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Such an extended absence merits some sort of explanation, I suppose. It usually comes down to one of two things: the fact that I have nothing of particular interest to pass along to my readers, or the fact that there is a move in progress– packing, unpacking, checking into airports, rushing from terminal to terminal followed by excruciatingly-long periods traveling on planes that seem to move at five miles per hour rather than five hundred.

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Like other illustrious communities on the planet, Rome, for instance, the village of Grand Pre is built on a series of hills. The most precipitous one is called Mitchell Hill, after the Mitchell family, of course. At one time they operated an inn for the travellers on Old Post Road, which used to run from Annapolis Royal to Halifax. When horse-drawn carriages came along, the road builders decided to bypass Mitchell Hill in favour of a detour around the hill. The detour turned into Highway One.

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Mitchell Hill provides a wonderful view of the bluff at the end of the North Mountain called Blomidon, which is where the Mik’Maq deity called Glooscap took up residence. One a clear day, you get a fine view of the Bay of Fundy and the Grand Pre Historic Site, with its distinctive, unconsecrated church built to commemorate “Evangeline” and the expulsion of the Acadians. It is believed to have been built on the site of the original church, which was made of wood and burned at the time of the expulsion.

Not many years ago, what most locals consider something of a travesty occurred at the top of Mitchell hill. Because the land was in private hands, one family was allowed to put up a duplex which pretty-much blocked the view. I found the modern structure visually offensive, but it did not occur to me that something could be done about it. I’m glad to say that there were people in Grand Pre who had other ideas.

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With the help of the federal government and a fundraising effort in the community, the land was purchased and the the duplex was sold and moved. A “view plane” park was constructed in its place. On July 4th, the new park was commemorated by Parks Canada. The flags represent the “shareholders,” with the possible exception of the Planters, I suppose, who have no flag distinctly their own. MicMacs, Acadians, Nova Scotian, Canadian, and Unesco, since Grand Pre is now a World Heritage Site. The manner in which the funds were raised in the community was somewhat divisive, so our end of Old Post Road was not particularly well-represented at the commemoration. But it was a nice day for a celebration.

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One of our newer neighbours has taken on the task of scanning as many of the historical photos of Grand Pre as he can lay his hands on. It is a wonderful project, and I was enchanted by what he had unearthed in the various archives that had pictures of Grand Pre in their files. With the exception of the dykelands, the geography has not changed all the much over the last few hundred years. The Stewart house dates from around 1779, so it can be seen in many of the photos.

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Our too brief summer was up. A professor’s work is never done, and my wife’s teaching duties called. On our last day, we headed down to “hidden beach” for one last dip in the Bay of Fundy. The place was swarming with fishermen, but the bouyant ocean water was wonderful. Someday soon, the sandpipers will be settling in for their feast of mud shrimp. They are the true nomads, taking off on tiny wings for South America, with no complaints about the weather, no carry on, just what is under their ever-flapping wings.

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It may seem like only yesterday, but it was a quarter-century ago when my wife inherited a property called the old Stewart house in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia. It was in such bad shape that her relatives across the road wanted to turn it into a chicken barn. The old, asphalt shingle roof was leaking and the back chimney wanted to fall away from the house. It would have taken the entire back wing with it, a part of the building we now believe is the oldest part of the house.

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The heritage experts believe it was once an old, Presbyterian meeting house that used to be up the hill in the Lower Horton Cemetery. The building was probably purchased and moved downhill on logs when a new church was built. People tended to reuse a lot in those days– tools, clothes, furniture and buildings.

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After our contractor improvised a concrete flying buttress to prop up the chimney and rebuilt the wall, we had to tackle the roof. We chose cedar shingles because of the durability and the fact that they were appropriate to the vintage of the house.

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Floyd had been in the roofing business for thirty years. He had a lean, stooped body that made him look as if he was walking into the wind. Like most Nova Scotia tradesmen, he was straight-talking. He hadn’t put on many cedar shingles, but he knew how to do roofs. He and his crew started in late Fall and by the time they were finished there was snow on the ground. They had run into a supply problem that is a perennial difficulty in Nova Scotia. In the days of sail, this was the most important province in the country. Now it is on the periphery. There was such a strong demand for BC shingles in Texas and Toronto that several months went by when they were simply not available.

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We have been putting off the inevitable new roof for quite some time now, living with the knowledge that the shingles were working on borrowed time. Floyd thought the cedar would last forty years, but twenty-five now seems like a stretch in a Maritime climate. I could see the rot from the ground. Freeze and thaw, day after day, season after season. Rain and wind whip through here like a perverse Canadian version of a winter monsoon. And then there are the hurricanes.

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Upcountry Builders arrived four days ago to start shovelling off the old shakes and putting down the foundation for the new ones. Then it started to rain, heavily. It came right through the so-called impermeable fabric and pooled in the attic, dripping down on my wife’s desk. Richard and I put down tarps in the attic; Greg and Aaron tarped the roof. We have had one more very wet day and a long, holiday weekend to put things off.

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July 1 was Canada Day. Canadians often take on a cloak of invisibility next to their extroverted neighbours to the South, but they do possess a certain pride of place. Canadians have not gone to the trouble to browbeat the ethnicity out of their immigrants and brainwash them with jingoistic “facts.”

Still, they do seem to spend an awful lot of time thinking about what it means to be a Canadian. The current prime minister is attempting to get Canadians excited about the War of 1812 with an expensive campaign smacking of patriotism usually seen south of the border. 1814 was when the inhabitants of this country actually set fire to the White House. Canadians do relish that fact.

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The most inspiring Canada Day story I have come across is about a family that is in the process of paddling across the entire country in a twenty-foot canoe. They began in March, 2007 and they plan to finish sometime this summer. Pam MacDonald of Calgary has given birth to two children during this great adventure. She and Geoff have had many close encounters with bears, porcupines and other critters. They are very appreciative of their hefty guard dog, a seven-year old Alaskan malamute who has shared the entire trip.

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They set out each Spring, paddling on from where they left off the previous year. The couple portaged the canoe and all their supplies across the Rocky Mountains! A 47 kilo (105 pound) Canadian canoe. Check out their progress at canoeacrosscanada.ca. The Globe and Mail did a nice little video you can see at tgam.ca/paddle but you have to put up with the ad first.

Happy Canada Day, eh?

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