Nova Scotia Highway 101 sign welcoming travellers to Clare

Acadians in Nova Scotia

The recent furor over historical Canadians such as John A. MacDonald, Edward Cornwallis or Frank Oliver and their place in modern day Canada has brought forward the fact that we are woefully ignorant of our own history. Other than the hazy recollection of a CBC Vignette, the vast majority of us know very little Canadian history. Hence when a vocal minority seizes control of the narrative surrounding a particular character, the majority doesn’t immediately dismiss the hyperbole as they have no knowledge of the subject.

Towards the end of shedding some light on a piece of Canadian and Nova Scotia history, the focus of this article will be on the Municipality of Clare and the vibrant present day Acadian culture. Until I had spent some time visiting the region, I had no idea of the rich Acadian culture thriving in the southwest corner of the province. The entire Le Grand Dérangement episode was never a part of my school history lessons and it seems after checking with my kids, it still is not a part of high school studies. I consider it a sin that our own history receives such short shrift.

Location of the Municipality of Clare on the southwest tip of Nova Scotia

The History of Clare (La Baie Sainte Marie)

Starting in 1755, the Acadians were flung hither and yon from their homes in the Grand-Pré region of Nova Scotia. After close to a decade, under a kinder British governor, many of the exiles were allowed to return to British territory in 1764. Their former lands had already been ceded to New England Planters, so a new area of the Nova Scotian peninsula needed to be found for them. Legend has it that a surveyor from the Irish county of Clare, carved out a large chunk of land for the returning Acadians. This became the Municipality of Clare located in the County of Digby.

Families named Comeau, Deveau, LeBlanc, Robicheau, Belliveau and Melanson were typically given land for a homestead and a 100 acre woodlot. Unlike the fertile lands of the reclaimed Grand Pré delta or the Annapolis valley, it was tough to grow crops on the rocky, wooded, boggy land. Most of the Acadians turned to logging and fishing to survive.

Today, the main industries include agriculture, lobster fishing, other fisheries, ship building, mink farming, logging and tourism. Although all the larger sawmills are gone from the region, numerous hobby sawmills are busy making lumber from the family woodlots. Red Spruce, Yellow Birch, Hemlock, White Pine, Sugar Maple, and American Beech are common Acadian forest trees. Burning wood for heat is very common. Sawing logs into planks, boards and beams for various building projects is the usual destination for the larger felled trees. A couple of niche markets is to make maple wood slats for lobster traps or Hackmatack ‘knees’ for wooden ships.

The Culture

The Acadians of Clare are fluently bilingual, had a rich Catholic religious background and have several unique foods and customs.

  • The Acadian Churches along the Evangeline Trail

The small Acadian communities of loggers and fisherman managed to erect several magnificent churches that run the length of the Clare portion of the Evangeline Trail.

Église Saint-Bernard Church, Saint-Bernard, Nova Scotia

This is the first large church you come across after taking the Church Point turn-off from the main 101 Highway. The granite for the structure was brought from Shelburne, NS and the first mass was held after a 32 year construction period in September 1942.

Église Sainte-Marie, Church Point, Nova Scotia

After only two years of construction, 1500 volunteers finished building North America’s largest wooden church in 1905. Located next to it is the Acadian Université Sainte-Anne.

Paroisse Sacré-Coeur, Saulnierville, Nova Scotia

Further ‘down the line’, is another larger wooden church built and financed by the local inhabitants in 1880.

Saint-Alphonse-de-Ligouri Church, Mavillette, Nova Scotia

Again, this 1921 church was another example of the local Acadian craftsmen and parishioners coming together to build a place of worship.

Acadian Food

Nova Scotia Acadians have many signature and staple dishes unique to their culture. Similar to the more esoteric dishes from other cultures, many of the traditional meals take some getting used to.

Acadian ‘comfort food’ – Rappie Pie

I wish I could say it was more appetizing than it looks but I will be charitable and say Rappie Pie is an acquired taste. The process of making the dish starts with finding an old fowl in the yard and boiling the meat to tenderize it. Meanwhile, you make ‘zombie’ potatoes (my characterization of the process) by mashing all of the liquid and starch out of them. They get re-energized by the chicken broth. Then in a large pan, you layer the chicken meat, some diced onions and the grey, goopy potato paste. Bake in the oven until there’s a crisp crust. It’s a time consuming dish to make especially the processing of the potatoes. This is why it is served for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Check out the recipe here.

