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International Year of Volunteers
A Precious Community Resource
by Lesley Dunn, Executive Director, Voluntary Resource Centre
If there were a year to recognize the tremendous efforts of dedicated volunteers in Nova Scotia, people would gather in celebration. The year would be a salute to dynamic volunteers of all ages, all cultures, all diversities. Volunteers would recognize themselves as a positive driving force in all Nova Scotian communities... if there were such a year.
Well, it turns out that there is, and 2001 is it. The United Nations (UN) has declared this year as International Year of Volunteers (IYV) . It's an opportunity to put volunteerism in the spotlight for the entire year, and beyond.
From the beginning, the declaration of IYV has been driven by the voluntary sector. Voluntary organizations, including such groups as Rotary International and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, approached the UN with the idea of a year dedicated to volunteers. And, on Nov 20, 1997, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers.
The UN resolution that declared IYV specified four objectives for it: enhanced recognition, enhanced facilitation, enhanced networking, and enhanced promotion of volunteer service. Obviously, these objectives are inter-related.
The IYV is for volunteers of all ageschildren, adults, and seniorsand for people of all languages, all cultures, and all abilities. It's for volunteers engaged in both formal and informal volunteer activities. (In "formal" volunteering, you work through some organization, such as, say, BigBrothers/Big Sisters. In "informal" volunteering, you might help out the family down the street by looking after their children a few hours a week, with neither pay nor any formal arrangement.)
Volunteer Canada is the national voice of volunteerism in Canada. Since 1977, Volunteer Canada has been committed to supporting volunteerism and civic participation through ongoing programs and special events.
Volunteer Canada is our national voice of volunteerism, and has been committed for more than twenty years to supporting volunteers and civic participation. After a series of focus groups held across Canada in early 1999, it developed a national Framework for Action for IYV. In doing this, it worked with government, businesses, voluntary organizations, and community leaders. The Framework identifies five strategic objectives: to celebrate volunteerism, to promote volunteering for all, to expand the definition of volunteerism, to improve the infrastructure of voluntary organizations, and to develop the knowledge base of the voluntary sector.
When we think of celebrating volunteerism, we tend to think of recognizing volunteers within our own organizations or agencies. But the United Nations' idea of recognition is that of the overall contribution of volunteers and the voluntary sector to the social and economic development of a country. For example, the economic value of unpaid service contributed annually by Canadian volunteers has been estimated at $16 billion annually, or eight percent of our gross domestic product. In Nova Scotia, more than 285,000 people do some form of formal, unpaid volunteering, with an estimated annual value of $2.2 billion to the provincial economy. Nova Scotia has one on the highest per capita rates of volunteerism in the country.
Canada is seen internationally as one of the best places in the world to live and raise a family, in no small part because Canadians are so heavily involved in volunteering. About one third of Canadians formally volunteer through an organization, while three-quarters help people directly in one way or another. The number of hours donated by Canadian volunteers is equal to those worked by the entire workforce of Manitoba. On average, Canadian volunteers spend three hours each week helping others. The Nova Scotia average is 180 hours annually.
Volunteering in Canada is a time-honoured tradition. A spirit of volunteerism is rooted in the values of the men and women who settled in this province, and in Canada as a whole. Despite the vast Canadian landscape and its inhospitable climate, early Native communities and European settlers relied on each other for survival and progress. The concept of mutual help and cooperation within Native societies inspired farming neighbours to continue the tradition. They combined their efforts to accomplish vital work such as clearing land, building houses and barns, harvesting crops, making quilts, and spinning wool for clothes.
Just as helping others is a Canadian tradition, so too is taking time to thank and honour our volunteers. Canada's first National Volunteer Week took place in September of 1943. It was designated as such by the federal War Services Department and was organized by Women's Voluntary Services, which recruited women for voluntary service during World War II. In the late 1960s, the idea of a designated week to honour volunteers was revived, and its focus was broadened to include all volunteers. With local volunteer centres taking the lead, this special week grew in importance during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1990, Volunteer Canada proclaimed the third week in April to be National Volunteer Week in all communities across the country. National Volunteer Week is now firmly established to pay tribute to Canada's volunteers. It is set aside not only to thank and honour people who donate time and energy to their fellow citizens, but also to increase public awareness of the vital contribution volunteers make to our communities, and to Canadian society as a whole. During this special week, more than 5,000 local community agencies and volunteer centres across Canada organize programs and eventsand the number is growing at a rapid rate. More and more businesses are getting involved in order to thank and honour employees who volunteer, while an ever-increasing number of schools, hospitals, and municipalities are also setting up recognition programs.
