The society meets monthly from September to May inclusive to hear and to discuss individual papers about personalities, places and events integral to the history of Nova Scotia at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Society lectures are open to the public and are completely free. Lectures are followed by refreshments.
Unless otherwise indicated, our meetings are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday evenings at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 6016 University Avenue, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Please note that the December lecture is held on the second Wednesday of the month.

Latest information on our upcoming lectures is here

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018

Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

Coastal Stories: A History of the Eastern Shore Islands

Sara Spike, University of New Brunswick

Abstract:
 From Jeddore Rock to the St. Mary’s River, in the Mi’kmaw territory of Eskikawa’kik, more than 700 islands are nestled along the rugged Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. Although today most of the islands have returned to a state of relative wilderness, boasting a diversity of natural landscapes and ecosystems, they each have a long history of human use and occupation. At least 80 islands in the archipelago were inhabited, beginning with pre-contact Mi’kmaw use and a series of forgotten early colonial encounters. Settler family homes were established in the late 18th century and flourished throughout the 19th century alongside sawmills, lobster canning factories, and flocks of sheep. The largest islands were home to small communities with one-room schools. As families moved ashore in the early 20th century, they floated their houses in with them, but throughout the archipelago, traces remain in shell middens, mossy cellars, and overgrown stone walls that mark the places where families once made their lives. Rather than a series of dramatic exploits, the history of the Eastern Shore Islands is made up of small stories about a dynamic, intimate relationship with this challenging coastal environment. This paper will share these stories and discuss the community-directed research project that brought them to light.

Click here for a bio of Sara Spike.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018

Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

“Halifax was Plunged into Gloom”, The Impact of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic on Nova Scotia, 1918–1920

Allan Marble, Chair of the Medical History Society of Nova Scotia

Phyllis R Blakeley Memorial Lecture

Abstract:
 According to death certificates kept by the Department of Vital Statistics of Nova Scotia, Marjory B. McDonald, aged 26, died from Spanish Influenza in the town of Inverness, Cape Breton, on 1 September 1918. The person who probably brought the influenza to Inverness was Murdo Kennedy, a soldier, who died there from the disease on 3 September after having been ill for a week. This was the beginning of three years of terror about influenza for Nova Scotians and resulted in over 2,000 deaths. This paper focuses on the source of the epidemic, the lack of responses from provincial and federal governments, and the miraculous work carried out by doctors and nurses in Nova Scotia who provided quarantine and treatment which resulted in Nova Scotia having one of the lowest death rates from influenza in North America.

Click here for a bio of Allan Marble.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018

Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

Encountering the Indigenous Other in Historic Nova Scotia, 1749–1900

Richard H. Field, Saint Mary’s University

Abstract:
 In many respects, the significance of the New World has less to do with Columbus’s so-called “discovery” and more to do with the ensuing colonial and post-colonial aftermath. Ann Stoler explains. Reading Derek Walcott’s “Ruins of a Great House”1 as a “searing eulogy to empire” Stoler suggests, “the process of decay is on-going, acts of the past blacken the senses, their effects without clear determination. These crimes have been named and indicted across the globe, but the eating away of the less visible elements of soil and soul more often has not.”2 Robert Bevan in The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War also methodically chronicles the systematic obliteration of objects and architecture for the sole purpose of erasing the memories, history, and identities of the people attached to them to deny their past as well as their future.3 As Bevan states, “The link between erasing any physical reminder of a people and its collective memory and the killing of the people themselves is ineluctable.”4

Yet, the remnants of physical structures and objects have the capacity to embody and convey destroyed histories and memories. Beneath the farmlands, forests, streets, parking lots, common lands, gardens, public parks, and architectural structures of Nova Scotia lies the original shorelines, hinterlands, and settlements first occupied by Indigenous peoples for millennia that support long-standing Mi’kmaq claims of ownership by first possession later denied them by conquest and colonization. And it is in museums, archives, private collections, and archaeological sites where we find the skeletal remains and stone, bone, and pottery fragments of that Indigenous ruination often portrayed as the enchanted remains of a vanished past resulting from the inevitable consequences of empire building.
Using case studies, this essay examines various encounters between colonists, the Mi’kmaq, and the physical and affective landscape of British Nova Scotia from the founding of Halifax to the end of the 20th century.

