Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Camera on the Banks

Through the summer of 2008 the O'Dell House Museum co-hosted an exhibit called A Camera on the Banks with the Admiral Digby Museum. This exhibit was assembled by the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax and curated by M. Brooke Taylor from Mount St Vincent University. Since we were the host of this exhibit, I am sad to say that I had not taken the chance to read the accompanying book, A Camera on the Banks; Frederick William Wallace and the Fishermen of Nova Scotia, until about a week ago.

I read a lot of books. As a Museum Director, I feel that I need to stay current with what the trends in local historical research are. Because of this, it sometimes takes me a while to get to a particular book. A Camera on the Banks is an excellent example of this. I had this particular book in my posession for about a year and a half before it finally worked its way to the top of my pile. In fact, we hosted an exhibit and had the author in as a speaker twice before I got to this title. I knew what my exhibit text was about and I did flip through the book to familiarize myself with the contents, but I had not read it. I am now sorry that I had not read it until recently.

Through clear and engaging text, M. Brook Taylor introduces his reader to Frederick William Wallace and the last age of unassisted sail in Nova Scotia. In the first part of the book, Taylor follows Wallace's life from childhood, as the son of a blue water Captain in Scotland, to emigration to Hudson, Quebec in his late teens. After a series of unfulfilling desk jobs, Wallace is given the chance to cover the Brittain Cup schooner race in Digby. This race would send Wallace's life in a new direction. Gradually gaining acceptance in the local community, Wallace would chronicle seven voyages on Banks schooners in the coming years. Wallace went on to be a magazine editor, novelist, artist and film maker. His subject was almost always sailing of the fisheries.

Taylor has done an excellent job of making Wallace and his times seem real. You can sense the urgency of being thrown out of your bunk by a lurching vessel at four in the morning. You feel the exertion of the crew trying to reef the mainsail or haul 300 pound halibut into a dory. Wallace's original photographs compliment a very compelling narrative. A Camera on the Banks is well worth reading for anyone interested in the history of Nova Scotia fisheries or what life was like in this province at the turn of the twentieth century.

The image at the top of the post is borrowed from Gooselane Editions, the publisher of A Camera on the Banks. You can find more information on this title by clicking the image.

All for now,

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