Take a Hike: History is written by me

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I know a lot about history. I’m kind of an expert. Seriously, ask me a question. No, for real, think of a question and I’ll know the answer right now.


That’s the answer. See, how awesome is that?

So when Diane Shaw, the curator of the Cumberland County Museum and Archives, drew ‘history’ as the topic we’d discuss on our walk, I was thrilled – two history buffs sharing their knowledge, finally settling the age old dispute: Vitellius or Domitian?

But instead of Imperial Rome, Shaw insisted on talking about Amherst and Cumberland County.

“Did you know Cumberland County was the second county established in Nova Scotia, after Halifax County?” she said.

Yeah, I did know Diane, I thought to myself.

“Did you know Amherst was home to the first ever paintball gym, back in 1871?” I countered. “They soaked balls made of horse dung in India ink and threw them at each other. If you got hit you had to fall to your knees and shout ‘Fouled’ over and over until someone touched you between the shoulder blades with a bible.”

Shaw hadn’t heard of it. She had heard of the internment camp near the railroad tracks established during the First World War. She said the museum had a collection of art made by internees.

“I have a collection of sharpened toothbrushes I plan to use as shivs if I’m ever thrown in jail and they let me bring a lot of toothbrushes in with me,” I said.

The curator said they used to make automobiles in Amherst, the McKay car.

“And tommy guns,” I said. “The Beaubassin Brawler, they called it. Taffy McGee commissioned the first one back when he ran card games out of the sporting house that used to sit at the Victoria Park crossroads.”

Shaw shook her head: “None of that is true.”

I shook my head right back at her.

“You have your sources,” I said, “and I have mine.”

The museum keeper and part-time switchboard operator pointed out some artifacts when we returned to the museum on Church Street.

“That was Charles Tupper’s desk,” she said. Tupper was briefly prime minister, and later the premier of Nova Scotia.

“More of a Howe man, myself,” I said. “Joseph would have kept us out of the clutches of the Canadians.”

“Aren’t you from Ontario?” Shaw asked.

A wooden shovel carved from a single log. An iron woodstove cast to look like a fine Victorian home. A large loud bell that once clanged on the HMS Amherst, a World War Two corvette. Priceless artifacts.

“I’ll give you $12 for this,” I said, holding up a cannonball that sank into the marsh a few hundred years ago.

“You need gloves to touch that,” said Shaw.

“OK, $15.”

“It’s not for sale.”

“Fine, $20, but I want a good price on that desk.”


Disclaimer: Take a Hike is a mix of fact and fiction. Eric’s guest may or may not have said what appears in this column. It’s probably best you assume s/he didn’t.

UPDATE: VjAllen is, of course, correct: Tupper was premier before PM. I had it from a credible source that, counter-intuitive as it seems, Tupper was PM then premier. A quick online search reveals that's not the case. Rather than blaming my source, however, faulty hearing on my part seems more likely.

Organizations: Cumberland County Museum

Geographic location: Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, Halifax County India Victoria Park Church Street Ontario

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Recent comments

  • VjAllen
    February 18, 2013 - 11:11

    At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, this is the sort of "playing with history" that is silly, and totally unnecessary. It is akin to people dismissing science with "whatever"; as though truth and facts are optional. A number of years ago, I noticed that the dates for Sir Charles Tupper on the Four Fathers Library, were inaccurate. When I mentioned this to the then-curator of the Cumberland Museum, he countered with: "Do you know how much it would cost to change the plaque?" To which I couldn't resist asking how much it would cost to "not correct the misinformation". BTW, and despite the disclaimer, it may be interesting to note that Charles Tupper was premier before he became Prime Minister - not the other way around!