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
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.
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.
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). The personalized responses of workers, families, and community members in the deindustrialized landscapes are almost entirely ignored in the existing literature, despite valuable attention being paid to the use of oral histories, informant interviews, and public art. (5) While these landscapes are admittedly rare, the lack of attention in the studies to date has the unfortunate effect of ignoring these intensely personal reflections by the workers, families, and communities most directly affected by deindustrialization. A recent exception is the brief analysis by Dan MacDonald of an exhibition at the Cape Breton Centre for Heritage and Science, which includes personal objects constructed by steelworkers during break periods at the mill. (6) The point is made clearly, however, that the personalized industrial heritage represented by this exhibition (with its focus on domesticity and the connections to workers' homes) is superseded in local contest over appropriate heritage tourism by the choice of rural Celtic Cape Breton symbolism, confirming earlier assessments of attitudes to the steel industry in Sydney. (7)
Personalized industrial heritage takes many forms, ranging from the use of industrial artifacts and the creation of iconic symbols in the contemporary urban and small-town landscape through to the oral histories and narratives that shape individual memory (and are passed through generations within families). This article addresses the use of artifacts and symbols to create personalized landscapes of industrial heritage in two mining towns in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, and argues that such landscapes provide important contributions to personal, family, community, and place identity. At once both memorial to a vibrant industrial past and contemporary indicator of individual pride, community membership, and perhaps resistance, these personal landscapes are not sanctioned by public institutions (other than being allowed to exist by default under current land-use zoning and planning legislation) and may or may not reflect the views of the broader community or municipal government. Their forms are individual and eclectic and frequently cross into folk art, resulting in vernacular landscapes that can both reinforce and resist public views on industrial heritage. In what follows, the conceptual context for a discussion of personalized industrial heritage is reviewed before turning to an interpretation of landscape examples from the towns of Springhill and River Hebert, Nova Scotia.
Situating Personal Landscapes in the Industrial Heritage Discourse
Public landscapes reflect state hegemony, corporate power, patriarchy, colonialism, gender, class, spectacle, and resistance--all built on the premise that landscapes can be interpreted as reflective texts. (8) Landscapes of industrial heritage are subject to many of these contested influences, and numerous scholars have addressed the complex interplay of forces, particularly at the municipal level, where the creation of new post-industrial landscapes, drawing upon the industrial past for inspiration, provides a mechanism for economic development. In some cases these landscapes are historically accurate reflections of the industrial past, demonstrating the tension between past processes and contemporary use; (9) in others, the result is a socially contingent historicist landscape with little authenticity, variously described by commentators as "imagineered," (10) "dissonant," (11) or representative of the "past as a foreign country." (12) The commodifying and "selling" of the industrial past for consumption by a heritage-seeking public has been largely public (or at least …
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Publication information: Article title: Interpreting Personalized Industrial Heritage in the Mining Towns of Cumberland County, Nova Scotia: Landscape Examples from Springhill and River Hebert. Contributors: Summerby-Murray, Robert - Author. Journal title: Urban History Review. Volume: 35. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2007. Page number: 51+. © 1998 Becker Associates. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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