Now that I'm an official dropout from l'école Centre Lartigue (mais j'ai completé niveau 5, alors je comprends plus qu'il y a un an, quand j'ai compris rien -- je suppose que c'est quelque chose-là ), I have the energy and time to return to McNutt's Island. Not physically, of course. But, you know, in my mind. The way most people visit.
I have this research project, a history of the lighthouse, that the Nova Scotia Museums gave me a grant to do, last year, just before we had to leave the island. It's probably half-way finished now, and for the next few months it's going to be my main focus.
So last week I took a bus up to Ottawa, to see what the Library and Archives Canada had on McNutt's. I wasn't too optimistic. The federal holdings on this out-of-the-way place, I thought, would be slender. If I discovered any gold, or even silver, or maybe copper, I'd be happy. Mostly I thought I'd confirm that there wasn't much there.
And it's true that what I found was slender. It's not that there isn't federal material about obscure places. The lighthouse at Sandy Point, for example, which is the closest lighthouse to Cape Roseway, down at the opening of Shelburne's inner harbour. There's a huge folder, two inches thick, the government's reaction to an anonymous letter accusing the lightkeeper there of selling and bartering the federal oil he stored for the operation of the light. Oh, it's a wonderful file, filled with spite and blame and wounded innocence and little tiny stories that shine into the corners of life in a Nova Scotia hamlet at the end of the nineteenth century. They just aren't about McNutt's Island. Unfortunately for me either the lightkeepers of McNutt's were always terribly upright, or their neighbours were terribly uninterested in unleashing the scrutiny of the federal government upon them all.
Or take the applications for a post office. As I scrolled through the microfilm I became increasingly hopeful. Some applications, even from the smallest places, came complete with lists of petitioners and a cogent argument for why a post office was so very desperately necessary to the workings of some remote Nova Scotia village. Sometimes there was even a small hand-drawn map of surpassing beauty and detail. But when I finally scrolled my way to the McNutt's file it just said that the application had been accepted, and there would be a post office there starting soon. (Well, it said a bit more than that, and there's another file I've had to request because for some odd reason it's closed to public view, which I hope bodes well as long as eventually the guardians of the federal papers allow me to take a look).
Still, over all, there were bits and pieces, gleanings left along the edges for me to find and pick up, and I hope I didn't miss anything really huge. I loved the archives in Ottawa: it's a beautiful place, with wide banks of windows overlooking the river, Quebec stretching away after that. It's open until something like ten or eleven o'clock most nights. And the archivists were fantastic.
I noticed while I was there that I've been in a time warp about research. Every other researcher was clicking away at documents with their cameras, or using their USB sticks to suck stuff off the computer and cart it off. I came with some pencils and a pad of paper. Next time I'll be more up to date.