Acadian Adventures of the Idle Rich

In Nova Scotia, all highways lead to Truro. Yet a Wolfville-bound traveller with time to spare and a love of the landscape can turn off the fast highway system at Truro and drift west along the Fundy shore, winding through little towns like the magically named Maitland. Gifted with that middle name (my mother was Jenny Maitland) I was excited to find that it is a little town laced with beautiful old houses, many now being restored.

I stopped at the local store to grab a sandwich, and casually asked how the place got its name. “It’s a native name,” I was told. My comment that this would be news to thousands of Scottish Maitlands made little impression. Could this be part of the weird intermingling of Scottish and Native history in Nova Scotia, where some believe that Glooscap was really a Scottish explorer named Sinclair? An enquiry for another time.

I drove happily on to Wolfville, pausing to notice that the incoming tide, off to the right, was racing in so fast that I could see sandbars disappearing every ten seconds.

Wolfville is a university town. Just as the ebb and flow of the Fundy tides rules the landscape, so the Acadia University year rules the town. During the academic year, when the 3,500 students transform the town, the movement of young people down from the slopes of the campus into the town is almost tidal. Driving along the main street I foolishly wondered what was causing the stop-and-go traffic. Then I realised that we were obviously between classes, and scores, even hundreds, of students were casually exerting their right to drift across the street, halting cars like mine. Not a bad traffic planning principle.

It is time to celebrate the Acadia school song. It goes:

Far above the dykes of Fundy
And its basin blue
Stands our glorious alma mater
Glorious to view.

Lift the chorus
Speed it onward
Sing it loud and clear
Hail to thee,
Acadia, hail to thee.

Far above the busy highway
And the sleepy town
Raised against the arch of heaven
Looks she proudly down.

They don’t write them like that today. I’d love to hear it sung.

I’m sorry to report that nobody serenaded me when I drove up the hill to the K.C. Irving Building to meet my gracious host, Andrea Schwenke Wyile. But before we went down to the basement theatre we paused to look in at the main hall, which is arguably the most welcoming space in any Canadian University I have seen. Almost worth going back to the world of classes and papers just to get to sit and read there, and think great thoughts.

Andrea (a specialist in books for children) was able to help me with the technical set-up, but the absence of security meant that we had to baby-sit the computer once it had been set up. Her gallant husband, Herb Wyile (author of the well-known book on Canadian historical fiction Speaking in the Past Tense, not to mention Anne of Tim Hortons) brought her food from home, and I was able to slip away to the Blomidon Inn to get into my “costume.”

As usual, before the start of the show I tried to greet my audience, mingling with them and welcoming them to what I hoped would be a good time. This evening before the show I was delighted to meet Terry Fallis’s in-laws, who live in Wolfville, and who were later pleased that I incorporated a tribute to Terry (“Saint, Little Red Hen, and Prizewinner”).

When the event started, things rapidly went downhill, because in introducing me Andrea laid great stress on the role of Jennifer Knoch, a recent and fondly remembered Acadia graduate, and the editor of my book.  I went on to repeat the tributes, so that many miles to the east Jen was blushing hotly for some reason unknown to her. The Acadia students, however, were visibly pleased by all this, as an inspiring example of good things happening to Acadia graduates just like them, and in the Q and A session I was able to reinforce this piece of inspiring news.

The show went well, the Q and A session was fun (including questions from some of Jen’s old teachers), and I signed a few books. Then I followed the line of least resistance down the hill and drove back through town to the grand old Blomidon Inn. It is such a traditional Victorian mansion that when I asked for a drink they directed me to a deserted drawing room, the Rose Room. There I sat sipping my colour-coordinated cranberry juice, and thinking that Wolfville is a fine place to be. Idle rich, indeed.

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5 comments on “Acadian Adventures of the Idle Rich

  1. Munroe Scott says:

    Hi Doug. Judging by the lyrics of the Acadia song it must be based on Cornell’s Alma Mater song, “Far above Cayuga’s waters”. If so, it surely is a grand melody.
    Whether or not you’re rich I’m happy to see that you’re not idle.

  2. […] up to a fine fall day at The Blomidon Inn in Wolfville is a perfect start. Roaming around the inn’s varied gardens is a very good way to ease into the […]

  3. Chris Paul says:

    A good reference for settling these vexing questions about place names is Bill Hamilton’s book “Place Names of Atlantic Canada”
    http://www.amazon.ca/Place-Atlantic-Canada-William-Hamilton/dp/0802075703/

    It’s not surprising that, because of the landscape being similar to Wolfville’s, Mount Allison University’s alma mater song (“Mount Allison so fair / Beyond the marshes there”) also invokes the image of the marshes and dykes of the Fundy shore. A curious and little-known fact about it, though, is that its tune comes from a song entitled “In Zanzibar (My Little Chimpanzee)” from a 1904 musical comedy called “The Medal and the Maid”, the refrain of which was:

    My little Chimpanzee,
    you’re all this world to me;
    A branch I’ll find for thee
    in my own fam’ly tree.
    No monkey-shine for me;
    A wedding fine there’ll be
    In high society
    In Zanzibar.

    According to a contemporary New York Times review, it was sung by “a chorus of young ladies in grey combination bloomers and hoods, who quaintly dance… in imitation of the chimpanzees.” One hopes that at some future convocation ceremony the choreography will follow that of the alma mater song’s progenitor.

  4. […] I wrote about my visit to Wolfville, where I stayed at The Blomidon Inn. A recent chat in our kitchen with Terry Fallis, author and […]

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