering two free acres of land to people who are willing to relocate to Whycocomagh.


CTV News also carried the news, among others.

CBC News' notes that MacLean, for one, is trying to reverse Cape Breton's steady depopulation, as people head out to wealthier destinations elsewhere.

MacLean says she thinks it's great Cape Breton is growing as a tourism destination, but worries about what would happen if it's only inhabited by summertime tourists in the future.

"It won't be populated by Cape Bretoners — meaning people who want to live here all the time and continue the culture, the music, the lifestyle."


Is this goal achievable? I honestly have my doubts. I do compliment the owners for trying. Perhaps, if enough people try, something noteworthy might happen?
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Douglas Quan's National Post article "North Preston, N.S., is synonymous with a notorious pimping gang. Now residents want to reclaim its name" looks at how the largely African-Canadian Nova Scotia community of North Preston is trying to recover from the terrible PR associated with a violent human-trafficking gang.

One of the first things you notice when you enter this community northeast of Halifax is a large billboard that tells you you’re in “Canada’s Largest Black Community.” It’s followed by a slogan: “We’ve Come This Far by Faith!”

The second thing you notice is that just about every driver here acknowledges oncoming drivers — even strangers — with a wave of the hand.

It’s not the welcome you expect in a place that has repeatedly been described as the birthplace of North Preston’s Finest, a violent gang that specializes in trafficking young women and girls as young as 14 in the sex trade.

The community came under scrutiny last month when Edward Delton Downey, the prime suspect in the slayings of Calgary mother Sara Baillie and her five-year-old daughter, Taliyah Marsman, was linked in several media reports to North Preston’s Finest.

Talk to residents, even local police, and they insist the claims about a criminal gang originating in North Preston are exaggerated, misleading or manufactured by outsiders who don’t know their community.

They point to North Preston’s more famous sons and daughters: Olympic boxer Custio Clayton, basketball star Lindell Wigginton, young lawyer Shanisha Grant and singer/songwriter Reeny Smith.
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I really like Erin Anderssen's article in The Globe and Mail, also from mid-July, about time spending bonding with her son.

By the harbour, in front of the Bluenose Store, as a horse-drawn carriage carrying tourists clopped by, we captured a Jigglypuff. By the fire hydrant on Montague Street, a bouncing blue Nidoran was waiting. Not far away, a Pidgey was snagged, waiting dangerously in the middle of what was luckily a quiet thoroughfare. (Nothing like a digitally squashed Pidgey to take the fun out of things.) Coming around one corner, a Krabby – as in, a crab – surprised us. “There he is, there he is,” my son, Samson, whispered, forgetting, in the moment, that the Krabby couldn’t actually hear him. “I am sort of freaking out right now,” he confided to me.

It’s surreal playing Pokemon Go in the historic Nova Scotia town of Lunenburg, hunting virtual cartoon characters along the famous waterfront and brightly coloured, carefully preserved 18th-century houses. And yet, surprisingly fun. Two hours later, we had 27 Pokemon, and a level 5 ranking. This meant we could do battle in the nearest “gym,” which had been strategically placed by those clever game masters on the wharf, next to where the Bluenose would usually dock. On this Wednesday evening, the wharf was mostly empty, the famous schooner currently away from its home port. But every new visitor to Lunenburg eventually stops here; now every Pokemon Go player will, too. The founding families never imagined this.

It’s no understatement to say that Pokemon Go has become a worldwide obsession, sending Nintendo stock soaring. It’s already been downloaded more than the dating app Tinder, and is closing in on Twitter – even though it’s only, officially, available in the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Not that this has stopped any motivated gamer in Canada.

For a week, my son, who is 11, had been excitedly volunteering intel about the game, watching YouTube videos to learn how to play, and cleverly crafting the public relations case for why someone in the family should hack the system and get it on their phone. (He doesn’t have one of his own.) “It’s mother-son time,” he told me. “It’s really an app to go sightseeing with your kids.” “I can run around and burn off energy.” “We won’t get fat.” When he learned we were actually going to play, it was as if he’d chugged seven Red Bulls in one sitting.
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  • ABC reports on the Sudanese-Australian basketball players who are transforming the game in Australia.

  • Bloomberg reports on the potentially transformative scope of China's New Silk Road project.

  • Bloomberg View likes the new Star Trek movie's shift beyond speciesism.

  • CBC reports on the strength of pro-Trump support among non-voting Amish in Pennsylvania, and looks at a VIA Rail proposal to set up a commuter run in Halifax.

  • Gizmodo reports on Florida's disastrous coastal algal infestations.

  • The Globe and Mail notes a proposal for Ontario-Michigan cooperation and recounts the story of the construction of the Rideau Canal.

  • The Guardian reports on Catalonia's swift progress towards a declaration of independence.

  • MacLean's describes Manitoba's falling crime rate.

  • Open Democracy wonders about Italy's Five Star Movement and looks at the newest African-American hashtag movements.

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The Toronto Star carries the Canadian Press article noting that Sable Island is now searchable by Google, literally.

