By Paul W. Bennett
Ian McKay and Robin Bates, In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth Century Nova Scotia, (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2010), Soft Cover, 481 pp.
Nova Scotia is known far and wide as “Canada’s Ocean Playground.” It’s emblazoned on the province’s licence plates, evoked in dreamy television commercials and trumpeted in colourful tourist guides. That popular image also comes packaged with an accessible, entertaining history for the consumption of tourists.
Scottish regalia, sourdough fishermen, sou’wester hats, rugged seascapes, Cape Breton fiddlers and the odd Acadian pastoral scene still populate the public, tourist-oriented version of Nova Scotia’s past. And these very images and symbols can be traced back to the 1930s when the province began developing its tourist promotion business.
Taking their cue from a rather hokey 1936 composite photograph, entitled Native Types, and intended to promote Nova Scotia tourism, Ian McKay and Robin Bates’s controversial new book, In the Province of History, contends that this iconology rests on an invented, largely fictional, historical tradition developed for the purpose of selling Nova Scotia to visitors. In the book, the authors demonstrate how the province’s public past was reconstructed and then turned into a marketable commodity.