Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Pump Organ hits the Big Time

Ok, I will start this post with an admission. I missed Victorian Christmas last night. Yes, for the first time in seven years I did not attend one of the evenings of Victorian Christmas. Back in the summer, my wife purchased tickets to the Neil Young concert at the Metro Centre in Halifax so I was "Rockin' in the Free World" instead of serving mulled cider.

I have learned with this blog that I do not always know where the next topic will come from. As I previously mentioned, sometimes topics just announce themselves. Today's post is an excellent example and I will make some connections between Annapolis Royal history, Victorian Christmas at the O'Dell House Museum and last night's Neil Young Concert. Call it an exercise in connecting the dots.

About a third of the way through the show, our singer in question decided to set aside his guitar and play a song using a vintage pump organ. Properly called a parlour organ, this instrument became popular in the years at the end of the nineteenth century. By pumping two pedals with your feet, the player operates a set of bellows which power the organ. The keys and stops operate like any other organ. While these are very attractive instruments, there is nothing about them which says rock and roll concert. These are more of an evening sipping tea and telling stories type of instrument.

For years, one of the central parts of Victorian Christmas has been carols sung around the museum's 1885 Annapolis Organ Company Parlour Organ. Our instrument is not nearly as well tuned. In fact, the b flat sticks creating an effect somewhat like a bagpipe drone. The company itself was located on St. George Street directly across from the Sinclair Inn Museum. I often joke with visitors that their flaw in the business plan was producing very heavy organs on the second floor of a building. This is why I was very interested to see this instrument in use. It was a bit of heritage on stage. The rock and roll pump organ, who knew.

At the bottom of this post I am including a couple of notes on the Annapolis Organ Company from the Annapolis Journal in 1882.

All for now,

Annapolis Journal, Saturday, June 24, 1882

The Co-Partnership heretofore existing between the subscribers under the name and style of the Annapolis Organ Company is this day Dissolved by mutual consent, Mr. HE Chute having sold his interest and good will to Mr. EF Beeler, who has assumed all liabilities and will collect all debts due the late firm.

This item was followed by this note

Referring to the above I hereby announce that the business heretofore carried on by the Annapolis Organ Company will in future be conducted by me under the same name.
EF Beeler

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Opening Night

I am back in the O'Dell House Museum on the morning after the first night of Victorian Christmas for a bit of clean up. Looking around, it doesn't look like there is too much work to be done. All in all, I would call opening night a great success. We had about 175 visitors during the two hours we were open. Please consider that there are only about 2000 people who live around here, (445 in the Town of Annapolis Royal according to the last census). I would call these numbers very positive. With the layout of the museum, I was happy that everyone did not arrive as we opened the doors at 7pm. 175 people in this building at the same time scares me for many reasons.

One of the big factors in last night's success is that the weather was co-operative. There have been some nights when the wind has been blowing and the rain, snow and sleet are falling that potential visitors just do not leave their houses. I can't say as I blame them on those nights. The wind off the Annapolis Basin can be so strong on stormy nights that all of the oil lamps blow out when someone opens the front door.

I would like to mention one of the comments I hear every year at Victorian Christmas. This deals with the life that people in the late Victorian era would have led. People will walk through the museum, look at the decorations and when they get back to the kitchen and see the wood stove will say "Didn't they have it rough back then!" In reality, this is a matter of perspective. Compared to our current lives, people in the late 1800s would not have had as many amenities or technological gadgets (yes, they could live without i-pods). To see this through the eyes of someone living in Annapolis Royal in the 1870s, they would have felt that their lives were much easier than that of their parents or grandparents. At that time, the industrial revolution was churning out items which greatly improved the comfort level of the average citizen. Things like the cast iron stove were vast improvements over the open hearth which had been used before. Yes, to modern eyes life seemed harder but, the people living these lives did not know this. They felt that they were a very advanced people and looked back upon their elders as having lived difficult lives. Just imagine how people 140 years from now will look back upon us.

All for now,

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Images of Granville Ferry

Since I am in the lull between Victorian Christmas decorating and the official opening on Friday night, I will post something a bit different today. I have previously mentioned that one of my favorite landscapes lies directly in front of the O'Dell House Museum. The view of Granville Ferry with its ever changing tides, fog formations and colours on the North Mountain is always spectacular.

