RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, 19 March 2014


Click to download Lecture Poster

Highland Shepherd: Rev. James MacGregor, 1759-1831

Dr. Alan Wilson, Professor Emeritus, Trent University

7:30 pm, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 6016 University Avenue


A review of MacGregor as missionary, ecclesiastical statesman, Gaelic authority and poet, agent of the Enlightenment  in the  Scottish  diaspora, and influential Improver in science, technology, industry, agriculture and education in the Maritime Provinces.

 Click here for a bio of Dr. Alan Wilson.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, 19 February 2014


Click to download Lecture Poster

The Loyalist Plantation: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Informing Early African-Nova Scotian Settlement

Dr. Catherine Cottreau-Robbins, Nova Scotia Museum

7:30 pm, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 6016 University Avenue


At the close of the American Revolution thousands of American Loyalists were forced into exile and made their way to British colonies beyond the United States. Most of the Loyalists landed in British North America, particularly the Maritimes. The research presented is a study of the Loyalists. Specifically, it explores a Loyalist and his journey from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia along with his family and servants, including enslaved Black Loyalists. A central objective of the research is to illuminate the story of the enslaved and magnify their place in Nova Scotia’s colonial history narrative. The objective is addressed by adapting a holistic perspective that considers a single geography – the plantation. The holistic perspective, developed through an interdisciplinary methodology, explores the people, places and culture that formed the Loyalist plantation and were informed by it. The picture that emerges is one that puts into place the structure and organization of a Loyalist plantation in the late eighteenth century Atlantic northeast. When mapped, the historical data compiled provides clues to a wider and deeper landscape of slavery in Nova Scotia’s Loyalist era.

Click here for a bio of Catherine Cottreau-Robbins.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, 15 January 2014


Click to download Lecture Poster

The Political Education and Revolutionary Consciousness of the Black Loyalists

Dr. Afua Cooper, Dalhousie University

7:30 pm, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 6016 University Avenue


In 1800, the Black Loyalist Nova Scotians who had been living in Freetown, Sierra Leone for eight years, rose up in rebellion against the Sierra Leone Company, rulers of the nascent colony. These settlers had fled Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone in search of full freedom and independence. Eventually, the frustrations, disappointments, and bitterness experienced by the Black Loyalists reached the boiling point, and they moved to overthrow the colonial government and white rule as represented by the Company.

What would impel the settler to engage in such a radical action as rebellion? Why did they feel so empowered to launch their protests? And why, from the moment of their arrival in Sierra Leone, they behaved as if it was their colony and they had every right to determine how it should run? What were the forces that shaped the consciousness of those settlers that made them take up arms against the Company, and were willing to die for their freedom?

The Black Loyalists are important because they embodied perhaps, one of the earliest collective examples of a transnational and Pan African consciousness and subjectivity. They were instrumental in originating and creating a Black Atlantic revolutionary tradition. However, this aspect of their history, i.e. the creation of a revolutionary consciousness and identity, has been overlooked by historians who have delved into the Black Loyalists experience.

Click here for a bio of Dr. Afua Cooper.


RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, 11 December 2013


Click to download Lecture Poster

Acadian Cemeteries in Nova Scotia:

Changing Cultural Landscapes

Dr. Sally Ross, Independent Scholar


Cemeteries are sacred places of remembrance and commemoration, but they also bear witness to changing values and beliefs. As cultural landscapes shaped by people, they reflect many aspects of their communities, ranging from social stratification to linguistic assimilation. Based on her 2003 field research in 60 post-Deportation Acadian cemeteries in the eight different Acadian regions of Nova Scotia, Sally Ross will illustrate the regional specificities and the shifting iconography that characterize these landscapes.

Click here for a short bio of Dr. Sally Ross.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Click to download Lecture Poster

“No paleolithic is he, but braw Canadian Scotch”: Cape Breton’s Giant MacAskill

Dr. Laurie Stanley-Blackwell, St. Francis Xavier University


The 150th anniversary of the Giant MacAskill’s death invites a reassessment of his career and the elaborate mythology which his physical prowess and size have generated. In the heyday of the freak show, the celebrated Cape Bretoner, attired in Highland costume, joined the exhibition circuit, entertaining audiences from Halifax to Havana in a combined performance of ethnicity and physical anomaly. Even in death, the Giant did not leave the world of the sideshow behind. In his transformation from monster to marvel to marketing device, he has proved a versatile muse for writers, cartoonists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and tourist policy makers who have exploited his potential as an heroic spectacle of superior size and brawn, and as an icon of Scottish physical strength.

