Published on: 8/9/2012 2:53:45 PM Print | Font Sizes:  Normal Text Large Text

A Summer Report from the Tantramar


By: Michael Atkins

I’ve been driving by the Tantramar Marshes for 64 years.

In the early years, we moved through the marsh at about 35 miles per hour in a Morris Minor (an actual English car that worked). The best feature of that car was the smell of real leather. As a kid in Montreal I used to get in the car by myself just to smell the leather. 

That’s as close as I ever got to the mindfulness of deep breathing currently in vogue for urban Buddhists looking for solace from the speed and mindlessness of the digital age.

My solace is the ocean, although, I still have a lot of time for the smell of real leather.

Tantramar was the first place you could actually see the red clay of the Bay of Fundy if you hadn’t stopped in Moncton overnight. 

It was a wonderful feeling...truly a sense of coming home, even though I was born in Montreal. Nova Scotia has always been the homeland, Northern Ontario the adopted land, and Toronto the necessary evil.

There is a lot of history on this little neck of silt between Sackville, N.B. and Amherst, N.S.

The Acadians moved down from Port Royal around 1671 to settle what they called the Beaubassin. The village was burned to the ground more than a few times in various wars by colonial surrogates of the British government from either Boston or Halifax, and the Acadians moved across the marsh to Fort Beausejour in 1750. Not for long, as the Brits came and took the fort in 1755 and soon thereafter began the expulsion of the Acadians. The fort became Fort Cumberland. 

The Americans came back as revolutionaries in 1776 to liberate Nova Scotia from the Brits, but the Yorkshire men who replaced the Acadians would have none of it. Another skirmish in the War of 1812 and the matter was settled for good. It would be Canada, and the Acadians, in time, would flourish.

There is a wonderful National Historic site telling the story. It will soon be a shadow of itself as Parks Canada undergoes huge cutbacks.

Something else that arrived on the Tantramar Marshes a few years before my first crossing is also making an unceremonious retreat. 

The short wave transmitters for CBC International, which some years later became Radio Canada International, were shuttered about a week before this summer’s Tantramar journey.

Started during the Second World War to connect Canada with her troops serving overseas, later for psychological warfare against the Germans, and finally evolving into a Cold War era communication effort to reach inside the Eastern Bloc countries and other hotspots around the world, this service is no longer considered important.

I agree. Canada has little to say to the world these days. We’ve gone from peacekeepers to war makers, from United Nations leaders and innovators, to laughing stocks who can’t even get appointed to the security council which used to be automatic; we have no national interest in environmental sustainability; we prefer prisons to rehabilitation; we are gutting national institutions like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that have set us apart; and now the governing party runs negative ads on competing politicians fully three years before the next election. We have not been ourselves lately.

What America could not do in 1812 on the Tantramar Marsh, it has succeeded at in 2012 some 200 years later. The worst of its politics has come north and no one seems to notice. We are lesser for it.

That’s how it looks on this day sitting with a Timmy’s on the Tantramar Marsh, but it is summer, the sou’ wester is blowing, the sun is shining, windmills are replacing the transmitters, and the homeland is hurting (from E.I. cutbacks to closing search and rescue stations), but Halifax will build ships, the town of Oxford will export blueberries, and the Bluenose will sail again this year.

Like all our nooks and crannies across the country, our communities are resilient, the geography extraordinary, and we will find ways to survive our politicians as we mostly have for 145 years.

Have a good summer and enjoy our land. It is spectacular.

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