Granville Ferry, as well as the many other communities in this area bearing the Granville name, (Upper Granville, Granville Beach, Granville Centre and the former Lower Granville) were named for Lord John Carteret, Earl of Granville (1690-1763). Granville was a diplomat and court follower during the early Georgian period. He held a variety of posts including Secretary of State and Ambassador to Sweeden. Among other things, he was known for his lavish hospitality as well as a fondness for fine wine. Amusingly, both of these traits have been acquired by the Nova Scotia community named for him.

The ferry referred to in Granville Ferry was a boat which crossed the Annapolis Basin. Starting in 1777, this was the main way to get across the water without heading up river to the appropriately named Bridgetown. This service operated until a bridge was built across the Basin in 1920. Today, the Annapolis River Causeway is the main transportation link between Annapolis Royal and Granville Ferry.

Today, I will post a few images taken this morning as well as a few from a sunset earlier in the month. As a note to anyone traveling to this part of the world, the November sunsets are by far the most spectacular of the year.

All for now,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Book of Negroes - Canada Reads

I was going to take a break today after my blogging frenzy from the last two days. I had even left the museum for the day so I could run some errands. One of the things I learned early on in writing this blog is that sometimes topics just announce themselves and you need to react.

As I was driving to Bridgetown to collect the Annapolis Heritage Society newsletters from the printer, I was listening to the afternoon program on CBC radio from Halifax. I learned that the five books for this year's installment of Canada Reads had just been announced. I was thrilled to learn that The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill was chosen as one of this year's titles. This book is published as Someone Knows My Name in the USA and Australia.

At this point, I should take a step back. For non CBC listeners and people outside Canada, Canada Reads works as a cross between the TV show Survivor and a book club. Five books start, each with its own proponent, as the week goes along, books are voted out. At the end of the week, the book that everyone reads is chosen. Simple enough.

The Book of Negroes being nominated is one of those occasions where our local heritage activities and current events collide. As I have mentioned before, I really like those occasions. The novel traces the life of a young African girl named Aminata Diallo (Meena) who is captured by slave traders and sent to the American Colonies. In excruciating and exquisite detail, Hill describes the slave march across western Africa, the painful trip to America crammed in the hold of a ship, Aminata's sale in a Charleston slave market, her life as a slave producing indigo, and how she eventually finds freedom and redemption. This novel is truly all consuming and very moving.

The saga of Meena's life is a mirror to that of many of the Black Loyalists who arrived in Annapolis Royal at the end of the American Revolution. All of the Black Loyalists who arrived in this community would have been cataloged in the Book of Negroes which gives the novel its title. We even keep a transcript of this book in our Genealogy Centre so that descendants can find their family connections.

All of the Black Loyalists would have dealt with hardships in America as well as in Nova Scotia. While some of the events in the novel are compressed in time, Hill has done an excellent job of being historically accurate in his fiction. The Book of Negroes is an excellent book for someone looking to gain some perspective on Nova Scotia history or someone just looking for a good story. I know who I will be cheering for during Canada Reads.

All for now,

Monday, November 24, 2008

Decorating day 2 - Evening

Well, my nerves are a bit more at ease at this point in the day. We have gone past the worst of the decorating mess and things are looking up. In fact, the O'Dell House Museum is looking pretty good at this point. It really is amazing how much gets done in the course of a day during Victorian Christmas decorating. Like the last few, this post will mostly be images showing what has been going on at the museum.
All for now,

Decorating day 2 - Morning

If I had to pick a single word to describe the Victorian Christmas decorating process, it would be easy. Overwhelmed! I choose this particular word in both a positive and a negative sense. I am overwhelmed quality of the decorations and the creativity that our volunteers demonstrate every year. Some of your volunteers have been decorating the O'Dell House Museum for more than thirty years. To bring new energy and excitement every year is overwhelming. On the other side, the small details which need to be dealt with, the mess that needs to be cleaned up and the ensuring that all of the volunteers have what they need to work with is also overwhelming. Thankfully, I have dry socks today.

