Five Questions for Paul W. Bennett, author of Turning Points
What inspired you to write the book?
Seeking to know everything about where I live comes instinctively, as does a marked tendency to absorb its local history, politics, and culture. Writing Canadian history textbooks in the mid-1980s and teaching high school history for four decades deepened my understanding of Nova Scotia's shifting status in the emerging Canadian state. Wherever I've lived in Canada, it's been like an immersion course for me. History and historical consciousness inform my thinking on so many issues and that's why I find poking around in Nova Scotia's past so fascinating.
What was the most interesting thing you learned?
Reading John DeMont's evocative Long Way Home influenced my thinking and so did his insights into the province's 'coal black heart.' Going in-depth on Nova Scotia's early secession and provincial rights movements opened my eyes to the depths of often sublimated provincial loyalties. Discovering that prominent Conservative Dalton Camp was dispatched to Halifax to tutor Robert Stanfield on politics in the 1950s was a revelation and his richly embroidered description of a most unlikely politician in Gentlemen, Players and Politicians was priceless.
What do you think was the most decisive 'turning point' for Nova Scotia?
Joining Confederation in the 1860s remains the critical turning point over the past 150 years. Federal union with the Canadians was so deeply contested and it explains, in many ways, the province's unique character. Perched on the North Atlantic, Nova Scotia looked to Britannia, so linking up with the Upper and Lower Canadians ran counter to popular instincts. You can still detect traces of ambivalence and that contrarian nature today. Being at the crossroads of Canada during the two world wars left a deep imprint. We have yet to fully comprehend, I think, the deeper significance of removing Edward Cornwallis's statue from the public square.
What role do you think Nova Scotia played in the national narrative?
Nova Scotia was one of the four founding British North American provinces. Without Nova Scotia, there would have been no larger federal union in the 1860s. As the axis of Canadian development shifted westward, the province slowly lost its place of influence at the national table. Somewhat by-passed by the main currents of Canada's 20th century transformation, Nova Scotians took heart in, and drew strength from, their Maritime uniqueness, comfortable being a step behind other places.
What would you like readers to take away from the book?
The book's title captures it nicely — a broader sense of the sweep of history and a deeper understanding of the truly critical, often underappreciated episodes since Nova Scotia's entry into Confederation. Simply put, a better sense of what makes Nova Scotia a special place and some guidance in navigating the future.