Volunteers: from barn-raising to fire-fighting, from home care to tree planting, they are the unsung heroes of our society. If it weren't for volunteers, we wouldn't have many of the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.
Nova Scotia has a rich volunteering history that dates back to 1605. Upon arriving at Port Royal in early winter, explorer Samuel de Champlain realised that his settlers faced bleak and harsh living conditions. If something wasn't done quickly to boost moral, they wouldn't make it through to spring, when fresh fruit and food was to arrive from Europe. So, Champlain created the Order of Good Cheer, and an "event" was made out of going in search of food: when hunters returned to the settlement, no matter how large or small their bounty, a celebration took place. Many consider this the first Canadian Thanksgiving.
This year we encourage citizens young and old to reflect on the important role volunteers have played all our lives, and in the lives of every person throughout the world. It's a time for us to renew our commitment to one another. The first European settlers could not have survived without the tight-knit support of other community members, and this sentiment is still strongly shared in our rural and coastal communities.
Caring for one another gives us comfort and security. By working together to reach common goals, we gain a feeling of pride and commitment. Volunteers have had a profound impact on all our lives. They have helped mould the character of communities. They have been, and will continue to be, a catalyst for positive change.
With lifestyles that sometimes seem out of control, many of us are looking for ways to put balance in our lives, and also to find ways for our families to spend time togetherwhile at the same time doing something meaningful. Volunteering can fit the bill perfectly.
When volunteers are asked why they volunteer when they are already trying to juggle busy lives, the response is almost always the same. "Here, I know I make a difference." "Here, I am a member of a community."
Communities are made strong and dynamic by ordinary citizens who care enough to help others, to work together toward a common goal that ultimately benefits us all. We need to develop the potential of all our citizens. No matter what your age, interest, or skill set, there is a way that can make a difference by volunteering.
For more information on the International Year of Volunteers, or to find out more about volunteering in general, contact Lesley Dunn at 423-1368, e-mail email@example.com , or visit www.iyvnovascotia.org
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Birchtown, Shelburne County
Heritage and Community: One Step at a Timeby Scott Milsom
Hollywood might have made an epic film about it: all the qualities are there. The downtrodden seeking freedom. The massive exodus by sea. Making space in a new homeland. Facing the future with grim determination to survive. And then, for many, yet another voyage across the vast ocean to start life afresh yet once again. All a Hollywood hack would need to do would be to weave a tale of romance around the bones of history.
But, no such film has yet been made, so much of the world is still unaware of the drama that unfolded in the small Shelburne County village of Birchtown so many years ago. Today, people in that and neighbouring communities are working to make that story more widely known, while at the same time improving day-to-day life in the community.
Of course, a bit of history is in order. The story of the United Empire Loyalists is well known: in the wake of the American Revolution in the 1780s, thousands of people from the former Thirteen Colonies chose to flee to Canada to start life again under the British flag. In the mid-1780s, about 10,000 of these people came to the Shelburne area. Of these, about 1,500 were former slaves, largely from Georgia and the Carolinas, attracted to the British side by the promise of freedom and land. These Black Loyalists settled at Birchtown, just a few kilometres west of Shelburne.
Life in those first few years was hard enough for White Loyalists, but for Black Loyalists, the situation was even worse. Many arrived in autumn, and spent the winter in tents or makeshift huts. They had been promised land, but most received none. And, sadly, they were subject to racism in its various ugly forms.
The Black Loyalists struggled to maintain themselves for several years. Then, in the early 1790s, a movement swept Black communities across Nova Scotia: an expedition was being mounted to take Blacks to help found a new nation in Africa, Sierra Leone. About half the Black Loyalists who came to Nova Scotia went on to help begin the life of this new, free country. More would have made the trans-Atlantic voyage, but poverty had forced many into debt or indenture (a legal obligation to work for a particular employer for a specified period of time). The Colonial government decreed that such people not be permitted to leave the province.
