Life on McNutt's Island, off Nova Scotia's southwest shore.
In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.
For hard-core island fans, here are the published print sources that I know of:
Greg Brown, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia, Pottersfield Press, 2010. Greg's episodic account of our first year on the island. I'd think it funny and charming and insightful even if it weren't dedicated to me.
Ernest Hillen and Roy MacGregor, "What Untold Suffering That Light has Averted," A Weekend Memoir, Oxford University Press, 2008. Ernest Hillen wrote for a weekend newspaper supplement that appeared in Saturday papers across Canada. In the early 1970s he spent a few days on the island, staying with the Van Buskirk and Crowell families at the light. This is his intimate look at life at the lighthouse in the waning days before the lights were automated.
Allison Mitcham, "McNutt and His Island," Offshore Islands of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Lancelot Press, 1985, 35-51. The most-often quoted source for McNutt's Island. Mitcham prints a 1784/5 map of grants to the Loyalists on page 35 and mis-identifies it as a map of grants for Alexander McNutt's New Jerusalem. She further confuses the issue by placing a faux (and inaccurate) historical document next to the map. Otherwise, this is a truly fascinating general introduction to the island. It's the place I would begin, if I were beginning all over.
Anne Barclay Priest, Trafficking in Sheep, Countryman Press, 2008. Anne visited McNutt's many times in the 1970s and 1980s. She got involved in shepherding here as a result of her friendship with Elizabeth Hyde. The photograph on the cover of this book was taken during a gather on McNutt's Island.
Harry Thurston, "Nova Scotia's Sheep Islands," The Sea Among the Rocks: travels in Atlantic Canada, Pottersfield Press, 2002. An excellent account of the history and practice of keeping wild sheep on the offshore islands. Thurston participated in a sheep gathering on McNutt's in the early 1980s, and tells about it in great detail. The original article, in Canadian Geographic, June/July 1990, 16-24, has several lovely photographs and a useful map showing the other sheep islands.
Elizabeth Walden (Hyde), "Walden Island," Maclean's, May 1975, 33-35. Elizabeth Hyde writes about her discovery and restoration of the old Perry place, and her friendship with the lightkeepers, who were her only island neighbours. The article has photographs of the house in those days. And Elizabeth's dauntless, contrarian spirit shines through in her writing.
Howard Walden, "McNutt's," Anchorage Northeast, William Morrow and Co., 1971, 145-162. Howard Walden's account of the island, including how his daughter Elizabeth found the house and set about to restore it, a visit to the lighthouse, and an evocative sense of place.
Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes: a novel, HarperCollins Canada, 2007. Won the CBC's Canada Reads contest for 2009. A gorgeous, true-to-life novel which has been described as Dickensian in its narrative style and twists of plot. This could be the best way to understand the place of Shelburne in the chaos that was the British Empire at the end of the eighteenth century; and the incredible journey of those Africans who, briefly, called this place home. For some reason, this book has a different title in the US, Australia and New Zealand: Someone Knows My Name.
Stephen Kimber, Loyalists and Layabouts: the rapid rise and faster fall of Shelburne Nova Scotia, 1783-1792, Doubleday Canada, 2008. Kimber gallops through the years and gives his readers an excellent ride, focusing on the remarkable number of first-person accounts that humanize the spectacular disaster that was Shelburne.
Marion Robertson, King's Bounty: a history of early Shelburne Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Museum, 1983. This book really does contain almost everything you could possibly want to know about early Shelburne. A treasure of detailed research, for which anyone who follows will be forever grateful.
Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution, HarperCollins, 2006. The historian as story teller strides the broad canvas of slavery and freedom in the late eighteenth century and could probably best be read together with Lawrence Hill's novel. The two are utterly complementary.
Lesley Choyce, Nova Scotia Shaped by the Sea, Pottersfield Press, 2007. There are too many fine books about Nova Scotia to list them all. This one is a terrific introduction.
Evelyn M. Richardson,We Keep A Light, The Ryerson Press, first published in 1945 and reprinted since. Richardson's classic account of her life as lightkeeper's wife on a small island called Bon Portage, which lies west of Cape Sable Island, not at all far from McNutt's. It is a story rich in detail and simply told, covering the years from 1929 until the early 1940s. Read it for a sense of island life along Nova Scotia's south west shore before the Second World War.