On a cool Tuesday morning, Brendan and I left Halifax for Pictou. This three day trip would take us from Pictou to Antigonish and then along the Marine Drive to Guysborough. Our first stop was at a gas station near Westville to fill up on coffee and egg sandwiches before taking the Harvey A. Veniot Causeway into Pictou. This causeway begins in Abercrombie and crosses the Northumberland Strait to Brown's Point. We took West River Road and then Church Street before arriving at the waterfront. It was my first time laying eyes on the Hector, a replica of one of the earliest ships to bring Scottish settlers to that area. Just seeing this fantastic tall ship is enough to make me feel like I was in a time warp, back in the age of sail. The rest of the waterfront is scenic and filled with various sites including the Hector Heritage Quay, a living-history attraction.
The Hector Exhibit Centre & Archives may share its name with the famous ship but it is otherwise unconnected to the Quay or replica. It's located up from the waterfront, on Haliburton Road, and is situated on a rolling green field. It rests beside a lily pad covered pond and the McCulloch House, an impressive 200 year old home with various items and exhibits inside.
Both Brendan and I were happy to meet Allison Hartson, the acting curator, and Catherine Fancy, the archivist and tour guide. Both women were smiling, script in hand and ready to film from the get-go. Allison Hartson had been a long standing summer student with the archives and was now acting as curator. She began pulling old documents from storage and explaining their significance with the air of a seasoned archivist. Catherine had been intrigued with local history for some time and was a vocal proponent of Pictou pizza with its unique and mysteriously delicious "brown sauce". She suggested that after pizza we photograph a few specific buildings in Pictou that were made of sandstone sourced from Lyons Brook.
There was also an American couple in the research room while we were there. The husband and wife were researching a family history but also seemed interested in our camera equipment. I explained what the Routes to Your Roots project was and how we were filming short video vignettes to help promote genealogical tourism in the province. It didn't surprise me to find Americans here doing research. Terry Punch, the popular Nova Scotian historian, estimated that some 25 million Americans can trace their roots directly through Nova Scotia. So many people return here to discover the first place in North America that greeted their ancestors so long ago.
In the archives, I was fascinated by a number of old panoramas on the wall. One great photo was of the unveiling of the Hector monument on the 150th anniversary of the schooners arrival at Pictou. This particular panorama contained hundreds of local residents as well as many Mi'kmaq in their traditional garb.
After filming, we resisted pizza and opted instead for a new cafe near the waterfront that's been generating a lot of buzz with the locals. It was mid afternoon so we were assured that the usual lunchtime boom would have passed. The Stone Soup Cafe offered great lunchtime fare. I ordered the clubhouse and fries while Brendan answered a familiar craving with a huge cheeseburger. After eating, we walked around town snapping shots of buildings and monuments. So many locals stopped curiously to chat and offer their own opinion of what's what in Pictou. Nova Scotia never seems to disappointment me with the friendliness and approachability of the people here.
Nearly our last stop was, of course, the local graveyard. I had no map this time, only a list of a few notable names from the history of Pictou. With old gravestones becoming nearly illegible from the natural erosion of time, many archives in the province race to photograph them and record GPS coordinates before their markings vanish for good. Having no luck in my search, I suddenly heard a yell from the adjacent playground. "Hey! What are you looking for?" Against the fence with his fingers curled about the metal mesh was a kid, maybe 10 years old. I explained I was having a hard time finding any of the four names on my list. "I can help!" he exclaimed while running along the perimeter of the fence. Within minutes of mentioning the name, "Thomas McCulloch," the kid was waving his hands frantically up and down yelling, "Here! Here!" and pointing to a worn tombstone. Ultimately, this kid, or Nick as I later learned, found three of the four tombstones I was searching for. He was sharp kid and overjoyed to play a game of "Search the Cemetery".
Our last stop was less official, more my personal interest in seeing another tombstone. We drove just outside of Pictou towards River John. There was a small cemetery off the road. The stone I found was for "Twitter" Johnston, a clown and resident of Pictou who died in the 60s. His gravestone was a combination of glass and stone with a statue of a sad clown holding a droopy umbrella. The epitaph was surprisingly profound. It was probably the most unique stone I've ever seen.
After 30 minutes, I pulled into the parking lot of Antigonish Mall and wound my way to the Claymore Inn at the corner of the complex. We were starving and tired but still chipper with all we had seen and accomplished with the day. The next day we'd be staying in town and visiting the Antigonish Heritage Museum.