The Museum Called Tantramar — Part One

One of the most interesting books that I received this past Christmas was Dr. Charlotte Gray’s The Museum Called Canada: Twenty Five Rooms of Wonder. Consisting of 705 pages, the book weighed a hefty five pounds. It also turned out to be a fascinating page turner.

The author introduced her theme with a question: Do you keep your own private museum? A handful of objects that have quietly collected in a corner of your study, kitchen or cottage? Objects that are powerful reminders of past relationships and events? Objects, that, when you cradle them in your hands, are tangible reminders of a much larger story? Im certain that the majority of readers would answer these questions with a resounding yes.

It was partly for this reason that I decided to compile a list of twelve rooms for one of Canadas most historic regions the Tantramar. While this area receives attention in The Museum Called Canada, it could not be expected to have star billing in a volume that covers the entire country. More importantly, a few moments of reflection leads to the conclusion that within this region, there are many museums, monuments and/or rooms of local and national significance. Unfortunately, this fact is often overlooked because of their everyday familiarity. Today’s Flashback will spotlight the first six, while the remainder will be featured in a later column.

Where do you think Dr. Gray found her first Room of Historical Wonder? Was it at L’Anse aux Meadows? Ile Sainte-Croix? or perhaps Port Royal? Wrong on all three counts! The first was located but a few kilometres from the Tantramar. While walking along a beach in Nova Scotia Dr. Gray picked up a small stone with thin black lines scoring its surface the imprint of a prehistoric leaf from a primitive conifer. This event took place on a UNESCO World Heritage Site — Joggins Beach. Stretching geography a bit, this location also qualifies as the first room in the Museum called Tantramar.

  1. The Joggins Fossil Lawn: Although Joggins is located in Nova Scotia, it is sufficiently close to be considered a Front Lawn for the Tantramar. As Dr. Gray explained: Our earliest history is written in stones, stones that are among the oldest rocks ever found on the surface of the earth. Many pre-historic stone fossils are on display at the Joggins Fossil Centre and the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro. A long time Sackville resident and Mount Allison Professor Emeritus (Geology) Dr. Laing Ferguson was among those who drew attention to this site. His book The Fossil Cliffs of Joggins, published by the Nova Scotia Museum, explains why the area is known internationally for fossils that date back 300 million years.
  2. The Founders’ Hall: As part of Sackville’s centennial celebration in 2003, a memorial to its five founding peoples was unveiled Sept. 24, 2004. Honoured were the Mikmaq, Acadian French, New England Planters, Loyalists and Yorkshire Settlers. Located on the edge of the Mount Allison campus, and near the signature Swan Pond, plaques on the two entry pillars tell the story of these founding groups through to c.1800. Individually, each is represented by a block of black marble. Local artist Peter Manchester, responsible for the design, is to be congratulated for his creative and imaginative approach to the topic.
  3. The Point de Bute Archway: One of the lasting contributions of the Yorkshire migration was the introduction of Methodism to the Tantramar. The first Methodist chapel on mainland Canada was erected at Point de Bute in 1788. This site was marked by the dedication of a memorial archway in 1925. It also honours Revd. William Black (1760–1834) who was known as the father of Methodism in the region. Often referred to as Bishop Black, he was largely responsible for the spread of the denomination throughout the three Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland. Later in 1839, Methodists took the initiative to found in Sackville an academy that became a university Mount Allison.
  4. The Keillor House Museum Dorchester: Dating from 1812, this imposing stone building was built in the Regency style for John and Elizabeth (Weldon) Keillor. The family was part of the Yorkshire migration to the Isthmus of Chignecto during the 1770s. In 1967 the Westmorland Historical Society took over the house, and restored it, as their part of Canadas Centennial celebrations. Since then it has become one of the most visited museums within the region. And rightly so. Its many rooms are furnished with artifacts, period furniture and even some items belonging to Keillor family. During the year several special events, sponsored by the Westmorland Historical Society, take place within its walls. For example: Halloween is marked by a popular Ghost Tour when mysterious apparitions frequently appear. However, it is during the Christmas season that Keillor House may be seen at its best. A cheery log fire in the main fireplace and a mug of mulled cider are added touches to a memorable visit.
  5. St. Ann’s Church Westcock: This important reminder of the Loyalist era is also Tantramars oldest church building. Dating from 1817 and built to last, it has for nearly 188 years been witness to the Museum Called Tantramar. Within the near future, St Anns will be embarking on a major addition to its facilities with the construction of a Church Hall. It will be located to the back and slightly to the left of the church and, thanks to the sensitivity of the architect, compliment the older structure. St. Anns, with its distinctive lantern shaped belfry, was once described by Sir Charles G. D. Roberts as the old grey church in the wood. With the new addition and landscaped grounds, historic St. Anns can look forward to the future with confidence. As a footnote, many other communities throughout the region also contain important examples of church architecture. Here lies an opportunity for local tourist authorities to develop a Tantramar Church Tour featuring this significant segment of our architectural heritage.
  6. The Campbell Carriage Factory Middle Sackville: A visitor to the Campbell Carriage Factory before it was acquired by the Tantramar Heritage Trust in 1998, could be forgiven for concluding that the aging eyesore ought to be torn down. The exterior clap boarding was loose and windows were boarded up in a haphazard fashion. However, the exterior presence masked what was to be found within. The building was structurally sound, but more important, it contained a treasure trove of equipment and artifacts. Described by one outside expert as an above ground archaeological site it called for restoration and renewal. Thanks to the hard work of dedicated Heritage Trust volunteers aided by government funding, the rejuvenated building today houses a one of a kind nineteenth century factory. The carriage trade was once the mainstay of the local agricultural economy. This firm manufactured carriages of all kinds, sleighs, wagons and pungs. Heavy duty farm wagons suitable for hauling hay and sleds used in lumbering were also produced. Repair work for all kinds of farming equipment was an important side line. Officially opened on June 21, 2003, the positive reaction of hundreds of visitors since then attests to its value as an important room in the Museum Called Tantramar.

To be continued on March 02, 2005.