Interpreting Personalized Industrial Heritage in the Mining Towns of Cumberland County, Nova Scotia: Landscape Examples from Springhill and River Hebert

By Summerby-Murray, Robert | Urban History Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Interpreting Personalized Industrial Heritage in the Mining Towns of Cumberland County, Nova Scotia: Landscape Examples from Springhill and River Hebert


Summerby-Murray, Robert, Urban History Review


Abstract

As analysis of deindustrialization shifts from economic processes to community response, public landscapes become the locus for the struggle over memory. The interpretation of collective memory has been considered through oral histories, worker narratives, and public art. Missing from this analysis, however, are the personalized landscapes that also contribute to the understanding of industrial heritage in deindustrializing cities and small towns. This article considers a small number of artifacts and constructed objects that create personalized landscapes of industrial heritage in two mining towns in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. Interpreting these landscapes highlights their ambiguity, the contributions they may make to processes of local cultural resistance, and their intensely personal motivation. The analysis questions the extent to which these landscapes reflect a wider coherent heritage discourse or function to reinforce local community, family, and place identity.

Resume

reponses communautaires, la lutte pour la memoire devient centree sur le paysage public. L'interpretation de la memoire collective a ete etudiee a travers les histoires orales, les recits des travailleurs et l'art public. Cependant, les paysages personnalises qui contribuent aussi a la comprehension du patrimoine industriel dans les villes et petites communautes desindustrialisees manquent a cette analyse. Cet article etudie un petit nombre d'objets fabriques qui creent le paysage personnalise du patrimoine industriel de deux villes minieres du comte de Cumberland, Nouvelle-Ecosse. L'interpretation de ces paysages accentue leur ambiguite, ainsi que la contribution qu'ils peuvent offrir aux processus de resistance culturelle locale et leur motivation intensement personnelle. L'analyse examine a quel point ces paysages refletent un plus vaste discours patrimonial coherent ou servent a renforcer l'identite de la communaute locale, de la famille et du lieu.

Introduction

Traditional scholarly approaches to deindustrialization in North America relied heavily on analysis of the processes of dismantling industrial economies, particularly in the contexts of enhanced global competition, rapidly changing technologies, and highly-mobile capital. Much of the scholarly literature of the 1970s and 1980s focused on large urban centres in the American "Rust Belt" and the responses of citizens, governments, and organized labour to industrial decline characterized by plant shutdowns, job loss, and globalization of production. (1)

With corporate capital pitted against local communities, the analytical question was not so much over what Steven High describes as the "predictable result" of such an unequal pairing but rather the extent of economic and social dislocation faced by communities and their abilities to be part of any form of economic recovery. (2) More recent scholarship, however, has moved "beyond the ruins" and particularly beyond the "body count" approach in understanding change in manufacturing industry (3) to focus instead on the nature of post-industrial economies and societies and the communities that actively engage cultural means of contesting memory in the creation of industrial heritage. (4) This refocusing of the discussion has allowed a more nuanced understanding of the nature (and harnessing) of community (including its local, regional, and international scales) as well as turning scholarly attention to deindustrialization as a phenomenon in rural settings and small towns.

This change is particularly significant for analysis of deindustrialization in Maritime Canada with its long history of industrial change, its single-resource communities, and comparatively slow-paced urban development. Further, deindustrialization and subsequent contesting of the forms and nature of industrial heritage have tended to be approached as public issues, whether focusing on economic recovery or community expression, resulting in the creation of landscapes that commodity the industrial past for contemporary public consumption (as public spectacle, urban image promotion, or entry-fee-paying museumification). …

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