Today, Birchtown is home to somewhere between 75 and 125 people. (It depends who you ask, and on whether that person goes by where the Department of Transportation places the signs along the highway.) Along the unpaved Old Birchtown Road is a fine-looking new wooden building that houses the offices of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society. Just down the road in one direction are two monuments erected by the federal government in the mid-1990s to commemorate the history of Black settlement here. A stone's throw past that is the local Community Centre, Birchtown Hall. Along the road in the other direction is the Birchtown Museum, recently acquired by the Heritage Society. Next door is a former church, now also at the disposal of the Society.
Inside the new building I find Teena Paynter, who is currently putting in volunteer time with the Heritage Society. "Over the generations," she tells me, "people have blended here in Birchtown. Now, there are far fewer people who appear Black than otherwise, but we are working to revive and celebrate our heritage." The Society has ambitious plans to develop the area along the Old Birchtown Road, including the old church and the Museum, into a Birchtown Loyalist Heritage Complex.
"It was only last year that the Society acquired the old one-room school," Teena tells me. "Last summer, we hosted an exhibition on Black heritage that belongs to the Nova Scotia Museum, and we also operated a gift shop out of the Museum. We did very little marketing, but we still had more than 700 people drop in, sometimes whole busloads at a time. So, it's pretty clear that people are interested in the story behind this place. But building this whole Complex will take time. We hope to make improvements year by year."
Teena takes me visiting at the home of Barb and Hank Falk. Hank is the local municipal Councillor, the Deputy Warden of the Municipality of Shelburne County, and the President of the Birchtown Community Centre. Barb volunteers at the Community Centre, and has also worked for several years with the Heritage Society. Her roast beef both looks and smells delicious, though it won't be ready for several hours yet. I content myself with the strong coffee and delicious cakes that are offered me.
"Race isn't an issue here in Birchtown," says Hank, who appears noticeably paler of skin than Barb, "but heritage certainly is." He explains to me that the Community Centre was at one time the local elementary school, but when the Department of Education closed it, it was offered to the community for a dollar. Today, kids in the Birchtown area are bussed to school in Shelburne.
"When we took over the Community Centre, it was in fairly decent shape," he says, "but, still, we've done a lot of work on it since we took it over. We put on suppers, card games, darts, seniors' activities, and dances, and also do weddings and receptions. There's something going on there five or six nights a week, and we only manage it through the effort of a core group of about ten volunteers. The money that comes in goes to cover expenses and building maintenance."
The Centre also houses a Community Access Point (CAP Site), where people can use the internet, and it also serves a drop-off spot for the Western Counties Regional Library. "There's always something that needs to be done there," Barb tells me. "Last year, we re-painted, and the next big job is the roof. Also, it's not insulated, so it costs us about $6,000 a year to heat it." I can't help thinking that's a lot of bingos!
Birchtown has never been a business or industrial centre. There is a Christmas tree operation, but most Birchtowners who work either drive to jobs in Shelburne or to the fish plant in nearby Gunning's Cove, which is also home port to a handful of Birchtown fishermen. "There never have been a lot of jobs right here in Birchtown," Hanks says. "Nevertheless, it's a thriving little place, and, though it will take a number of years, developing the Birchtown Interpretive Complex will be a great help to the community."
Birchtown seems to be moving forward one small step at a time. Last year work was begun on a garden area adjacent to the Community Centre. "Next year, we hope to get barbecue pits and picnic tables there, to encourage people to stop for a bit." Rome wasn't built in a day, but it did become a marvel of the world, so there is certainly hope for Birchtown.
Some archeological work has taken place in the Birchtown area, and a significant number of artifacts have been unearthed. But there are still mysteries to be unravelled. For years, local residents have been familiar with more than twenty of what they have called "burial mounds." These are works of dry stone masonry meticulously assembled, some aligned directly with points of the compass. A limited amount of archeological work on one of these mounds has shown that it didn't contain human remains, though this can't be said with certainty for the others. There is some speculation that they may have some spiritual meaning, most likely with a connection to some African religious beliefs or rites. The community is hopeful that funding will be found for further investigation.
"We are trying to get Parks Canada to designate Birchtown as a National Historic Site, both because of its known past and because of what further investigation into the mounds might reveal," says Hank. "The mounds could be helpful in this, but we also will have to be very careful in how we approach any investigation. We have to make sure that we protect the historical integrity of this place."