As I am writing this, everyone has stopped for lunch. Curried egg sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, cranberry squares, tea and coffee this year.

All for now,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Decorating - Day 1

This is a quick photographic update of Day 1 of Victorian Christmas decorating. When the doors open to the public the O'Dell House Museum will be a breathtaking. Right now, there is a lot of plant material in the museum and all I can see is a big clean up ahead of me.

Unfortunately, this morning's trip to the woods was not sufficient so Garry Freeman, the gentleman in these photographs, and I made a second trip at 4:00 pm. The snow is still knee deep and my socks are horribly wet as I am writing this!

All for now,

Where does Victorian Christmas come from?

I was up early to tangle with the snow again today. Unfortunately, my road has not been plowed yet (36 hours after the snow started) so I had to abandon my car in a neighbour's driveway yesterday night. I should mention that I live on a dirt road on the side of the North Mountain so I am familiar with being last on the plowing list. I trudged through the knee deep snow, reclaimed my car and met Ian Lawrence at the O'Dell House Museum.

Ian and I have been collecting the greenery for Victorian Christmas for a number of years now. Over the past thirty years, this event has become a staple of the Holiday season in Annapolis Royal. Key to the event are the elaborate decorations made from things found in the forest or grown in the garden. I will have some future posts about all of the sights, sounds and tastes of Victorian Christmas.

This is the first year that we have had to go to the woods after a heavy snowfall. Like most things, a little preparation and some warm clothes and we were fine. The image at the top shows the path we took to find our fir boughs and beech leaves. Looking closely, you can see my trimmers standing up in the snow on the left side. Thankfully, fir grows well along the South Mountain so we never have that much difficulty collecting what we need. The second image shows Ian, saw in hand, looking for a tree to prune.

It is nice being in the woods of Nova Scotia on a snowy morning. It would be difficult to imagine a more peaceful location. The fact that today is a Sunday and we were not worried about being shot by a deer hunter also helped our state of peace.

As I feared, we have not yet been able to get to the spot where we collect club moss. Not only is the club moss buried, but the road is not passable. Hopefully, we will have a bit of warmer weather later in the week so we can get back into the woods. Club moss has become one of my favorite parts of the event since I am always explaining what it is.

I will actually add something a bit different to this post. This will be one of the few times that I ever put up a photograph of yours truly on the blog. I am usually on the photographer end of the camera so there are not many pictures of me (fewer still that I would post online). I also do not tend to jump toward the limelight so this will be a rarity.

All for now,

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Now it feels like Christmas

Well, we are starting to get our annual Victorian Christmas event together at the O'Dell House Museum. Tomorrow morning I am off to the woods to collect fir boughs, beech leaves and club mosses so our volunteers can make decorations. I have been busy for the last week hiding some of our normal museum displays so that Christmas favorites can come back out. For some reason something seemed missing.

That something hit me like a ton of bricks when I woke up this morning. Actually, it hit me like a boot full of snow when I stepped outside. Yes, snow has indeed returned to Annapolis Royal.

I was up early today because I was carpooling to a workshop with Trish Fry, the Manager of the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. Our presenters were hearty sorts from Manitoba and Northern Ontario so a bit of snow wasn't going to scare them off. When I arrived in town, the streets of Annapolis Royal were quiet as only a few shovellers had made their way to the curb. I was even able to step out into the middle of St. George Street to take a picture without fear of being run down.

The gentle wind had left enough snow on the plants at the Gardens to make for some fairly dramatic pictures. A new season always makes for some interesting photography opportunities. Thankfully, I had a chance to snap a few quick pictures as Trish was gathering up some material to bring with us. Perhaps this will give me some material for the Gardens' photo contest next summer.

Hopefully we will not have too many problems collecting what we need for Victorian Christmas decorating tomorrow. The fir boughs should be easy to get but I fear that most of the club moss will be buried under about a foot of snow.