Traditional Acadian Chicken Fricot

This dish is similar to a meat and dumplings stew. Again, if chicken was the meat in the stew, they would use an older bird. The dish looks and tastes more palatable than the Rappie pie. Check out the recipe here.

Acadian Stuffed Quahogs
  • Quahogs

Quahogs are large clams that can be found in the intertidal regions on Clare’s shoreline. Many places in the Maritimes and states such as Maine will cut them into strips for deep frying similar to other clams. The Acadians prefer to eat them stuffed as pictured above.

Dulse – An edible seaweed harvested and sold in Clare
  • Seafood

Due to the nature of being so close to the ocean, Acadians frequently ate lobster, oysters, red mussels, dulse (a type of seaweed), herring, and haddock. Seafood and fish chowder are common meals.

Cultural Events

Acadians in Clare hold festivals similar to other Acadians elsewhere in New Brunswick, PEI, Maine and Quebec. They also hold their own unique yearly events.

Tintamarre traffic driving up the ‘Line’ to Sainte-Anne University

This is a relatively new Acadian tradition that had its roots in New Brunswick when it was held in conjunction with important Acadian anniversaries. The traditional way of holding a Tintamarre was to start at one end of the village and make a lot of noise as you passed by the neighbors with everyone ending up at a central meeting place. In Clare, because of the long distances up and down the ‘Line’, people get in their vehicles and drive the highway from both ends of the municipality to end up at the Sainte-Anne University. It is held on Acadian Day, August 15, and in Clare is the culmination of a week-long Acadian Festival. Houses next to the road decorate their yards with flags and droves of people come out to wave at the honking line of traffic.

Metaghan, Nova Scotia Easter Canoe Trip, April 2-3, 2010 – Photo Courtesy of Lisa Sutt
  • The Spring Canoe Rallies

There is a strong connection between the inhabitants of Clare and canoeing. Several Canoe rallies take place in the spring. One traditional rally that had its start in the 70’s uses the Salmon River/Lake Doucette drainage area for participants to make their way right down to the ocean. The two day event is held every Easter long weekend and attracts scores of canoes. It also attracts numerous spectators and well-wishers who follow the boaters on their ‘four wheelers’. Certain popular haul-outs are good vantage points to watch the participants shoot some rapids and occasionally tip over in the frigid spring runoff. Check out YouTube video highlights of the 2010 Meteghan Easter Canoe trip courtesy of Lisa Sutt through this link.

Grou Tyme – ‘A Great Time’ for all Acadians to come together for music and dance
  • Acadian Music

The Acadians of Clare enjoy their music. Years ago, community centers held weekend dances for the locals to party. Numerous small home-grown bands entertained their neighbors. In recent years, several popular bands such as Radio Radio, Grand Dérangement, and Blou got their start in the area. Unfortunately, outside of the region, only Quebec fans may be familiar with their music as most of their songs are in French.

Canadians need to discover the fact that Nova Scotia is not just Halifax, Peggy’s Cove and lobster. Clare is a Canadian historical gem whose heart is a short three hour drive from Halifax. Next time you visit the Maritimes, it would be worth the time to visit.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


Selling UN Peacekeeping to Canadians

***Originally published with FrontLine Defence***

Most Canadians would agree that the atrocities happening in places like Mali, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (and any numerous other corners of hell in the world) should be stopped. But hard lessons in Afghanistan have taught us that spending precious blood and gold may not make the kind of difference needed to set some of these regions firmly on a path away from lawless anarchy. Prime Minister Trudeau’s trepidation towards committing a large military contingent to a quagmire such as Mali is absolutely understandable. There seems to be no upside in it for Canada other than the altruistic humanitarian angle. Why send Canadians to a place that (a) doesn’t want peace and (b) doesn’t want foreigners meddling in their affairs? The return on millions or billions spent, will likely only be the return of Canadian dead, maimed, and mentally injured. UN peacekeeping is a tough sell to Canadians who have witnessed repatriation parades and an epidemic of soldier suicides. Would it not be easier to throw up our hands in despair and say “let them work out their own issues and stay out of someone else’s fight”?