After thanking the Falks for their hospitality and inhaling for a final time the delicious aroma of their kitchen, Teena and I are off to Shelburne, where she introduces me to the people in the offices of the Shelburne County Genealogical Society. This place is a treasure trove of genealogical and historical resources, of Birchtown and every other corner of Shelburne County.
Shari Shortliffe is here researching her family history. Though she appears to be Caucasian, she tells me she has Black ancestry as well, through her paternal grandmother, a descendant of a Birchtown Black Loyalist. She's trying to pinpoint her family line in the Society's records.
Shari is one of four students being trained as genealogists through a joint project of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society and the Shelburne County Genealogical Society. Another of the students is Debi Hill. "What happened to those who went to Sierra Leone compared with those who stayed here is an object lesson in racism," she says. "By the next generation, many of the descendents of those who went over there were doctors, lawyers, and government officials. Those who stayed here suffered generations of poverty and racism, keeping them from their real potential."
As I head along the road from Shelburne toward home, I can't help but mull on Debi's point. I reminisce about a visit I made several years ago to Sierra Leone, where a soldier at an army checkpoint in the backjungles (we have backwoods, so they must have backjungles, right?) looked at my passport and his eyes lit up. "I have relativesin Nova Scotia," he told me. "I'm a Downey."
It also occurs to me as I roll home that what Teena has told me today about the way people in the Birchtown area have "blended" over the generations might also be a hopeful sign. This is pleasing to me, until I think about some other Nova Scotian Black communities I've visited in the province, some of them Black Loyalist communities. It occurs to me that blending is finea natural process in many areasbut I also can't help but think that it should not be a necessary condition in the ebbing away of racism that, in my more hopeful moments, I think has taken place over the past decade or two (or three, or four?), in Nova Scotia and elsewhere.
As I head east, the sun is beginning to fade. My tummy grumbles a bit, and I recall the aroma of the Falk's kitchen. Somehow, I manage to resist turning around and heading back to Birchtown.
For more information on the Birchtown area or the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, explore its website at www.blackloyalist.com or phone 875-1381 or, toll-free, 888-354-0772.
Revolution: Both Sides of the Fence
The Shelburne County Genealogical Society is a wonderful resource, for the people of Birchtown, for all the other communities of the County, and for people as far away as California and the United Kingdom. It's located on Water Street, above the Town Hall.
"We get loads of enquiries," says volunteer Eleanor Robertson-Smith. "We get them by post, by phone, and by e-mail, as many as 800 or so every year. We manage to keep office hours, even as a volunteer-based organization. We get lots of Americans contacting us, many of them wanting to know whether we can confirm their connections to any of a number of descendants of those who sailed to Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620. It's a very prestigious thing for many of them. Some of their descendants came to settle in Shelburne County, especially the Barrington area, during the 'Planter' influx of the 1750s and '60s."
"During the American Revolution," Eleanor continues, "many families in the Thirteen colonies adopted what I call a 'protective colouration.' That is, one child would fight for independence, and another would stick with the British. That way, the family's assets could be bet on both sides of the Revolutionary fence. And so, we have enquiries from the States about people who came here during the Loyalist influx. In time, quite a number of them made their way back down there to the families they had left behind. But many stayed, or moved onward to other places in Canada, or abroad."
The Society has records by the bookshelf. Birth and death certificates, marriage records, and a comprehensive record of tombstone inscriptions and descriptions from every corner of Shelburne County, are among its resources.
For more information about the Shelburne County Genealogical Society, visit its website at http://nsgna.ednet.ns.ca/shelburne/ or phone 875-4299.
Women's CED Network
Rural Women Look for Credit Where Credit is Dueby Elizabeth Haggart
Oona Landry is excited about her latest project. The Antigonish coordinator of the Women's Community Economic Development (WCED) Network is working with a group of business students from St. Francis Xavier University to set up a community investment fund. It will be used to help people who run small- and micro-enterprises get business loans.
"We're in the research stage right now," says Oona. "We've got a lot of details to work out, but our vision is to set up a group that will guarantee loans through the credit union for local small- and micro-businesses. We want to make the fund as accessible as possible for people who have difficulty getting credit. It will be different from a Community Economic Development Investment Fund, because the contributors to the fund won't be in it to make a profit."
The St. F. X. students have researched several models from across Canada and are now conducting focus groups with potential contributors to, and potential clients of, the fund.