All for now,

Friday, November 21, 2008

HMCS Cornwallis

One of the things that I really like about the Annapolis Royal region is that history tends to stack up in layers. Our story begins with the Mi'Kmaq who have inhabited this area for thousands of years. Next, came the French ancestors of the Acadians who started arriving about 403 years ago. The Scots arrive in 1629 with a British Royal Charter and name the area Nova Scotia. Over the next 200 years, this region became a chip in the European struggle to control eastern North America. The New England Planters, the Loyalists and the Black Loyalists have all brought their stories to this area. Hey, we even had a big influx of hippies in the 1960s. Some times, it is a bounty of history that can make your head spin.

Despite all of this 17th and 18th century history, it is something more recent that caught my eye today. I was participating in a workshop at the Annapolis Digby Economic Development Agency (ADEDA) offices in Cornwallis Park today. Cornwallis Park is on the remains of the HMCS Cornwallis Naval Base. During the Second World War, this was the largest Commonwealth naval training base. Most Canadian sailors recieved a portion of their training at this site.

It is also worth noting that Canada had the world's fourth largest navy at the end of WWII. Much of the naval war effort for Canada was conducted from HMCS Cornwallis. Many of the trans-Atlantic convoys of goods to supply England started from this site on a peaceful basin off of the Bay of Fundy. Joe Casey, a former MLA for Annapolis and Digby, tells an excellent story of having to safely pilot five munitions ships into the Annapolis Basin and anchor them off HMCS Cornwallis. He relates that he was never told what the ships were carrying but that one of the captains told him that an accident could make the 1917 Halifax explosion look like a loud pop.

HMCS Cornwallis was closed in the 1980s. The site is now home to the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre, the ADEDA offices and an industrial park.

At the end of today's workshop, we had the opportunity to step outside to take some photographs for a project our groups were working on. Standing in the parking lot, I saw the former base chapel with a seagull resting on the top of the steeple's cross. I quickly snapped a couple of photographs.

All for now,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Congratulations Mrs. Nicolson!

I have been sitting on a secret for a couple of days. Not too big of a secret in the wide world of secrets, but a secret nonetheless. Besides, in the world of heritage, you often take what you can get.

I am very happy that I can now write that Jane Nicholson, the Vice President of the Annapolis Heritage Society, has been awarded the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia's awards for restoration of heritage buildings for 2008. The awards will be presented at the Heritage Trust's annual dinner tonight in Halifax.

The award for residential property was given to the Ruggles-Munroe House which is located at the Mileboard Corner in Annapolis Royal. This imposing Georgian building with two Victorian Bays, was in horrible condition before it was purchased by Jane. Shortly after she bought it, I walked through the house and was literally waist deep in garbage in places. Plaster was falling, there was a toilet in the upstairs parlour (yes, a working toilet) and the house had a sad feel to it. After a year of careful restoration, this is a property deserving an award.

The commercial property award was given to the Annapolis Royal Train Station. If anything, this building was in worse shape than the Ruggles-Munroe House when Jane started work. The Train Station had been abandoned for a number of number of years. The basement held an average of about seven feet of water at any time. This pretty little Arts and Crafts style station was in danger of being lost. Now, a fully restored building, the Train Station is home to the Clean Annapolis River Project, our local environmental organization.

These awards come on the heels of a number of other awards won by this community. In 2007 Tania Rolland won the Heritage Trust's residential award for her work on St. Alban's Church in Lequille. That same year, Annapolis County Councillor Marilyn Wilkins was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Heritage Canada Foundation. Annapolis Royal as a community has won the Prince of Wales Prize in 2006. This is the highest award in Canada for the preservation of heritage by a community. We have also been very successful in the Communities in Bloom competitions. We won the national prize for small communities in 2005 and an international Communities in Bloom Challenge this year. On top of all of this, we were named a Cultural Capital of Canada in 2005 and the Most Liveable Small Community in the World in 2004 by LivCom. Heritage and the preservation of heritage are key ingredients to all of these awards.

So, what do all of these awards amount to? Well, these awards show a commitment on the part of a community to preserving its heritage. They show a realization that, for this community, heritage is one of our most important resources. They also show that we are proud of our heritage and we are willing to share it with the world. Congratulations Jane and thanks for helping to make Annapolis Royal a better place.

All for now,