Historically, Canadians have, and will do what’s right. As witnessed by the Royal Canadian Navy sailors recently returned from West Africa’s mission, NEPTUNE TRIDENT 17-01, the Canadian flag, the people and our ideals are respected and powerful. We are seen as honest brokers with no ulterior motives unlike other larger countries. We are wanted and needed. Canada can and must make a difference outside of our borders.

So how do you sell the bitter medicine that is UN peacekeeping to Canadians? To begin with, they need to be given the straight goods. Recently, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Jonathan Vance stated something similar with reference to the new Canada Defence Policy. The Policy lays out firm timelines and monies for the next 20 years, giving hard direction for the military to follow irrespective of change of government. The same firm, clear direction needs to be in place before Canada’s next UN peacekeeping operation. The government and military needs to be brutally honest, open and realistic about the whole proposed operation. Number one is to identify the goal. Why are we going, where are we going, what will we accomplish, and how long will we be there? How many of our soldiers might be taking the Highway of Heroes home? What will be the ultimate cost, including expected care associated with returning soldiers maimed in mind and body? How will we decide when enough is enough? Will there be a natural ‘Victory’ or just a point where we’ll just cut our losses and leave? When there is no discernable upside to a bad mission, Canadians would be more willing to sacrifice to the greater good if they are given the straight up honest cost ahead of time, with regular, candid updates.

People don’t want sugar-coated BS, and are tired of politicians trying to feed it to them.

Once Canadians have the straight goods, they’re going to demand that our soldiers have the best tools and training to accomplish the mission. Again, a remark from the CDS is apropos. The military still recruits based largely on a model of a WWI soldier. Similar to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) recruiting strategy overhaul envisioned by General Vance, Canada also needs a complete rethink of how to approach peacekeeping missions in order to be effective during and long after we’ve been there.

The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative based at Dalhousie University in Halifax uses this type of forward thinking with their Veteran Trainers for the Eradication of Child Soldiers (VTECS) program and research. The program just graduated a second cohort of veterans who will work overseas to help end the scourge of child soldiery and exploitation, utilizing the proactive, and progressive, research, education and training pioneered by the Dallaire Initiative. So far, the combination of expertise and research has been paying increasingly large dividends, with countries such as Sierra Leone, Rwanda and even Somalia embracing this new approach.

These new types of peacekeeping methodologies need to be embraced and leveraged by the CAF in order to ensure successful future peacekeeping missions. As part of a speaking series co-hosted by Wounded Warriors Canada and VTECS, Major-General Patrick Cammaert (retired from the Royal Netherland Marine Corps) spoke of UN-sponsored peacekeeping challenges. Peacekeeping efforts fail when any of the following occur:

  • Participating countries and their forces have neither the will nor appetite for the missions – if your heart isn’t in it, it’s obvious to the populace and they lose trust in UN backed programs.
  • Peacekeepers have a lack of understanding of the issues surrounding the conflict they’ve been dropped into.
  • Commanders are derelict in serious reporting regarding the actual issues in theatre.
  • UN forces operate under a risk-adverse attitude and are not proactive.
  • Peacekeepers have a general lack of knowledge of the mandate, the Rules of Engagement, and who they will be dealing with.
  • There are no consequences for mission failure (the attitude is: keep your head down, don’t risk your own people, ride it out until you get to go home).

MGen Cammaert, who is no stranger to peacekeeping and what it takes to run a successful operation, had strong ideas of what is required if future UN missions are to be successful.

  • Political will and a firm direction needs to be in place before there can be any peacekeeping. A political solution needs to be hammered out, communicated and implemented ahead of the mission.
  • Peacekeeping nations need to ask the local populations: “what do you need of us and how can we help you accomplish your goals”, instead of the usual: “we’re here and this is what we’re going to do.”
  • There needs to be a holistic approach that involves the diplomats, NGOs, police and military.
  • Commanders in the field are key to success. They need to be competent and fearless. They need the tools and authority to make decisions that cannot wait for authorities back in the UN.
  • Pre-deployment training is crucial, with a heavy emphasis on scenario-based problems (it’s already too late to learn when boots hit the ground).
  • The local population needs to see activity, movement and engagement by the peacekeeping forces. Similar to a cop walking the beat, the local population and adversaries need to see a continuous presence and constant interaction.
  • Mobility and decisive action can be critical. Sometimes a quick, pivotal action to a threat will thwart years of subsequent strife.
  • The concept of ‘No Consenting Adults’ needs to be 100% enforced in conflict zones.
  • Finally, there needs to be substantially more women deployed in the field. A woman is invaluable when dealing with other women or children in these conflict zones. It isn’t sexist, it’s plain fact that a woman can diffuse tense situations involving women and children better than a man.