  1. Ann Laura Stoler, “The Rot Remains” in Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination, ed. Ann Laura Stoler (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2013), 1.
  2. Stoler, “The Rot Remains,” 1.
  3. Robert Bevan, The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War (London: Reaktion Books, 2006), 8.
  4. Bevan, The Destruction of Memory, 8, 33.
  5. Click here for a bio of Richard Field.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018

Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

Charlie’s War:  The Life and Death of a South African Soldier in the No. 2 Construction Company, 1917–1918

Kirrily Freeman, Saint Mary’s University

Abstract:
 On the night of September 22-23, 1918 Private Charles Some died of wounds in France, but he did not die in battle or from war injuries: he was murdered on a narrow mountain road in eastern France, stabbed multiple times in the face, chest, back and neck, his throat severed. Although Charlie Some died a violent death in France in 1918, it was outside of battle and likely at the hands of an ally or comrade. Though he fought with the CEF, Charlie Some was not Canadian — he was born in the British colony of Natal in southern Africa. He joined the No. 2 and lived in Africville, but was a newcomer to that historic community. When he was hospitalized, it was a result of civilian encounters, and his service file is peppered with absences and punishments. In short, Charlie Some’s experience in the First World War differs significantly from the Great War stories familiar to most Canadians.
But Charlie Some’s experience is revealing when placed in a wider context. In his migration from Natal to Nova Scotia, his recruitment as a Black man into the military, his health and hospitalization, the labour he performed, and his non-compliance with the regulations and routines of military life, the influence of racism and empire are overwhelming, and illustrate the connections that existed between local, national, and imperial policies and practices. Ultimately, Charlie’s experience — which on the surface seems exceptional — is in fact remarkably representative of much broader global patterns.

Click here for a bio of Kirrily Freeman.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

Medicine at the Fortress of Louisbourg: Trauma, Disease, and Cultural Influences

Jeannette Verleun and Dr. Carly MacLellan, Dalhousie University

Abstract:
 In early 1700s Europe, surgery and medicine were separate professions. Advances in combat medicine led to changes in civilian medicine as well as system practices. In Nova Scotia, French explorers had been in contact with the Mi’kmaq since the 1500s through at least the 18th century. Accounts show that the Mi’kmaq and French colonists relied on each other for aspects of health care. In 1713, the Fortress of Louisbourg was established and a formal health care system was developed at the fort. Using primary sources, published data from the Government in Canada, and historical journal articles, this paper will explore the structure of the medical system at Louisbourg between 1713 and 1758 in the context of cultural influences.

Click here for brief biographies of the speakers.

RNSHS Annual Dinner and Lecture – Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Citadel on Stage

Alex Boutilier

Note: This lecture takes place at our Annual Banquet at the Dalhousie University Club. Tickets will be available to purchase in March.

Abstract:
 Alex Boutilier’s 2015 book, The Citadel on Stage, is a lively and entertaining social history. While it is a biography of the people of Halifax during the colonial era, it is also the story of the British army and Royal navy in a garrison town, and a study of the relationship of politics, religion, economics, and culture, as well as social activities in pre‐confederation Halifax. It also traces British military theatre, sports, and recreation in colonial Halifax.

Click here for a bio of Alex Boutilier.

NOTE – ANNUAL DINNER AT DALHOUSIE CLUB

Tickets for this event must be purchased by Thursday, 12 April 2018.

Update: Banquet details are now available.

Seating for this event is limited. If you are interested in attending, please notify Rosemary Barbour at 902 424-6070 or email membership@rnshs.ca to ensure your ticket reservation and before submitting payment.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

Leprosy in Cape Breton — 1852–1907

Dr. Kenneth Murray, Family Physician, Neil’s Harbour

Abstract:
 In the 1850’s a very unusual disease appeared in two separate communities of Inverness County, Cape Breton. The disease spread slowly in localized areas causing significant disfigurement and a number of deaths. Some speculated this was leprosy. Others disagreed. It wasn’t until after the 1880’s that outside medical researchers visited to examine some of the victims. Was this leprosy? Was this another disease? Where did it come from and how did it get there? How did the community and the government respond? How was it contained? Were the measures implemented by health authorities effective? This presentation will examine these questions.