"The response has been very positive," says Oona. "Several people have indicated that they would be willing to get involved."
With more and more banks closing in rural communities, people living in small communities are having difficulty finding local banking services. And, in the case of very small and micro-enterprises, the amounts they wish to borrow are frequently too small to interest traditional lending agencies anyway.
The WCED Network is also undertaking a second project to explore women's access to credit. On the theory that more women would start up businesses if they could get access to small amounts of money, the Network recently embarked upon a study of rural women's access to credit. Funded by Status of Women Canada, the "Rural Women Get Credit" project is examining the availability of loans for rural women interested in building small, home-based and/or community-based businesses in Nova Scotia. It will compile an inventory of loan programs, assess the current policies and procedures of lending institutions, and interview women across the province about their experience in trying to get credit for small enterprises.
"Women often have difficulty accessing credit," says Andrea Trask, coordinator for the Rural Women Get Credit project. "Often, women haven't an established credit rating, or they might not be familiar with the process and background work required to get a loan."
Gerry Martin, a senior business counsellor at the Centre for Women In Business at Mount Saint Vincent University agrees. "The criteria used by traditional lending institutions to evaluate women's credit applications often don't reflect women's reality," she says. "Quite often, women start their entrepreneurial career by setting up a business on a seasonal or part-time basis. They do that in order to fit around the other demands on their time. These types of ventures are viewed by banks as high-risk and therefore not desirable to fund."
"There are other factors at work, too," adds Andrea. "For example, women tend to start smaller businesses with smaller amounts of money. It might be anywhere from $500, to $5,000, or $10,000. Traditional lending institutions don't tend to be interested in those kinds of loans, because there isn't much opportunity for profit."
The Rural Women Get Credit project is a chance for rural women to have their voices heard and be part of their own solutions. The WCEDN wants to hear from women about their experiences in trying to get small business loans. If you're a woman who has tried to get credit for a small business, or if you're considering doing so, it might be worth your while to give them a call.
To find out more about the Rural Women Get Credit project, or to share your experience in getting credit, call Andrea Trask at 423-8877, or go to www.womenscednet.ns.ca .
Tackling Child Poverty, From the Bottom Up
by the Colchester Anti-Poverty Network
Does anybody remember way back in 1989 when the House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution to end child poverty by the Year 2000? Looking at the situation at the dawn of the new century, it seems obvious that most of those politicians have forgotten their resolve. But lots of folks in Colchester County have better memories.
In the fall of 1999, a group calling itself the Colchester Anti-Poverty Network (CAPN) was formed by clients and staff of Maggie's Place. It is a Truro-based resource centre for families and children. The group organized a rally to draw attention to the fact that, despite the House of Commons resolution, child poverty in Canada, and in Nova Scotia, had worsened over the previous decade. Truro is not often the scene of political rallies and demonstrations, so organizers were very pleased that the issue of child poverty brought out about 80 people to the gathering.
Demonstrations and sign waving have their place in the political process, but in the wake of the rally, the people involved wondered what to do next. "People felt we needed to do something more something concrete," recalls Margaret Sagar, a United Church Minister in Truro. "We held a series of monthly meetings after that November rally. Province-wide figures showed that child poverty was getting worse, but we had no way of knowing exactly what the situation was in Colchester County. We decided we needed to identify the realities of child poverty at a very local level."
So, last year CAPN applied to and received funding from Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) to undertake a project called a Needs Assessment on Child and Family Poverty in Colchester County. Begun last November, it's a five-month project to gather information about child poverty in the County and to raise community awareness of child poverty issues.
Project Coordinator Barbara MacDonald has been busy getting groups of mostly women together in communities across the County to discuss and document their first-hand experiences with child poverty. "There are many, many people in Colchester County who have to choose every day between medicine and food," she says. "Poverty affects every aspect of daily life." (The Colchester Regional Development Agency is providing Barbara's office space.)
Sandra Muir works with the Institute of Early Childhood Education, the private, non-profit agency that is administering the project for HRDC. "We want to hear from people out there who have concerns, problems, or ideas for solutions," she says. "For many people, child poverty is something they don't want to think about, much less talk about. But this project gives us a chance to do just that. We will be gathering information at least until the end of March."
Once the information on child poverty has been gathered and documented, CAPN hopes to hold a public forum where people can come to match known resources to community needs. "Once we know the scope of the problem," says Sandra, "then we can begin to look for solutions."
