Anyone who spends time in Atlantic Canada will soon realize we have a distinct way of giving directions. There are none of the norths or souths most often associated with getting from here to there. Instead, it’s all, “Go up this road till you gets to where Mr Adams had his boat stored in the grassy field. Course, the boat’s not there anymore it’s out in the bay. We went for a little run around the harbour last week and wouldn’t you know it…”
Directions have been forgotten about for the time being; a tale is coming your way. But eventually, “Well you turn right where Smith’s General store used to be. Lordy, I minds [remember] the night she [the store] burned down. By the time the old fire truck got here from the station across the bay there was nothing left but fire, ablaze on sticks charred as black as the night itself. Poor old Mrs Smith, well she was…”
At this point, you might expect to be delayed for some time.
For Atlantic Canadians, our culture is not only about the way in which we speak, or the music we listen to. It’s in the tales and lessons of days gone by. It’s in memories of a colourful people who filled our hearts with joy, as their warm smiles and weathered faces enriched us with their past experiences. It’s in the buildings that were built–every board, nail and slick of paint applied by hand, labours of love more often than not shared by whole communities. Our culture lives on in the losses and achievements of a group of people who take the time to share celebrations and comfort each other in times of sorrow.
Sketch by Sketch Along Nova Scotia’s South Shore, written and illustrated by Emma FitzGerald, does a brilliant job of recording that culture for those who will come after us. FitzGerald’s carefully selected snippets in time share her yearlong travel with us: colourful heritage buildings, a rainy day, flowers in a window box, conversation with people who pass by.
Part journal, part sketchbook and part historic guidebook, Sketch by Sketch takes us through the ramblings and experiences of an artist; the people she encounters in a day, the places she visits and the things she learns. Through her vivid descriptions, one can almost smell the flowers as they sit on the windowsill and feel the rain on one’s face. It makes me want to go to the places she describes to experience the things she has and feel them for myself.
Just like Mr Adams, with his boat gone out in the bay, and Mrs Smith with her old general store burnt down, one day the people Emma FitzGerald talked to will be gone. The buildings will be repainted or faded, or sometimes crumbled to the ground from neglect and abandonment.
Sketch by Sketch Along Nova Scotia’s South Shore has collected them all for posterity and it bears witness to who we are as a people, the wondrous life we live and neighbours who walk with us. Years from now, people will pick up this book and with a glance, be taken back to a preserved moment in time that no longer exists.
That’s the mark of an artist.