Columns and Letters

Then and Now: What will be the woof in the future?

-by Jim St. Clair

Penelope weaves and deceives

In ancient Ithaca, Greece, just after the end of the Trojan War, Queen Penelope awaited the return of her husband Ulysses from the conflict. 

Many months went by without his arriving. Suitors for her hand and for her kingdom arrived and stated their wishes to marry her. But she continued to believe that her husband would return. She told the suitors that she had to complete a large piece of woven cloth before she could consider any one of them. And so she created the woof interwoven into the colourful warp day after day while the suitors waited.

Unknown by them, however, each night she secretly took out the threads she had interwoven the previous day. So the charade went on until Ulysses finally arrived and put an end to the suitors. And then Penelope finished interweaving the woof through the warp.

The warp of Inverness County

If we can consider the history of Inverness County as a colourful tapestry that is being woven, we can identify the warp as being the various aspects of the topography of the area.

The shape of the land: the mountains, the valleys; the adjacent ocean; the interior lakes and ponds, Bras d’Or, Ainslie, Grand and Petit Etang, Lakes of Law; the rocks and the beaches; the forests and the swamp lands; the variety of trees and plants – all of these are the length-wise threads stretched out parallel to one another on the imaginary loom. 

The woof of the county tapestry 

For well over a thousand years, human beings have been weaving the pattern that is our developed tapestry. Through the actions of individuals and groups, a historical cloth with many stories and alterations, successes and failures has slowly been formed. 

Situational: paths established by First Nations people are ancient horizontal threads interspersed through the parallel warp of the topographical entities. Through time, wider roads have been created joining settlement to settlement; wharves have been built; bridges across streams have been constructed; holes have been dug; forests have been cut down; coal and rock and gypsum quarries have changed the appearance of the pristine countryside. 

Houses and barns, stores and shops, fish plants’ museums and cultural centres, schools and hospitals – all now create a place of different and changing appearance. 

The recollection of the importance of the Judique Flyer and the many trains that stopped at the Orangedale Station is evident in a major historical thread, and we are reminded by the song, The Orangedale Whistle Will Always Blow.

Operational: strong, multi-hued threads of human structures reveal the progress of historical development. The beginning of formal religious ceremonies in buildings constructed for that purpose – many of which remain; a country structure has been established with a centre in Port Hood where a county council meets and plans and promotes, where judicial decisions are made, where taxes are collected. 

The formal organization of public schools began more than a hundred and seventy-five years ago as school districts were listed, teachers given licenses, small one-room learning centres built. And that operational activity now is a strong thread in our tapestry as the yellow school busses traverse paved and gravel roads carrying young people to large, well heated structures.

Notice how the warp thread of care of human beings is evident in the building of hospitals, special care homes, the facilities for the physical and emotional support of older people; the active presence of L’Arche in the Iron Mines, Orangedale and Mabou areas. 

Economic threads

The strong and heavily interwoven thread of fishing is interwoven through the years – cod, dried and salted; gaspereaux, packed and shipped; lobsters, canned and now transported live; ground fish. 

A great part of the created tapestry are the many warp threads of agriculture – all the tons of butter, churned at homes and in small creameries; the millions of tons of milk shipped to processing plants; the thousands of bushels of potatoes for home use and for sale; wool sheared and processed and used for blankets and clothing; flax fields turned into linen fabric; thousands of lambs, slaughtered and sent away to markets in Halifax and Boston; beef cattle carefully raised for distant and local markets.

The many country stores at crossroads and in small and larger villages were economic entities of great significance as bartering took place and products from afar were made available to residents.

The First Nations people created a large market for woven baskets and containers of various sorts as well as instructing incoming people how to use local plants and how to tap maple trees for syrup and sugar. 

See the threads, black and grey and multi-hued from the various mines in Cheticamp, Marble Mountain, Port Hood, Inverness, Big Brook, River Denys, Iron Mines and other sites. 

Now new threads are used in the creation of the tapestry – threads that represent new technologies and products now being presented in local farmers’ markets. 

Cultural

Surely, we can see major threads of music and dance, of poetry and song, of festivals, and square dances, of school house concerts, of drama locally written and produced as well as brought in from other places.

The work of writers of long ago and more recent times – the Ridge and Gillisdale, SW Margaree poets MacLeod and MacDonald, Margaret MacPhail, and so many more reveal the importance of the written word in the tapestry of Inverness County. 

Carefully interwoven as a major warp thread are the many hand-hooked creations of the Acadian community and also found in many country farmhouses as people learned new crafts.

Inclusivity

A very recent thread for the warp is that of the new understanding of the importance of inclusivity of people of all ethnic and national groups into the fabric of our County of Inverness.

So many separate groups now amalgamating for future growth of the county – the Mi’kmaq; the Channel Islanders; the Scots, both Lowland and Highland; the Acadians; the Irish; the English, from overseas and as United Empire Loyalists; the Belgians and Italians; the many Russians and Polish people working in Marble Mountain – and in more recent times, the Dutch and the Vietnamese; and many, once known as “Come from Aways,” now part of the whole.

To be sure, each ethnic or national group has added to the colourfulness, the linguistic variety and the dynamics of the County of Inverness. 

Richness of personalities

The fabric that is this tapestry of Inverness County woven through the centuries by many individuals and groups is particularly vibrant as we think of colourful personalities – 

people of our own families, our neighbours – and individuals such as Marguerite Gallant and Archie Neil Chisholm and John Allan Cameron and Raylene and her siblings and A.D. MacKinnon and Angus L., Tompkins and Coady, and so many, many more. We have treasured individuality and may well consider how to continue to do so. 

The Inverness County tapestry

Unlike Penelope, we cannot take out the threads of our history which we have used as the woof interwoven with the warp. They remain as reminders of where we have been.

As we look to the future, what will be the threads, the woof that we will bring to this imaginary cloth that tells our story? Many years ago, the essayist, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote: “Days are made on a loom whereof the warp and the woof are past and future.” 

How do we engage in “all that matters” in the future?


Oran Dan - The Inverness Oran - www.invernessoran.ca

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