Whether they’re at a desk or on the couch, anyone with an interest in visiting the windswept dunes of Nova Scotia’s remote Sable Island can now do so without getting sand in their shoes.

Parts of the crescent-shaped island, situated roughly 290 kilometres southeast of Halifax, can now be seen on Google Street View.

From Google Maps, one click triggers a dizzying switch from the generic blue and green shapes of the map to crisp, 360-degree photographic images. Dozens of seals can be seen lounging in the white sand and blue surf on the expansive shoreline, and horses nibble on sparse grass among the shifting sand dunes.

An onscreen ‘x’ guides the user through a short “stroll” around a portion of the island’s midsection, with breathtaking views in all directions — but especially out over the Atlantic.

Danielle Hickey of Parks Canada said the 42-kilometre long, 1.5-kilometre wide island isn’t the first national park to appear on Google Street View, but she said its addition is especially unique and exciting because it is largely inaccessible to the general public.
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  • Bloomberg notes Ireland's huge unexpected recent reported growth, looks at the deindustrialization of Israel, observes Deutsche Bank's need to search for wealth abroad, looks at the demographic imperatives that may keep healthy Japanese working until they are 80, notes the slipping ANC grip on Pretoria and looks at the rise of anti-Muslim Pauline Hanson in Australia, and predicts Brexit could kill the London property boom.

  • Bloomberg View calls for calm in the South China Sea.

  • CBC notes some idiot YouTube adventurers who filmed themselves doing stupid, even criminal, things in different American national parks.

  • The Globe and Mail reports on the plans for a test tidal turbine in the Bat of Fundy by 2017.

  • MacLean's looks at the heckling of a gay musician in Halifax and reports on the civil war in South Sudan.

  • The New York Times looks at the new xenophobia in the east English town of Boston.

  • Open Democracy notes that talk of a working class revolt behind Brexit excludes non-whites, and reports on alienation on the streets of Wales.

  • Wired looks at how some cash-strapped American towns are tearing up roads they cannot afford to maintain.

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From Historica Canada, Halifax Explosion #toronto #doorsopen #blogtodot16 #torontorailwaymuseum #halifaxexplosion


The above photo was taken of a video monitor at the Toronto Railway Museum during my Doors Open visit, poised on a display in front of the Nova Scotia Pullman car. It preserves a scene from 0:23 of Historica Canada's Halifax Explosion Heritage Minute, when train dispatcher Vince Coleman realized the imminence of the Halifax Explosion and opted to warn an incoming train to stop short of the danger zone. All it took him was his life.



"What do you think you're doing?" shouted chief clerk William Lovett as train dispatcher Vince Coleman turned back towards the office. "We've only got a minute or two left! Anyone in the office won't stand a chance, and you're a married man with a family to think of!" But Vince Coleman was thinking about the passenger trains speeding towards the threatened harbour. He had to stop them.

In that moment of pure and selfless action, Coleman telegraphed his urgent warning. At precisely 9:06 on December 6, 1917, the worst man-made explosion ever [before the atomic bomb on Hiroshima] tore through Halifax, claiming 2,000 lives, including the life of Vince Coleman.

The Great War had brought prosperity to Halifax. The harbour bustled with convoys of men and materials bound for Europe. But on the evening of December 5, two ships' captains anxiously awaited departure. Aboard the Imo, a Belgian relief ship at anchor in the harbour, Captain From was annoyed that a late inspection had forced him to delay departure until morning.

Outside the harbour sat the French steamship Mont Blanc, its captain Aimé Le Medec awaiting morning access to the harbour and official clearance. Captain Le Medec had good reason to feel uneasy. Four days earlier his freighter had been loaded with tons of picric acid, TNT, gun cotton and benzol. The Mont Blanc was a floating bomb.

At 7:30 a.m., on December 6, the Mont Blanc began its slow entry into the harbour just as the Imo pulled up anchor. Forced to the wrong side of the channel by a steamer and tugboat, the Imo continued its improper course in direct line with the incoming Mont Blanc. The two ships sighted each other. There was a confusion of whistle blasts, misunderstood signals and, at 8:45 a.m., a disastrous collision.

As black smoke and flames rose from the Mont Blanc, crowds gathered on the Pier to watch the excitement. Factory workers, stevedores, mothers and children rushed to the best vantage points. Few people had any idea of the danger.

But one sailor who knew about the imminent explosion ran past the railway freight yards, warning Coleman and Lovett to clear out. Vince Coleman knew what was at stake when he ran back to tap out his crucial message. In the worst catastrophe in Canadian history, one man sacrificed his life to save 700 others.


This is rightly recognized as one of the top Heritage Minutes aired on Canadian television in the 1990s, happily preserved for posterity on YouTube.

The Halifax Explosion dominated one of the chapters of my Honours English essay, through Hugh MacLennan's novel Barometer Rising. I had argued that this disaster was used by MacLennan to draw a thick line between the traditional past of Nova Scotia and the modern world that its people had to join.

