It was a “Project of Promise” — The Tantramar Magazine Revisited

Last summer, while house-cleaning the attic at our cottage I uncovered, tucked away under the eaves, a carton of old magazines. They were dated in the early 1980s. For the next few minutes, my task was put aside, as I browsed through reminders of past summers. Toward the bottom of the pile, two issues of the Tantramar Magazine were found.

I remembered it well, but had forgotten that these copies were there, just waiting to be rediscovered. Immediately, a quick retreat to the sun porch was made, and the rest of the morning was spent in an enlightening reread.

What did I find? Subtitled The Magazine of the Maritimes; it was dedicated to the well being of smaller communities. Some readers will recall that the project was the brainchild of individuals associated with the then Hawk Graphics: David Hawkins, Lorrie Bell, Sandy Burnett and others. Since that time, the company, now known as Hawk Communication Inc., has grown to the point where it is a major player in its field.

The masthead listed David Hawkins as publisher, James Lipsit, editor; with Sandy Burnett as consulting editor. Lorrie Bell and David Hawkins assumed the role of art directors. However, each would be the first to emphasize that they had the support and encouragement of a much wider community on the Tantramar and beyond. Many of these people will be mentioned later.

Recently I had an opportunity to meet with David, Lorrie and Sandy. We explored the concept behind the venture and reminisced about the magazines regrettably short life. In 1981 David and Lorrie were living on what he described as a farmlette in Jolicure. We had a rural and semi back to the land existence. Magazines such as the Country Journal out of New England, Rural Delivery [still being published in Nova Scotia] and Harrowsmith all were quite influential. But no one seemed to celebrate or champion small town and rural living. The concept grew out of that direct experience and set of values

A rationale for the Tantramar Magazine was subsequently written by Sandy Burnett. Because of its importance, his short statement is worth reprinting and rereading today. (See: xxx) In crisp, clear prose he set out why it was [and still is] important to celebrate the kind of place where Canadians feel at home.

Looking back over the intervening 21 years Sandy recalled: Our vision was to celebrate the integrity, vitality and creativity of rural and small town communities. If Harrowsmith could do it, we reasoned, why not Tantramar? On one point, both David and Sandy were in agreement. The difference between our magazine and Harrowsmith soon became obvious was how Sandy put it. Harrowsmith was published in Southern Ontario with easy access to a market close to 20 times larger than we could hope to tap in Atlantic Canada. We also had the misfortune to launch the project just as interest rates soared sky high. Added to this, the country was crippled with a lengthy postal strike.

While concurring, David went a bit further and suggested that the magazine at the end of the day suffered from inexperience and [possibly] the publishers incompetence. we did many things well then licked our wounds, paid our bills and moved on. Nevertheless, any external assessment reveals that the demise of the Tantramar Magazine had little to do with either content or approach. It was an unfortunate victim of circumstances.

This point will become clear as you are taken on a condensed tour of the two issues. Designed as a quarterly, the magazine hit the news stands in the summer of 1981.

The first cover article featured a well known Tantramar personality farmer, auctioneer and insurance agent, John Carter, then of Point de Bute, but now living in retirement in Sackville. Entitled Hes An Auctioneer James Lipsit guided the reader through the drama and excitement of a country auction. More than that, he provided an engaging pen portrait of a man well known to many readers of this column.

Included in this issue were features such as: Peter Hicklins Nomads of The Air: The Sandpipers of Fundy, and Dean Jobbs The Westmorland Dream [The story of the NB & PEI Railway]. Then there was Norbert Cunninghams Tune up the fiddle; rosin up the bow, those fiddling Hicks put on a show that explored a family tradition still being carried on by Ivan and Vivian Hicks. Yet another family enterprise was spotlighted by James Lipsits review of the fine dining he encountered at Amherst Shore Country Inn. Begun by Donna and Jim Laceby, this well known inn and restaurant is now managed by their son Rob and his wife Mary Burris.