Quality is better than quantity, asserts MGen Cammaert. As Peacekeepers, you need to gain the trust of the people, you are there to help. You need to do it right, you need to be seen doing it right, and you have to be there long enough to make sure it will continue to be done right. Otherwise, don’t bother with half-hearted attempts which will do more harm than good.

The CAF lacks the type of peacekeeping soldier and doctrine that MGen Cammaert described during his presentation. During the event, the Foundation screened a short film from DHX Media entitled ‘Checkpoint’. The powerful short film illustrated how the ‘old’ way of running the business of peacekeeping is not adequate for the 21st Century. Drawing on my own experience, military members are trained to take decisive and, if necessary, lethal action. For example, back in 2007 during Basic Training, our platoon was introduced to a bayonet drill. A pair of Royal Canadian Regiment sergeants got our bloodlust to the point where we were quite willing and able to impale and kill the enemy. This is the job of the infantry, who are often “up close” to the action. You kill or are killed. This was how a child soldier ends up dead when the film first ran a checkpoint scenario manned by two young armed boys.

Peacekeepers of the future require more complex skills. They need to be part diplomat, social worker, police, soldier, and definitely more gender- and racially-diverse. They also need better pre-deployment scenario-based training that will give them the tools to deal with the likely situations for the particular conflict zone they’re headed for. The CAF prepares as well as it can, and has excelled at pre-planning for battle since Vimy Ridge – but I cannot stress enough that today’s peacekeeping missions need a different approach. When the ‘Checkpoint’ mission scenario ran a second time, the child soldier did not die, and the UN peacekeeper was not traumatized by the experience of killing a child.

The CAF does what it can to keep up with their better-equipped NATO allies. But realistically, Canada is not going to be a major player during a World War III. However, we can be effective at dousing the hotspots that lead down that path. Our military has a long history of doing amazing things with somewhat less-than-adequate tools, manpower and equipment. They really shine when it comes to niche military areas of expertise such as our Sniper program, our Clearance Diver units, our Search and Rescue program, our Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), our expertise with Nuclear Biological Chemical Warfare (NBCW), and our JTF-2 team. We know how to specialize and become world experts. The next thing we need to become expert in, is Peacekeeping.

There is a need for the CAF to stand up a dedicated peacekeeping unit similar to the Special Operations Forces or Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG) models. They need to recruit from across the spectrum of the CAF for dedicated men and women who will become experts in the field of peacekeeping. Give them the diplomat, social worker, and soldier training.

There may be a necessity to recruit directly from civilian sectors to bolster personnel shortfalls, particularly females. When the Search and Rescue technician trade had personnel issues, they went directly to paramedic associations for qualified people. Perhaps the CAF could target women in police forces or social workers associations to help fill personnel gaps. Bring in leading edge organizations such as VTECS to keep training and techniques fresh and innovative. Give this core group the best tools and training before they end up on mission. Then once we’re experts, similar to the men and women graduating from the VTECS program, the knowledge can be passed to allies and the local populations. Partnership with world-renowned and universally recognized external organizations, like the Dallaire Initiative, may add an important perspective. New threats and complex scenarios call for new and innovative approaches by the CAF, moving beyond the insistence that only they can train themselves, and leveraging the capabilities provided by civilian organizations that can blend advanced education, military experience and real-world approaches to address these complex realities.

The second scenario presented in the ‘Checkpoint’ short film resulted in three children dropping their weapons and no one being shot. A simple psychological technique diffused a deadly situation. Modest solutions and techniques pay significant dividends; no dead child, no angry opposition force, no angry parents, no anti-peacekeeper propaganda fodder, and no soldier living with a kid’s death on his conscience.

Hope and honesty is how you sell Canadians on UN peacekeeping. Be straight with the costs and the reasons. Give our CAF members the correct tools and equipment to do the job. Incorporate innovative techniques, training and leading edge research to give our people the best edge to be successful.