It is not enough, as Murray drunkenly suggests, to “[m]ake everyone live in the country [so] there won’t be any more of these goddam wars” (137). Nova Scotians must shed their parochialisms and enthusiastically embrace the wider world, just as they did before the explosion as foreign crews and ships arrived incessantly in Halifax harbour. Like Big Alec MacKenzie, Nova Scotians must “bridge the gap out of the pioneering era and save [their] children from becoming anachronisms” (208) at the relatively cost of being lost to their native regions. They must, like Penelope Wain and Neil Macrae, become people “who could seem at home almost anywhere” (208) even while preserving what remnants of Nova Scotian identity they could.


Before the Halifax Explosion was a symbol, it was a catastrophe. Thousands of people had been killed and thousands more maimed in the devastation of the chief metropolis of the Maritimes by one of the largest explosions to occur before the nuclear era. The tragedy is that this is an event that was highly contingent: If only the Mont Blanc had been better piloted, had received greater care from the authorities of Halifax harbour, this never would have happened. What if? I can't help but imagine this possibility, this imagined glimpse of a world spared, could have been as much a torment as a relief.
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In post #12 in an occasional series, In Medias Res' Russell Arben Fox considers what mid-sized American cities--in the Canadian context, I suppose places like Hamilton, Halifax, or Winnipeg--have to learn from each other, and what it means to be a successful city.

[T]he same metrics of success which Svaty called out in his commencement address were left essentially unexamined by Norman: rather, he simply stipulates that successful cities are growing cities, growing cities are those which imitate that which characterizes or that which is provided by the global cities at the top of the urban hierarchy, so therefore a study of urban areas which is limited in size needs to center itself upon those cities which have been able to globalize themselves on a local level. Should we contemplate the possibility that the experiences of such regional urban communities might give us a different way of talking about localism and globalism? Nah. Let's just look at everything Colorado Springs, CO, and Salem, OR have done right, and everything Wichita Falls, TX, and Duluth, MN, have done wrong.

This is no surprise to any of us who live in any of the latter category of cities, because it's hard to go a month without hearing of some new city commission or local service organization which is sending a group of people to study how Salt Lake City, UT, or Ann Arbor, MI, have done so well. We are constantly already doing the kind of comparisons which Norman built his book around (which makes it odd that in the end he concludes that "it is likely better to spend energy on dealing with local issues than on attempts to make a small place into something similar to a larger place that is viewed as more successful"--p. 139; perhaps Norman's next book could make that its thesis, because it certainly wasn't the implied message of this book). It's a consequence of living in a place larger than rural or micropolitan areas like Brookville, and reflects tendencies known to statisticians and social scientists the world over: once one enters into or achieves an environment which is suggestive of certain extensive possibilities, such possibilities become expected--and their absence becomes a source of embarrassment or derision. ("How can Wichita possibly be considered a serious city? We don't even have a Spaghetti Factory.") What I call mittelpolitan places are, as Norman corrected notes, not-insignificant population draws within their particular regions; the greater the mass of a place, the greater the likelihood it will become a regional subsidiary anchor for the service-oriented economy of the United States--education, banking, medical care, insurance, real estate, etc.--thus going through in miniature the same declines in manufacturing and relative increases in the "cosmopolitan" trappings of the global cities of the world (pp. 103, 112, 131). But such observations only entrench exactly the patterns of agglomeration which leave small and mid-sized cities ever more unable to compete, whether in terms economic development or retaining population: the kids who grow up in such places will only receive, again and again, the same implied message: the real action, the real opportunities, the real tests of success are to found in bigger places (and if they aren't to be found there, they'll be found in places bigger yet). No, if you're open to the possibility that the towns and cities of America which obviously benefit from--as well as struggle with, as we all do--the consequences of globalization might nonetheless have something to contribute as themselves, and not as places which, because of the historical accident which placed them in Montana or Kansas or Arkansas or Maine, can only ever aspire to imitate the global cities of the world, you need to think in different terms.

James Fallows, one of country's great (if not especially imaginative) journalists and essayists, sometimes seems to want to reach for such terms, but he can't quite find them either, perhaps because the presumptions of bigness are just too deep in his work history and outlook. For the past three years Fallows and his wife Deborah have been flying across the United States, visiting cities, looking into the hundreds of different ways, in his view, "a process of revival and reinvention" in underway. What they've written about is often inspiring; their observations about regional concentrations of talent, blue-collar resistance, city libraries, racial and civic assimilation, local arts movements, and more all give hope to those wanting to extricate our thinking about city life away from the global bias. Yet Fallows can't help (like David Brooks, with whom he shares more than a few similarities) but mourn hasn't yet responded to the transformations of globalization in a holistic, top-down way; he wishes President Bush had used the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the way Eisenhower used the "ten-terrifying 'Sputnik shock' of the late 1950s" to give us a moral equivalent of war moment, and push for "real national improvement." Fallows's "Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed" are entertaining, worth pondering, and probably often correct, but the fact that "big plans" and "research universities" are part of his perspective just goes to show that he, too, assumes that the best regional cities are those which can right-size the bigness associated with success, rather, perhaps, than those which can rethink success entirely.


Thought-provoking.
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