Click here for a short bio of Dr. Laurie Stanley-Blackwell.

RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, 16 October 2013

October 16

“Nova Scotia soldier pensioners in their British Imperial context, 1812-1827″

Dr. William R. Miles, Memorial University & Dr. Michael E. Vance, Saint Mary’s University.


The Napoleonic Wars produced a mass mobilization that touched every community in the British Isles. Indeed, the scale of the mobilization was not surpassed until WWI and, as with the later twentieth-century conflict, the settlement of veteran soldiers in the Empire was viewed by many as a means to forestall potential unrest following demobilization at the end of hostilities (Cookson:1997; Fedorowich: 1995). Our paper is based on the examination of the War Office Registers that identified British Soldiers receiving their pensions in the colonies in the post-Napoleonic period. These records provide details of military service, occupation prior to recruitment, and the community of origin as well as the colony of settlement – including Nova Scotia. In the 1930s J.S. Martell made use of Colonial Office and newspaper records to itemize the various soldier settlements founded in Nova Scotia after 1812. Using the War Office records, our paper will build on this earlier work by providing particular histories of a few individual soldiers who were located in the Nova Scotia settlements. British soldier pensioners were found in the West Indies, the Cape Colony, and New South Wales as well as British North America and, as a consequence, our paper will also examine the Nova Scotia settlements within this larger imperial context.

Our research has lead us to two broad conclusions. First, that military service records are an under used source for both the social history of the army and the history of migration from the British Isles. We would argue that this is in part a reflection of the historiography of the military which has tended to focus on battles and campaigns rather than on the army as a social institution and migration studies which have too often artificially separated soldiers from emigrants. Second, that colonial settlements within the British Empire, such as those in Nova Scotia, were often inter-connected in surprising ways. Soldiers who were recruited in the same regions of the British Isles ended up settling in widely dispersed areas of the Empire and we would argue that this fact greatly contributed to the flow of information on the range of potential emigrant destinations back to the homeland and, indeed, between colonies.

Click here for a short bio of Dr. William R. Miles & Dr. Michael E. Vance.

Public Lecture – Wednesday, 18 September 2013

RNSHS_Lecture_18Sept2013“In the Balance: Atlantic Canada and the Legacy of the Peace of Utrecht”

Dr. Elizabeth Mancke, Canada Research Chair, University of New Brunswick

With panel responses by Dr. Kenneth Donovan, Dr. James Hiller and Anne Marie Lane Jonah


An Open Academy presentation sponsored by the Royal Society of Canada, in partnership with the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and the Gorsebrook Research Institute of Saint Mary’s University.


The 1713 treaties of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713), embedded the idea in European international relations that peace and stability could be attained through the “balance of power” among the various antagonists.  Concessions were exacted, territories exchanged, promises made.  The scholarly literature emphasizes balancing within Europe, but many of the territories exchanged were in the extra-European world, including Acadia/Nova Scotia and the French concession that Britain held sovereignty over Newfoundland, albeit with important fishing privileges extended to France and Spain.  This talk will analyze how overseas territory became important to the European balance of power, with particular attention to the Atlantic region of Canada.

The 27th Annual Phyllis R. Blakeley Memorial Lecture is a joint lecture with the Royal Society of Canada, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and the Gorsebrook Research Institute of Saint Mary’s University. The Phyllis R. Blakeley lecture is 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.

Click here for a short bio of Dr. Elizabeth Mancke.

The Life and Career of M. Lillian Burke, 1880-1852

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

“The Life and Career of M. Lillian Burke, 1880-1852”.

E. M. Langille, St. Francis Xavier University

Dr. Edward Langille, originally from Truro, teaches in the literature and philosophy of France area of the Modern Languages Department at St. Francis Xavier University and has been recognized as  a Chevalier in the L’Order des Palmes Academiques and also in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France.