The autumn issue published in late 1981, was equally rich in content. Following the same pattern as the first, it began with a profile by Sandy Burnett of artist, Bernard Safran (1924 -1995); then living on a farm in Jolicure. A native of Brooklyn, New York and graduate of the Pratt Institute Art School; Safran became internationally renowned as an illustrator with Time Magazine. In all, he completed over 70 cover portraits for Time, before emigrating to New Brunswick, where his wife Adele, had roots.

Sandy pointed out, that Safran had reached a cross road in his career, as he moved from being an illustrator to a serious people painter. Readers wishing to explore Safrans career and see reproductions of his paintings (many were rooted in the Tantramar) are urged to visit the web site

An article by Dean Jobb took readers to Shemogue and the boat yard of Gerald Duguay. To quote the latter: When youre happy with a boat you dont change it… its like a good wife. Jobb concluded his survey of a longstanding Acadian tradition in boat building by noting there are about ten builders in the Shemogue area, and Gerald Duguay is either brother or cousin to all but one of them.

Since this issue came out just before Christmas, there were several seasonal articles. One of the most interesting was Tantramars Victorian Christmas Dinner by Sylvia Yeoman. Details of her sumptuous feast were supplemented by recipes, many taken from the original cook book of Pheobe Chandler, wife of Hon. E. B. Chandler, a Father of Confederation and former lieutenant governor of the province. While living at the Chandler built Rocklyn in Dorchester, Mark and Sylvia Yeoman became noted for hosting banquets on historical themes.

Both issues contained short stories by Valentine Bachmann and Veronica Leonard; poetry by Liliane Welch, along with sketches by art director Lorrie Bell. I urge all local readers to undertake a search for the surviving copies of the Tantramar Magazine. Only then, will you be able to understand why one reviewer called it a project of promise.

There is yet another reason to revisit the magazine. It will always remain a part, of what has been referred to as the lure of the Tantramar. While it did not succeed as a viable business enterprise; the magazine became as Sandy correctly assessed it part of a continuum.

You may ask Is there any evidence for this conclusion? Just consider the following Tantramar benchmarks gleaned from 1981 through to the present.

On the artistic and cultural side, much activity in the 1980s was centered at the Middle Sackville Community Arts Centre featured in the first issue. Several Centre artists had their work highlighted by Liliane Welch in a 1983 series of poems From the Songs Of the Artisans. Earlier, another Tantramar poet, Douglas Lochhead, published his well known collection of prose poems celebrating the High Marsh Road.

In 1984 Mount Allison launched a Rural and Small Towns Project that still continues to research and investigate topics of significance to small communities. As one of the projects founders, Dr. Larry McCann expressed it: In a sense, the opportunity to research small towns was an opportunity to learn about ourselves. Throughout the 1980s and into the early nineties, Mount Allisons Canadian Studies Centre emphasized local and regional issues through a visiting professorship in Maritime Studies, and courses on related themes.

The decade ended with poet Douglas Lochhead and photographer Thaddeus Holownia publishing their monumental volume Dykelands. It succeeded as no other medium, to capture in word and picture, the lure of the Tantramar. Further examples of the continuum could be drawn from the fields of Art, Drama and Music. Space does not permit their being listed.

During the 1990s cultural and artistic events continued apace. However, during this decade, a new dimension, an emphasis on planning, economic development and tourism was added. This activity was sparked by a number of local organizations; however, a lead role was taken by Renaissance Sackville. It was no accident that one of its chief architects was David Hawkins. Other organizations such as the Tantramar Heritage Trust and its offshoot the Tantramar Historical Society, gave yet another perspective to the lure.

The year 2000 will always be remembered for the observance of the 225th anniversary of the arrival of Yorkshire settlers. More than 3,000 people responded to the call of the Tantramar and came home. While here, they participated in an invigorating mix of activities that included family reunions, drama, displays, demonstrations, lectures, church services, a book launch and a major conference on Immigration and Impact. The lure of the Tantramar continues in a new century and a new millennium!

In the first issue of the Tantramar Magazine David Hawkins wrote: Over the centuries, the people who have chosen to live and work [on the Tantramar] were committed and stayed largely because of the measure of freedom their choices promised More often than not, truth is dynamic. Its reward is freedom, but you must pay the price. There is no discount for honesty. Im proud to be from Tantramar.