The title has two meanings: the nice people we meet at museums and tourist attractions help to explain the significance of the exhibits we are seeing; and meeting nice people explains why we have so much fun travelling. Wallace and Area Museum
We've spent the last few days on the Northumberland Coast of Nova Scotia - the part facing Prince Edward Island from the other side of the Northumberland Strait.
At the Museum of Industry in Stellarton we met Paul who was preparing to lead a tour but took a few minutes to give us some background on the area. He told us that the museum stands on a rich coal seam, nearly forty feet thick. While this means a lot of coal to be mined, it also means a greatly increased risk of explosions due to escaping methane gas. The owners of the Foord Pit kept trying, but finally shut down the mine after the last and worst tragic explosion in 1880, which killed 44.
The Wallace and Area Museum wasn't supposed to be open yet, but it was, and the desk clerk, sizing us up, called to the curator, David Dewar, who spoke to us for nearly an hour. The museum is located in a large house built in 1839.
The museum volunteers, led by a talented muralist, have created a series of illustrations of Map showing lots as drawn important events. One of these depicts a drawing of lots for homesites by a group of Loyalists from New York. They got as far as the border of the province, but had to wait until the following Spring to claim their land. Sitting on the ground, one man carefully keeps a map of the owners of each plot of land.
Now he showed us the map itself, the original paper with pencil marks for names and numbers. Large parts of this map have been lost to water damage; the map, over two hundred years old, had been rolled up in the attic where the roof had sprung a leak some time in the past. A conservator has been working on it, and it will be displayed because many of the legible surnames belong to current residents of the Wallace area, whose homes can be found on the map.
James Davison, who built the house, was engaged in ship building. When steamboats replaced sailing ships, Davison turned to being a merchant. In the third generation, husband and wife separated, and their son, John Alexander Kennedy, a successful businessman, never married and in 1992 left half of his estate to the SPCA and half, including the house and grounds and all the contents, to Military Heritage Museum the town.
The house turned out to be packed full of objects and papers of historical significance. Boxes of clothing and shoes, hats of an amazing variety. Papers and business materials and personal letters and swords and pictures -- it took the astounded museum staff more than two years simply to catalog it all. They are still trying to figure out how to organize and display it, a little at a time. Part of the collection remains a mystery. Some papers and photos have been judged too scandalous to be displayed, so they remain in the parlor, in a trunk which has been secured by a heavy padlocked chain. (See the museum website.)
After our successful scheduling of a visit to the closed International Fox Museum in Summerside, we have learned to make that phone call and get a special appointment to view a museum, even though it is too early to be officially open. We did this with the Pictou County Military Heritage Museum in Westville, and Vincent, the museum curator, showed us around. Starting with his own collection of military memorabilia, he has organized and labelled and publicized his museum so that now many people, from all over North America, are entrusting their own objects to him. The collection covers all Canadian military actions from the Boer War to Afghanistan, including the Devil's Battalion. Like the others we have met, Vincent is a great story teller, so we heard bloodcurdling tales and heartbreaking stories.
In 2000, when we first visited the maritime provinces, the ship Hector had just been launched and was being finished. It's a beautiful replica of the Dutch sailing ship that carried a load of 189 Scottish highlanders to Pictou in 1773. The building next to the wharf shows the methods used to build the replica, and the tartans of all the clans represented on the voyage. The ship itself remains tied The Hector in Pictou to the dock, a romantic reminder of the founding fathers of Pictou. Here we found ourselves chatting with a pair of retired schoolteachers from Ontario who were volunteers at the heritage site. After 13 years, the locals have pretty muched stopped regarding them as "CFA" (Come From Away)!
The Antigonish Heritage Museum is located at the old intercolonial railroad station in Antigonish. The director was busily getting ready for the summer season, putting in some drywall on the second floor. She took time to talk to us about her town ("Antigonish rhymes with "potatoes and fish") and explained why the local highway signs are in Gaelic and English: the university is teaching Gaelic and the local public schools are now including it in their curriculum because of the large number of families of Scottish descent in the area. Like many local area museums, it doubles as a genealogical library, with boxes of books and pamphlets about the early settlers. Here we were reintroduced to the Black loyalists - some free, some slave, who fled the United States after the Revolutionary War, feeling uncertain about their safety. She pointed us to a mall with a Cole's bookstore, which had a collection of books on Nova Scotia and the Antigonish area.