The 1989 resolution on eliminating child poverty that flew through Parliament so effortlessly provided some hope at the time that the problem might be solved at the political level, from the top down. Those hopes went sadly unfulfilled. So now the Colchester Anti-Poverty Network is looking at the flip side of the coin: working with people in communities to tackle the problem of child poverty from the bottom up.
For more information, please contact Barbara MacDonald at 893-0140.
Celebrate Lighthouse Day on May 26th!!!
Nova Scotia's third annual Lighthouse Day will be held on the last Saturday of May. Local community groups should start their planning now. Excursions will trek to more remote lighthouses, while community picnics, open houses, and other events will be held at more accessible beacons. There will be an art contest for school children, and a photography contest focussing on our coastal beacons.
Nova Scotia is blessed with many lighthouses that are both heritage treasures and essential aids to navigation. Let's celebrate them, and protect them for the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren.
For more information, please call Jillian Brown, Coordinator, Nova Scotia Lighthouse Day 2001, at 852-2126.
Diane Alcorn and Family
Artistic Assets of Antigonishby Scott Milsom
Most people in small-town Nova Scotia who devote much of their time to theatre and classical music can be expected to live pretty quiet lives by the time they are getting close to 70 years old. And then there's Diane Alcorn, who, at 69, recently attended the 2001 East Coast Music Awards (ECMAs), where she was a finalist in the "Jazz Artist/Group of the Year" category.
Born Diane Parker in 1931, she was brought up in a musical family in the Berwick area of the Annapolis Valley. "My father was a blacksmith by trade, and a drummer by desire," she recalls. All the children were encouraged to explore music and the arts. Add to this a natural talent and a music teacher who appreciated them, and by the late 1940s young Diane was in Halifax studying at both the Halifax Conservatory of Music and Dalhousie University. Her talents were recognized immediately by the Halifax artistic community, and scholarships from the Nova Scotia Talent Trust soon followed. By the early '50s, Diane was studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music, where she was trained as a classical contralto. (Contralto is a particular range of musical voice.) One of her contemporaries was the great Maureen Forrester, and the talents of the two were judged by many to be comparable.
In 1953 Diane married Russell Alcorn, a United Church Minister she had met at a summer camp in Berwick. Then the couple was off to do missionary work in Trinidad for a few years before spending a couple more in Russell's native New Brunswick. Finally, in 1961, the couple moved to Antigonish, where Russell was posted by the United Church. In the late '60s they left Antigonish to live in Boston for a couple of years, while Russell earned a degree in psychology But they then returned to Antigonish, where Russell was offered a job as a psychologist at St. Martha's Hospital.
From the time of their first arrival in 1961, the cultural, social, and business communities of Antigonish were all enriched by the Alcorns and the talented brood of six children they raised. John, their eldest, has been a well-established jazz musician in Toronto for many years. Emmy has served as Artistic Director of the Mulgrave Road Theatre and now lives in Guysborough. Mark is now a Ottawa accountant, as well as a guitarist and bassist. Andrew teaches music at New Glasgow Regional High School. Jamie is a sound technician and musician in the Halifax area. Sadly, husband Russell died in 1988. Then, tragically, the youngest of the Alcorn children, Peter, who was a talented visual artist and fashion illustrator, died in a boating accident in England in 1989.
In the early '90s, Diane began to experiment with jazz forms. In 1996, at the urging of her children, she moved to Toronto, where she could further develop her talents by rubbing shoulders in the vibrant Toronto jazz community. Last year, she recorded her first jazz CD, Second Time Around . It was produced by her son John, and was widely acclaimed. It was Second Time Round that earned Diane the 2001 ECMA nomination.
(The ECMAs were held in Charlottetown in early February. Despite the fact that The Jazz Kings were named as Winners, Diane was thrilled to be a Finalist, and happy to be in Charlottetown. "I had a wonderful time there," she says. "I saw two of my sons, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchild. And, I met many old friends and made many new ones.")