A few years ago in a New Glasgow antique store Langille came across drawings which interested him, and upon research he discovered that they were from a museum in the Margaree Valley that had closed and whose collection had been dispersed.  The clue “return to Madame Winnie Aucoin” scrawled on the back of most of the drawings started Dr Langille on the hunt and his subsequent discovery that these were the drawings that acted as templates for hooked rugs produced in Cheticamp.

The original owner of the drawings was Lillian Burke.  Born in Washington in 1880, Burke attended Normal School in Washington.  Her connection with the Bell family began as a tutor to some of the grand-children of Alexander Graham Bell  and continued for many years.  Eventually she was included amongst those who worked for the family and who also made the trip to Baddeck.  She also had some training as an artist and in 1917 was employed in Europe as a reconstruction aide teaching handcrafts to injured soldiers as part of their rehabilitation.  Despite employment elsewhere her connection with the Bell family endured and indeed her studio was situated within their Washington home.

Mabel Hubbard Bell had attempted to enrich the economy of the women of rural Cape Breton through the organized manufacture and sale of hand crafted goods. In 1927, Lillian Burke was encouraged by Mabel’s daughter, Marian Fairchild, to continue this work with a focus on rug making.   Lillian Burke made patterns and found agents and rug makers to make them in Cheticamp.  She then marketed the products in New York and did so successfully for a number of years until 1940.  The demise of her connection to the industry may have been related both to the shortage of burlap which was a fundamental input to the rugs as well as to competition in the Cheticamp area as others attempted to duplicate her business model.

Langille then traced her to working in activities at a mental hospital in New York where she continued to be until her death in 1952.  That she was working so late into her life was suggestive that although she profited from the industry the profits were not that great.  In all Langille was able to construct a remarkable biographical narrative for a person who appears to have left few if any records and whose activities were unknown to her still living nephews.


The Three Lives of Edward Cornwallis

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

“The Three Lives of Edward Cornwallis”

John Reid, Saint Mary’s University

Dr. Reid is a widely respected Atlantic Canadian historian, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the current co-editor of  Acadiensis: Journal of the History of the Atlantic Region. Dr. Reid’s principal teaching and research interests include the history of early modern northeastern North America  with a focus on imperial-aboriginal relations in Acadia/Nova Scotia and northern New England.

His topic this evening was the three faces of Edward Cornwallis, the first governor of Nova Scotia in the Halifax era of governance.  The first face is that of the colonial governor – the man who was charged with establishing what was initially seen as an agricultural settlement on the eastern seacoast of Nova Scotia in 1749.  As part of his initial appointment activities he was reminded of the earlier treaties with the First Nations peoples of the area.  The premise of an agricultural settlement is the repurposing and occupation of land. First Nations peoples’ adverse reaction was to be expected and Cornwallis did not shy from his military options. Indeed he favoured, independently of the Board of Trade, a significant response.  There is some evidence in the form of his continued references to headaches that Cornwallis suffered from neurological or mental health issues and these contributed to the shortness of his term in Halifax.

The second Cornwallis is the Cornwallis of commemoration.  Starting with the 1899 RNSHS publication of James S MacDonald’s biographical paper, Cornwallis was seen as a founder – a person to be commemorated not necessarily as a person but as a figure representing that triumph and evolution of the English people in Canada.   Reid traced the commemorative cortege though the activities of Archibald MacMechin, Dugold MacGillivrary, the 175th anniversary of Halifax in 1924, JC Webster’s quest for an authentic portrait and other activates that culminated in the pitch to Canadian National to include a statue as part of their new station development in Halifax.  Unveiled in 1931 the statute was funded mostly by CN when attempts to collect pennies from school children and dollars from governments produced nothing.

The final face of Cornwallis is actually that of Daniel Paul.  A Mikmaq historian who authored “We were not the savages”, Paul’s work was promoted by Premier John Savage in 1993 and the following year was the co-recipient of the Dartmouth Book Award.  Paul’s work brought into the present the actions of Cornwallis in the past – the war against the Mi’kmaq, the offering of bounties – items long forgotten or not mentioned in less recent histories became the central themes in contemporary interpretation of this past.

Reid concluded by saying that the different faces of Cornwallis are products of historical memory rather than reality.

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.