More Fortress Memories

January 2022

I recently posted a few photos found in drawers or files that I had not explored in years. The scenes brought back lots of welcome memories.

Here are a couple more shots from my time at the Fortress of Louisbourg.

One is of me in a soldier’s costume seeming to be leading a tour in the ruins of the hospital. The photo was a set-up, as all the adults in the shot worked at the Fortress (Allan MacLeod, David Bateman, Frederika Fallis and another whose name escapes me). The kids were from Louisbourg town. I don’t recall why this scene was captured on film; some kind of publicity photo I guess.

The second photo is a glossy b&w of the bunch of us in Fortress costumes down at Boston’s Louisburg Square, on the steps of Louisa May Alcott’s onetime home. I had posted a newspaper clipping of this scene about 10 days ago, but this is the actual photo of the whole set-up.

Writing for Exhibits

January 2022

It occurred to me the other day that I say very little on this site about the exhibits I work on. Mostly, I post about books or book-related events.

Exhibits, however, remain an important part of my working life. Sometimes I do a lot—like develop the storylines and write all the texts and scripts—and sometimes I contribute only in small ways. Nonetheless, I feel each project is important. Exhibits can reach a lot of people with their messages.

I was very fortunate to have worked as an historian at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site for more than 20 years. Back in that period, the Louisbourg historians were the main interpreters of the site and we wrote all the exhibits, and pamphlets and stuff like that. It was great training, and gave me useful skills learning how to boil down complex subjects into pithy summaries. One quickly learns that it’s a lot easier to write long than short.

Coming out of the Fortress of Louisbourg background served me well on many other projects over the years that followed, two of which are depicted below.

One is the travelling exhibit (Ni’n na L’nu) I wrote for the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI and the other is the Vanguard exhibit I researched and wrote for the NS Museum.

I have also written for five exhibits in the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores of Nova Scotia, the Colchester Historeum, and the Black Cultural Centre. Recently, I contributed words to the new exhibit soon to be unveiled at the Halifax Citadel and I am currently developing the content for a new exhibit to be installed at Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst NHS on PEI.

Wigwams at Confed Centre

Seasell, Boston, 1987

January 2022

I worked at the Fortress of Louisbourg NHS for 23 years, and occasionally took part in some unusual events or activities.

In 1987, a bunch of us—employees and volunteers—participated in Seasell, a Nova Scotia tourism marketing venture that sailed to Boston aboard the Scotia Prince. The trip had many memorable moments from start to end, from the mystery meat to nearly freezing in our bunks to top-notch musical entertainment.

Once the gang got to Boston it was time to don our various Fortress costumes and talk to media and potential visitors to NS. The thinking was apparently that if Bostonians saw people dressed as we were—as 18th-century inhabitants of Louisbourg—they would want to vacation in NS and come see the Fortress. I have no idea how well that approach worked. In retrospect, it seems like a lot of wishful thinking.

One photo taken by a Boston Globe photographer ended up prominently displayed in the paper. That was the photo of Mary Topshee (aka mon épouse) and Edward Storm.

On one outing away from the ship a bunch of us in Fortress costumes took taxis to Louisburg Square where we were again well photographed. In one of those shots, seen below, Mary and I are coming down some steps—of the onetime home of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women—while Valerie Hunt, Don Tryon and Theresa Boone look on.

These photos turned up in a photo album as Mary and I continue to sort through stuff that needs to be sorted before we sell our house in Halifax (which is having an unprecedented real estate boom) and move into an apartment.

The Boston trip reminds me of a couple of others I went on while working with Parks Canada. In those instances I dressed up as Samuel de Champlain. I know! One time was in Manhattan, another in Miami Beach.

I wonder if Tourism people still think wearing period costumes attracts tourists?

Short Excerpt

January 2022

One of life’s great pleasures—up there with wine and cheese and a warm baguette—is hearing from readers who are enjoying one of your books.That happened to me yesterday, when a reader of Ancient Land, New Land reached out to tell me how much she was enjoying different aspects of the latest book Jesse Francis and I have authored, about Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst on PEI. The book is published by Acorn Press.

Out of privacy concerns I’ll not reveal the reader’s identity (other than to say it was my sister). I shall call her Elinor rather than keep saying the reader.

One part of the story Elinor found especially interesting was that of Robert Potier Dubuisson, who came to play a major role in the administration of the French colony of Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) for more than 20 years.

Here, from page 32 of the book, is how the story of Dubuisson begins:

“Dubuisson grew up in the British colony of New York, where his father, Jean-Baptiste Poitiers (Potier) du Buisson, was an organist on Staten Island. The boy Dubuisson became fluent in Dutch and English, as well as French, which his parents spoke at home. Around 1699, when Robert was 16, the family moved to New France where the father became an organist in a Montreal church. Young Robert went to work at a variety of clerical government jobs associated with the Marine department, the part of the French government that had responsibility for both the navy and overseas colonies. Sometimes Dubuisson was employed as an interpreter as well. Robert married, but his wife died a year into their marriage, two weeks after giving birth to a baby girl. In 1719, in his late twenties, Robert moved into the position of controller of the king’s stores. He must have impressed his superiors, because three years later, he was promoted to a weighty responsibility.”

That appointment was as the sub-delegate of the intendant of New France for Île Saint-Jean. To learn the rest of Dubuisson’s story, and a whole lot more about the Mi’kmaq, Acadians and British please turn to the book.

Launch Postponed

January 2022

It is no surprise: the current surge of COVID-19 cases on PEI and the rest of Atlantic Canada has brought about a postponement of the scheduled Jan. 10, 2022, book launch event in Charlottetown.

I shall post something here when a new date is selected.

Bye-Bye 2021

December 2021

Bye-bye 2021.

You were a year we are not all that sorry to see depart.

Restrictions, lockdowns, masks, vax, double vax and booster shots; not to mention a bunch of letters of the Greek alphabet. We are keen to move on.

But before we do, I do have two writerly highlights of 2021.

First, the year-and-a-half-delayed October evening at Truro’s Marigold Theatre—at which I read from parts of Kings of Friday Night and The Lincolns thrilled the audience with a vintage performance. The band was great, as it has been—off and on—for about 62 years. Paul Eisan was terrific as the new (and likely one time only) lead vocalist. Charlie A’Court brought chills to everyone with his surprise appearance and singing of “Dreams to Remember.”

And then came the moving, eye-watering recording of Frank MacKay singing “Danny Boy.”

If that was the last performance by the legendary band, it was a wonderful way to bring the curtain down.

My second writer’s 2021 event was the coming into the world in November of Ancient Land, New Land. It too had gone through some long delays, but was at last brought out by Acorn Press. Co-author Jesse Francis and I are hoping to do one or more launch events for it in 2022.

Cheers to all, and to all a cheery start to the years ahead.