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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?


It has been a little over five weeks since my plane descended into Halifax airport. Like the sandpipers that settle down at Evangeline Beach to gorge themselves on mud shrimp before their long migrations, my wife and I come here to inhale Canadian country air, feast on fresh, locally-grown food, renew our bonds with friends and family, and keep this 220 year-old house from ignominious collapse.

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As part of our ongoing commitment to preserve the place, we had booked two weeks work with Tait Graves, a master mason. He and his crew would take on a task that we had neglected for the quarter century we’ve owned the place– shoring up structural supports for two hearths belonging to the old centre chimney. This particular chimney is massive, approximately nine feet (3 meters) square. There are four fireplaces off the chimney, and one more that was bricked up when the Stewarts had an old building moved and attached at the back. I was going on the simple assumption that we could open up the firebox and have a new hearth built for a future wood stove. The chimney had other ideas.

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Our house faces a seriously decrepit asphalt road that has become so littered with potholes the local speed demons now make a detour to avoid it. A week after I arrived, I went out for an evening walk and was startled to encounter one of our neighbours on a backhoe. He was filling in the potholes with dirt. I saluted his enterprise, anointing him Grand Pre’s one-man Highway Department. At a dinner party the next night, a friend and neighbour suggested we all take the opportunity to plant trees. Maples grow just about everywhere and they would be far more effective than speed bumps. I was all in favor but worried about how we would water them.

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It has been dry here. The homily I heard from my mother goes this way: everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. We all know now that is not the case. In fact, we are all doing something about it and it is not good. Spring came two weeks early to this part of the planet. The Apple Blossom Festival was scheduled the usual weekend, but the apple blossoms set too early to have any correspondence to the event.

I kicked up dust walking along the dyke lands shortly after I arrived the last week of May. I don’t remember those conditions ever happening this early. Everything is still green, however, and we are glad to have been here early enough to see the long light and the very first day of summer. Unfortunately, we’ll be heading back to Australia soon. Yet another winter.

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Old Post Road used to have a good reputation. It has gone through a handful of names over the years, but thanks to the ardent efforts of another friend and neighbour, the original name has been re-attached to the road. The name hints at its origins; it was the historic route from the town of Annapolis to what would become the city of Halifax. At the time it was built, those towns and Windsor were the only settlements of any significance in the entire province. Horseback riders would carry mail from one place to the other, stopping at an inn across the road for sleep and sustenance.

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Overland mail delivery was slow. By 1766, postal delivery had crept up to once every two weeks from Halifax to Annapolis Royal. Cornwallis settlers could get across the river only at low tide and on horseback until Thomas Lawdon received permission to run a ferry. Everyone complained about the exorbitant fare until it was knocked down to sixpence for a man and horse. Carriages with springs were introduced about 1795. As they increased in popularity, it was necessary to detour around what I still call “Mitchell hill.” At that point, the route to and from the City began to deviate from the original path. The old bridge across the Gaspereau River fell into the water one year during a flood stage and was never repaired.

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We have returned for what may be one of the most significant events in recent Nova Scotia history. Grand Pre has just been designated a Unesco World heritage site, one of only three in the province. I find it hard to imagine what changes this may bring, or why tourists might wish to flock here. It is lovely in summer, but there is really not much to see or do unless you have Acadian roots or happen to like visiting wineries. The winery growth has been astonishing in recent years.

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“It’s so boring here,” say the kids. I smile, knowing that one day they will enjoy peace and quiet, a light wind rustling the clothes hanging on the line. Maybe, just maybe, the UNESCO designation will mean that they’ll patch a few potholes on the Old Post Road. If that doesn’t happen, I’m going to plant some trees. Wait for some good rain so they’ll have a chance to grow.

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Sorry this blog has taken a back seat to my other duties. Stay tuned for more pics and a report on the great unveiling down at the Grand Park Historic site.


It is over 17,500 kilometers (10,874 miles) from Melbourne, Australia to Halifax, Canada, as the plane flies.  After watching more movies in one night than I had seen in the previous year, I was glad that I had scheduled a layover weekend in Los Angeles.

The drive from the airport to a  friend’s bungalow in Santa Monica felt very familiar, even after twenty-two years.  The road was still shabby, littered with discount stores, gyms, car dealerships, taco stands and tattoo parlors.  Only the Whole Foods store was new.  It signaled gentrification that seemed a little late in coming considering the value of the property.

I have moved many times since my seven-year stay in L.A., but I still have one old friend in LA who puts me up and a few others who will buy me a beer or a glass of wine.  Most of them worked in the “biz”, as the entertainment industry is called.

They were always working too hard or hardly working, which is the norm in La La Land.  Right now, the economy is in free fall and the state’s finances are in serious trouble.   Much of that can be blamed on the referendums that plague every election in California and, of course, the Terminator.

None of this impacts on the traveler.  I had a good time, catching up with the few friends who were in town and not otherwise engaged.  Gordon and I  went out to the Getty villa in Malibu (recently re-opened after extensive renovations) and took lunch at the fish restaurant we used to frequent 25 years ago.  It hadn’t changed at all.

On my last night in town, we went to the new “Terminator” movie.  My friend, Bob, who has been editing the most expensive animated film in history for the last three years, emerged from his cocoon for the evening.

The Terminator movie was one explosion after another.  My ears rang when we came out.  It is hard to believe that the “Gov” actually injected humor in the first one.  The latest battle-fest has virtually none.  Some good actors are wasted in their roles and the movie seems interminable, but it will no doubt make a fortune overseas.

When I arrive at Grand Pre and resume life in the Stewart House, some work compulsion creeps in and takes over my body.  A two hundred year-old house is in constant need of care.  Everything exposed to the maritime weather tends to rot, amazingly quickly.  Last year it was the back porch and the fasteners on storms and screens that needed attention.  This year it is the front porch, the attic, study and carriage house.  There is always more than I have time for.

On the plus side, there are the fiddleheads, strawberries and rhubarb, summer evenings with long light.  There are the rain clouds, intense green in the trees, and friendly neighbours with whom I have some history. There are dykelands for long walks, spectacular sunsets and a lovely room for curling up with a good book. For all that, I can easily do some work and not complain.

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