How do you recreate a historical document of which there are no pictures? That was the dilemma facing Joe Landry, a Halifax-based book binder and conservator, when he was asked to create the essential prop used in the miniseries.
An elegant reproduction of the first newspaper printed in Canada, the Halifax Gazette published by John Bushell.
“The biggest problem is that the book was used over a rather wide period, from the 1700s through to the early-1900s,” says Landry. His apprentice Katherine Victoria Taylor adds, “The actual document has been rebound so many times that we had to work with what we thought it would have looked like.”
Using a mix of new materials, such as calf skin, and reproductions including fine linen cloth that Landry purchased in England, the pair bound a beautiful volume that book binders of the era would recognize.
Landry has immense respect for those book binders of yore, so he was disappointed when the director vetoed his first choice reproduction cellulose paper for a modern wood pulp blend. But when it came time to line the spine of the book, he selected a loose page from a book made during the period in which the Book of Negroes novel was set. “That would be very typical of a book binder of that period, using some loose sheets or printer’s waste, nothing was thrown away. It would either end up re-pulped into new paper or used to line boards or spines,” says Taylor.
For Landry, the choice was in part a structural one, but also a bit romantic. “It helps with the integrity of the book, but also I like the idea of the book that was supposed to be from the mid-1700s actually containing paper from the period.”
Want more The Book of Negroes coverage?
- Read our Holiday/History 2014 cover story about the filming of the miniseries in Nova Scotia
- Five reasons you need to read The Book of Negroes in 2015
Kim Hart Macneill is an award-winning journalist and the editor of Atlantic Books Today. Follow her on Twitter via @kimhartmacneill