Despite the fact that the Alcorns have all dispersed from the Antigonish homestead, the impact the family has made on the cultural life of the town is still felt, and still appreciated. In 1964, Bob and Mavis Murray moved to Antigonish, where they raised an artistic family of their own, while Bob worked until his retirement as an accountant at a local car dealership. On the day I come to visit, their son Andrew Murray is home visiting from Toronto, where he works as a freelance set designer in television, film, and the theatre. "When we came to Antigonish," Mavis remembers, "we both joined the choir at the United Church, and that's where we first met the Alcorns. Russell was the Minister, and Diane was the Choir Director and Organist."
While raising their family, the Alcorns didn't restrict themselves to music and the church: they both also became deeply involved in the local theatre scene. "Both of them got involved with Theatre Antigonish," remembers Bob, referring to the local amateur theatre troupe. "Russell was an excellent actor, while Diane did a lot of support work backstage, especially in the area of costume design." On top of all this, Diane was instrumental in the forming and directing of The Antigonish Singers , a community choral group that is still a going concern.
"Through the years," recalls Mavis, "the Alcorn home was always warm and inviting, especially to young people. The Alcorns were always very comfortable with young people, as young people were with them."
"Having the Alcorns around while I was growing up was really wonderful," adds Andrew. "It was great to know another family where artistic abilities were appreciated and encouraged. And I certainly felt that encouragement under their roof."
The Murrays still keep in touch with Diane and the Alcorn children. "I was talking to Diane just the other day," says Mavis, "and she is such an inspiration, living evidence that life doesn't stop when you become a senior. Bob and I both still sing in the choir. I was about ready to give it up this year, but Diane's example has inspired me to keep up with it a while longer yet."
Marjorie MacHattie does public relations for both Theatre Antigonish and Festival Antigonish, the professional troupe that performs in the town during the summer months. She has known Alcorns most of her life. "Russell was such a fine man, and a wonderful Minister," she tells me. "He was so kind-hearted that Diane would never know how many people to cook supper for!"
"You would always hear the name Alcorn around town," continues Marjorie. "Their encouragement would always make you want to do your best at what you were doing. Their warmth, I think, attracted quite a number of people to amateur theatre, people who might not have come otherwise."
The integrity, good cheer, and warmth that Diane brought to her musical and theatrical efforts were also plain to be seen in her business life in Antigonish. In 1973, she opened a gift shop on Main Street called "The Curiosity Shop." In the early '90s, in the wake of the deaths of her husband Russell and son Peter, she decided to sell the business. Enter Marg Duncan , who had managed a fashion store in town for several years. "I remember telling Diane," Marg, recalls, "that hers was the only other store I'd ever want to run other than the one I'd been managing. She ran that shop with an artistic, even a theatric, flair. She would stock the most whimsical things, and present them very creatively. Even as a businessperson, she was an artist. I think she managed the shop far more as a labour of love than as a business."
"I was a friend and customer of Diane's for years before I bought the shop from her," Marg says. "I remember when we began to talk about the possibility of me buying it. She came to the house for lunch, and she recognized all the things I'd bought from her over the years. I guess she approved of the way I had them arranged: she looked around at them, then at me, and then said, 'Marg, I think you'll do.' I'm sure she never would have sold the shop on a purely 'business' basis. I think she wanted someone who would carry on with it the way she had. I think she approves of the way me and my daughter Jennifer, who now operates the business, have run the shop. Her approval is very important to both of us."Although there are fewer Alcorns than there once were in the Antigonish area, their positive influence is still felt. When she launched her CD last fall, Diane chose to come to Antigonish. Long-time friend Bob Murray was one of many who attended the launch ceremony. "The number of people who showed up was an indication of how admired Diane is in this community," he tells me. "There was a tremendous cross-section of people there, people from all walks of life in this town."
And don't expect Diane to fold her tents, say, "Enough is enough," and fade quietly away. "'Retirement' is hardly the word for her," says friend, and business associate Marg Duncan. "I think she made a mental 'to-do list' over the years, and now she's doing them. She's 70 going on 30!"
Diane Alcorn is living proof that as we grow older it is also possible to grow younger at the same time. How's that for an encouraging thought?
Diane Alcorn's recording of Second Time Around is available in local music stores.
On the Water: Looking Back, Looking Forward
It might seem a bit early for such talk, but the ice in our harbours and along our coasts will soon be breaking up. Spring will be in the air. Around the province, some coastal communities will be gearing up for certain fisheries, while others will be gearing down from other activities. The rhythm of the seasons still plays a big part in the life of coastal and rural Nova Scotia.