Click here for a bio of Kenneth Murray.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

Other Stories from the Great War: The Third Jamaican Contingent and “The Halifax Incident” of 1916

Professor Hyacinth Simpson, Ryerson University, Toronto

Abstract:
 During the First World War, British resources—both in manpower and materials—did not always prove adequate to meeting the demands of waging war on such a large scale. British authorities responded to the problem by coming up with innovations within their own borders and also by turning to their colonies for assistance. For example, when recruitment needs could not be met in the British Isles and its white-settler Dominions, British West Indians—from whom military authorities in London had previously rejected offers of service on the grounds that black men should not fight in a “white man’s war”—were eventually allowed to serve via a special Royal decree. But, while over 10,000 “coloured” men from the British West Indies were happy to volunteer on behalf of “King and Country”, their needs were not always properly attended to by British authorities. Transportation, accommodation, and medical attention were often sub-standard, and at times outrightly neglected.
On occasion, that neglect even led to non-combat fatalities. The most infamous example of the toll such neglect took on the British West Indians involved a group of over 1,000 (mostly Jamaican) volunteers who were part of the Third Jamaica Contingent that sailed for England in March 1916 on the SS Verdala. On the outward journey, the Verdala was diverted to Halifax, Canada during a terrible blizzard. The tragedy that unfolded from the moment the Verdala arrived in Halifax to the day, months later, when the last Contingent man left the city is at the centre of a dramatic story of unprecedented co-operation between Canadians and Jamaicans. That co-operation proved highly beneficial for both countries, with Canada using the opportunity to jump-start a rehabilitation program for its injured soldiers.

This presentation gives a full account of this story, which has never been told before in its entirety; and, in the process, shows how the Canadian Military Hospitals Commission parlayed this incident in Halifax into creating what later became a comprehensive network of convalescent hospitals that helped prepare Canada’s wounded warriors for post-war life.

Click here for a bio of Hyacinth Simpson.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

Ordinary People; Extraordinary Times: Minnie and Stewart Ross confront the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion

David A. Sutherland — retired professor, History Department, Dalhousie University

Abstract:
 A working-class couple living in Halifax’s North End, Minnie and Stewart Ross were leading unremarkable lives as their city became embroiled in World War One. For them it appeared to be a “good war,” in the sense that while Stewart enlisted, he never went overseas, instead serving on board the Niobe, flag-ship of Canada’s east coast navy. That semi-derelict vessel remained in port throughout the hostilities, meaning that Stewart got home every evening, while earning steady promotion in the ranks. Then came disaster. The December 1917 explosion levelled the Ross home, killing all four of their children, seriously injuring Minnie and leaving Stewart prone to the onset of tuberculosis. This presentation follows the family through 1918 as they, in association with the Halifax Relief Commission, sought to rebuild their lives in the face of multi-faceted adversity.

Click here for a bio of David Sutherland.

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RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 — 7:30 p.m., Nova Scotia Archives

City’s Saviours: The Military Response to the Halifax Explosion

Col. John Boileau (Ret’d)

Abstract:
 When the Belgian relief ship Imo collided in the Narrows of Halifax Harbour with the munitions-laden Mont-Blanc at about 08:45 on the morning of December 6, 1917, it started a fire that eventually resulted in an earth-shattering explosion at 09:04:35, perhaps the largest man-made, non-nuclear explosion in history.

The public safety and emergency service organizations that exist today were unknown, the city’s fire and police departments had few members, public hospitals had only recently come into existence and private ones were small. Halifax and Dartmouth were clearly unable to cope with the scale of the disaster and emergency assistance was desperately required. Other cities and towns in Nova Scotia quickly mobilized help once word of the disaster got to them, and American assistance from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York also was dispatched to the stricken city.

It took time to organize this response however, and in the interim it was the large number of Canadian, British and American soldiers, sailors and nursing sisters who were in the city at the time that immediately came to the city’s rescue. Among other actions, their response saved lives, prevented further destruction and stopped looting—in short, they prevented the disaster from becoming greater than it was.

Halifax’s role as the Canadian city most involved in the war effort—a function that led to the explosion in the first place—was also the main reason why the reaction to the disaster was so quick and coordinated. The important role the armed forces played in the rescue and recovery operations has never been given the formal recognition it deserves. It remains a mystery why the contributions of the servicemen and -women who offered so much in the explosion’s aftermath have never been officially acknowledged.

Click here for a bio of John Boileau.