The Natural History of a Sustainable Institution: The Nova Scotian Institute of (Natural) Science Since1862

21 November 2012

“The Natural History of a Sustainable Institution:

The Nova Scotian Institute of (Natural) Science Since1862”

Dr. Suzanne Zeller, Department of History,

Wilfrid Laurier University

The November meeting of the Society was a joint meeting with the Nova Scotia Institute of Science with 80 members of guests in attendance to partake in the celebration of the Institute’s 150th anniversary.

The evening’s speaker was Dr Suzanne Zeller of Sir Wilfred Laurier University who is well known as an historian of science in Canada and the author of Inventing Canada a 1987 book on Science in late Victorian Canada.  Dr Zeller is working on a history of the Institute and has been extensively studying the Institute’s Transactions, as well as its minutes.

The impetus for starting the institute was the 1863 provincial exhibition in which the geology of Nova Scotia was prominently displayed.  The monopoly of the GMA having ended in 1858 there was also some desire for a Geological Survey of the province as an industrial incentive. In her analysis she fitted the Institute into a wider and global evolution of sciences as they were practiced in different eras.  Started in the era when natural history was dominant, the society initially was named the NS Institute of Natural Science.

During this period the Institute’s publication of its Transactions resulted in an exchange of publications with like societies around the world.  The legacy of this library of publications is found in the science collections of the Dalhousie University Library.  A name change in 1899 dropped natural from the name and moved the organization into a period that favored analytical science.  It was also during this period that the federal biological labs appeared on the scene in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and added greatly to the local scientific community.  It was also the period when the scientific organization of natural phenomena was of great interest and Nova Scotia schools, under the direction of AH MacKay did annual recordings of dates like that of the first snow, the first robin and so on.

Experimentalism is the current mode of science as characterized by Zeller’s analysis.  Despite being a provincial institute, local topics are not dominant in the Institute’s publications, particularly as it moved towards experimental science.  Over the period of the publication a number of tensions or analytical frameworks were noted: city articles as opposed to country ones; expert  authors and lay ones; articles based in a scientific discipline or articles looking at a genre or wider frame than a particular discipline; and national interests vs regional ones.

The ability of the Institute to transcend changes in popular scientific engagement has allowed it to continue to exist and to find relevance over a wide period of changes in science modes and popular understandings.

‘Once you’ve tried everything, where do you go?’: Changing Tactics in the Campaign against Biocide Forestry in Nova Scotia, 1976-84

17 October 2012

‘Once you’ve tried everything, where do you go?’:

Changing Tactics in the Campaign against Biocide Forestry in Nova Scotia, 1976-84

Mark Leeming, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History,

Dalhousie University

Coming to Dalhousie via St. Francis Xavier University and MacMaster, Mark Leeming is an environmental historian and an active participant in NICHE – the Network in Canadian History and the Environment.

The spruce budworm had not been a stranger to Cape Breton.  In the 1950s an increase in the spruce budworm population with its accordant effects on forest production and health had been allowed to pass without major intervention and in a few years the problem had declined through natural factors.  However in 1975, when a similar infestation threated, Nova Scotia Forest Industries had sought permission to spray.  Although initially rejected for that season, the following year permission was received and over the objections of the Department of Lands and Forests the government granted permission to spray.   However a medical researcher at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax had linked spraying to Reyes Syndrome and this was reported in the Cape Breton Post under an inflammatory headline linking death and spraying.

In his discussion of the groups against the spray and their actions to oppose it, Leeming  identified different approaches to environmentalism in Nova Scotia. As the effective window for spraying was seasonal and small, the threat of court action and the lack of political will to approve permits initially was an effective environmental action against the spray.  Delay meant spraying would be impossible. Other activists preferred direct action such as blockading and picketing spray sites.

The trajectory of Elizabeth May’s career, from her arrival in Cape Breton in 1974 as a waitress at her family restaurant to becoming a crusading lawyer, provided some illustration of the changes in the movement.  Changes also occurred in the staffing at the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, who had initally emphasized the role of chemicals in forestry while diminishing the voices of those who advocated what would now be characterized as sustainable practices in contrast to industrial forestry.  While the legal message was that playing by the rules did not produce the desired environmental result the spray program ultimately died as it became politically difficult  to justify.


Louisa Neville: Mrs. Thomas Chandler Haliburton

15 May, 2013

“Louisa Neville: Mrs. Thomas Chandler Haliburton”

Allan Penney

Research Associate, Nova Scotia Museum

Society lectures are open to the public and are completely free. The lecture will be followed by refreshments.  For information on other lectures we will host this winter, please click on the link to download a copy of our lecture program January to May.


The Kings County World of the Rev. Edward Manning to 1846

September 19th 2012

The 26th Annual Phyllis R. Blakeley Memorial Lecture

“The Kings County World of the Rev. Edward Manning to 1846”

Dr. Julian Gwyn, Professor Emeritus, Department of History,

University of Ottawa

The Phyllis R Blakeley lecture named in memory of the late Provincial Archivist of Nova Scotia who was remembered for her contributions to local history, as a writer in her own right, and also as an archivist, a facilitator of research and a mentor, reader and advisor to many historians.

Dr. Julian Gwyn came to Nova Scotia to farm in Berwick after more than 25 years as an historian at the University of Ottawa .  While noted as a naval and empire historian, Dr Gwyn had also released a string of publications addressing Nova Scotia within the empire.  More recently he has been looking at the end of his lane and how those various townships developed in Nova Scotia.

His lecture for the evening was based on the diary of the Rev Edward Manning, who was regarded as one of the founders of Calvinist Baptist faith in Nova Scotia.  Born in Ireland Manning arrived in Nova Scotia at the age of three in 1769.  Perhaps in some way shaped by the circumstances of his father’s conviction and hanging for murder in 1776 Manning encountered  Henry Alline in 1778 and began his road to conversion to the great awakening form of Baptist faith.  Unfortunately the diary starts later in 1806 and continued until 1846, 5 years before his death.

While much of the diary is consumed by the state of his soul, his health, and his family, there are nevertheless extensive comments on the community at large.  Calvinistic repentance for hunting a bull moose on the Sabbath when he was 24 is strung throughout the document.    His journey from a consumer of spirits who viewed rum as a cure for hemorrhoids to a temperance preacher was another theme found in the diary.  His encounters with the African Nova Scotian preacher Richard Preston speak to the sometimes reluctant acceptance of people of colour into Nova Scotian society of the time.

Although born into the Catholic faith Manning held it in particular disrepute especially when it came to St Patrick’s day.  At the end of his career he was again apart from his former faith ministering to a small splinter group of Baptists in Kings County who had diverged on the question of sprinkling versus immersion.  Having read all of extant diary Dr Gwyn concluded that Manning, like Calvinists, lacked any joy in his life or the freedom to admit that joy might exist.