As people look out over the water to watch spring yet again bring changes to our harbours and waters, what can we say about the working conditions faced by those of us who earn our living from the sea? Some things are well under people's control. Those who know the power of the ocean are not so foolhardy as to venture out in improperly equipped or unsafe vessels. Weather is always a factor, and experienced fishermen know how to "read" the sea. But there are a number of things beyond their control.
Not the least of these is the ability to catch fish. Two vessels might go out to fish in the same area, and yet one might come back with twice as much as the other. Luck is a factor, but so, too, is fishing skill. Some are just better than others at knowing exactly where the fish are likely to be, and how to get them aboard. The fishery is a competitive business, so I guess this is as it should be. It has, after all, always been so. But there are a number of things that have been happening of late that have not always been so. And some of these have been matters of considerable concern to people in coastal communities around the province. And so, they've also been matters of concern to the Coastal Communities Network (CCN) .
For generations, fishermen have been leaving Nova Scotian harbours from the same wharves. They've navigated their way through narrow channels and around dangerous shoals using the same buoys and other navigational aids. And, they have been led to safe haven by the same lighthouses that have dotted our coastline for generations.
Wharves, lighthouses, and other navigational aids: CCN has been busy trying to assure the future of all these things. Let's look at wharves for starters. As many people know, over the past several years the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been handing over responsibility for management and maintenance of local wharves to community-based Harbour Authorities. Placing decision-making in the hands of those in communities can be beneficial in both financial and social terms, but funds for training and education must be provided to assure that Harbour Authorities are up to the job over the long term. After a well-attended meeting on wharf issues outside Halifax early last year, CCN began lobbying hard to have funds set aside for improvements to wharves across the province. It may have been a coincidence, but money was found for just this purpose in the budget Paul Martin delivered to Parliament last year. Still, more work remains to be done, and many Harbour Authorities are still feeling growing pains. CCN is currently working to secure funding for a comprehensive study on the economic impact of wharves on the Nova Scotian economy.
On the lighthouse front, CCN has been working with heritage and other interested groups to maintain lighthouses as both symbols of our Maritime life and as necessary navigational aids. One of the means we've used to increase public awareness has been to have the province proclaim one Saturday each year as Nova Scotia Lighthouse Day. On that occasion, community-based groups plan activities around their local lighthouse, and lighthouse issues are given a healthy public airing. This year, Lighthouse Day will be held May 26, and CCN is pleased to be able to say that funding has been secured to hire a Coordinator for Lighthouse Day, 2001. By the time you read this, that Coordinator will be busy working with CCN members, the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, the Atlantic Lighthouse Council, local community groups, and others to assure that Lighthouse Day will be a bigger success than ever this year, and that in 2002 it will grow even more in stature.
Buoys and other navigational aids have also been discussed at a number of recent CCN meetings. It seems that Coast Guardmotivated, it seems, more by deep budget cuts coming down the pipe from Ottawa than by any policy considerations or questions of public safetyhas been busy downgrading the status of some aids, completely removing others, and putting yet others directly into private hands. While it is undeniably true that global-positioning-system (GPS) technology has changed some realities on the water, there is great concern among many in our coastal communities that safety is being forgotten, and that the consequences could be tragic. While aids to navigation are being cut back, ice-breaking services continue to be provided, notably in the St. Lawrence River system. The main beneficiaries of this service are major shipping companies. A comparison of the costs of providing this service to the corporate sector and that of maintaining navigational aids used primarily by the food, inshore, and small-boat fisheries, recreational boaters, and eco-tourism operators would be revealing.
So, as we look to the unfolding of spring, 2001, CCN can look back with some satisfaction at our efforts over the past few years. But, looking ahead, we also know that, working with people and groups from coastal and rural communities across the province, there is still much on our plate for the coming years.
Coastal Communities News
Coastal Communities News is published bi-monthly by the Coastal Communities Network, a non-profit society registered in the province of Nova Scotia.
Coastal Communities News is made possible by the generous efforts of many volunteers, and by financial contributions from Human Resources Development Canada, and by donations and in-kind contributions from the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Culture, as well as from member groups and organizations.
We welcome all articles and submissions, from individuals and groups, with content in keeping with the role and nature of this magazine. We reserve the right to edit all submissions. Except where additional credit has been given, all articles are prepared by the Editor and Editorial Board.
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