What’s happening in places like Mali is horrendous, and Canada could make a difference. We just need to be forward thinking enough to make a quality impact.


Preserver alongside Her Majesty’s Canadian Dockyard Halifax, 28 July 2017, ready to be towed to the ship breaker. Photo credit, Blair Gilmore, RUSI(NS)

The Sun Dips on PRESERVER, Last of the Protecteur-Class AOR

Originally published with RUSI(NS), Bourque Newswatch, and Ottawa Citizen

August 2, 2017, marked the end of an era for the Canadian built Protecteur-class AOR (Auxiliary Oiler, Replenishment) when Preserver transfers from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) to her new owners, Marine Recyling Corporation. Navy tugs will tow the vessel one last time a short distance off of her berth at Her Majesty’s Canadian Dockyard Halifax, from where she will then be transferred to a civilian tug and towed to a special facility in Sydney, Cape Breton for breaking and recycling.

As I toured the flats taking part in the last official tour of the vessel, I reflected on the bygone era represented by the ship and her predecessor, Protecteur. Standing on top of the bridge next to the Officer of the Watch’s station by the Engine Room speaking tube, I could envision the numerous ‘sundowners’ that area had witnessed. How many times had the Captain and his ship’s officers spent a few quiet contemplative minutes up in this spot? How peaceful it would have been on some far off ocean, sipping a beer and perhaps indulging with a cigar, quietly contemplating life at sea as the fiery orb sank once again into the abyss. As we traveled through the stripped out 555 foot long ship, I wondered how many Duty Roundsmen had followed these paths? How many thousands of times had the decks been scrubbed or the brass fittings polished? How many dignified cocktail gatherings, ‘channel fever’ parties, baptisms, summary trials, mess dinners, RPC (Request the Pleasure of your Company), and countless other functions were held in the Officers’ Wardroom, Chief & POs’ Mess, Hangar and the Main Cave? What were the number of sea ditties floating about the fleet generated from decades of good natured Preserver sailor’s high jinx? The old ship’s motto was ‘Heart of the Fleet’ but it was the continuous presence of thousands of RCN sailors serving, living and toiling aboard her over all those decades that brought life to inanimate steel. Their salty souls permeate the bulkheads and deck plates.

But the old lady’s time has come, and she is scheduled meet her fate at the breaking yard. Back on July 30, 1970, when she was put into commission at the New Brunswick Saint John Shipbuilding yard, it was still common for ships to be powered by steam, and she ended up as the last boiler powered vessel in the RCN. In addition, many materials used in her construction are long gone from today’s modern ships. Miles of PCB coated copper wiring run through her hull. Much of her interior surface is covered with the old ubiquitous Navy red lead paint. Marine Recycling will have a challenge to safely removing all those toxic substances. Helping to ensure their proper disposal, our RCN tour guide explained that the Department of National Defence will continue to play a watchdog role until the last fifteen feet of the ship is left. The building and ultimate breaking of Preserver represents a true ‘cradle to grave’ Canadian shipbuilding process.

Preserver faithfully functioned as a vital force multiplier for the RCN. But as the world moved forward, parts for the old ship became scarce and tightening environmental regulations would have kept the single hulled fueling vessel out of most ports. But Preserver’s usefulness has not entirely waned as she will perform one last useful task for the Navy. The military always ends up in possession of material and equipment that has become obsolete or too expensive to dispose of. Much of this material ends up warehoused to collect dust. There is a unique item still onboard the ship that epitomizes this dilemma of how to dispose of items that have outlived their usefulness, namely the Wardroom piano. Years ago, an upright piano was presented to the ship’s officers as a gift. It is said to have taken four days of work pulling up hatches and making openings to bring it to its home onboard. The time and effort to remove this unique musical instrument is now not worth the bother. So as is common in the military recycling business, the new owners will receive a ship full of extra bits and pieces of military surplus including a piano. Wouldn’t that be a rare find a few months from now on EBay?

There is always a touch of sadness and nostalgia when you say good-bye to a ship, especially when it is the last of her type. The countless eyes who have witnessed innumerable sunrises and sunsets from her decks and stared across the thousands of miles of endless oceans are long gone. All that is left is for the graceful old lady to take her final voyage into the setting sun.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.