Conservative tales and a liberal tour

instruments cumberland museum
Some instruments displayed at the Cumberland Museum and Archives in Amherst, N.S.

AMHERST, N.S. — “Oh, you’re on Toryville Lane!” Brian said with delight. “You know why it’s called that?”

Of course Brian would know. This man knows a lot about the Maritimes, Nova Scotia, and the Amherst area in particular. If you said Amherst was in his blood, you’d be correct: his family arrived in a wave of Yorkshire settlers in the 1700s, sometime after the expulsion of the Acadians.

As a descendent of settlers, and as someone who is clearly as passionate about history as I am, Brian was the perfect tour guide for our visit to the Cumberland County Museum and Archives.

Spread through several rooms of father of Confederation Robert Barry Dickey’s former home, its exhibits are more far-ranging than those politics, with Mi’kmaq artifacts displayed just feet away from intricate sculptures carved by Ukrainian prisoners of Amherst’s First World War internment camp, just steps away from the very desk Charles Tupper (an Amherst native) used during his ridiculously short time in the Prime Minister’s Office.

There are days worth of stories in these rooms, and I think if we had those days to spare, Brian—“there’s my aunt,” he says, holding a picture of the women’s hockey team of 1924—would be just the man to tell us those stories.

 

As it is, we listened, captivated, to the hints of drama beyond the quick history lessons and the mentions of some of the town’s big movers and shakers: the Amherst Boot and Shoe Company, Christies Trunk and Baggage Company, Amherst Piano and others. We laughed gleefully as he pumps the player piano for us.

cumberland museum archivesAs the only visitors to the museum that late afternoon, we were treated with extra care and given a little something extra: Brian opened a door marked “Employees only” and lead us behind the curtain, to a room filled with archives, with hundreds of maps and ancient papers and blessedly little dust. He mourned the fact that the house is only so big, that not everything can be displayed at once. There is so much more in here, so many words and bits of stories that paint a picture of Amherst, Nova Scotia.

So why is the road on which our little cabin sits, six sweet little houses clustered at water’s edge at the end of a gravel drive, called Toryville Lane?

For the very reason you might expect, Brian tells us: “Everyone who built there was a Conservative.”

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