You may never have heard of the American writer J. Morris Longstreth (1886-1975) who has a Canadian and in particular, a Nova Scotia connection. Longstreth perhaps is best known as a travel writer but he dabbled in general and historical fiction as well, publishing over 40 books on these topics, He taught for a while in Ontario schools and some sources erroneously claim he was a Canadian from Kingston.
But teaching school in Ontario isn’t his only Canadian connection. Several of his books had Canadian settings, one of them a semi-fictional novel on hockey. About 80 years ago Longstreth’s travel writing caught the attention of a Canadian publisher, Ryerson Press. Ryerson commissioned Longstreth to write a travel book about Nova Scotia and it was published in 1935 after he spent most of the summer here.
For the most part this is just one more travel book but apparently, Longstreth was familiar with Nova Scotia history; as revealed by his sojourn here and his observations on the Acadians and the expulsion, he knew a lot about our past. In his book, for example, he made the interesting, accurate observation that the Acadians were “an alien element in a conquered country;” in part, this explained the expulsion.
This may be an American viewpoint since I never heard the Acadian “situation” expressed this way before. Longstreth sympathised with the Acadians, takes a few pokes at Longfellow and the poem, Evangeline, and offers his take on the expulsion. Here are some of his observations:
“The Acadians, peaceful in themselves, for the most part were instigated by infamous advisers to refuse to take the oath of allegiance.”
“The facts of the removal are bad. The Acadians were cats-paws of the priest Le Loutre and the French authorities in Quebec on one hand, and of military necessity on the other.”
“Of the occupation itself, few signs remain. Not a single Acadian family lives in the district between Windsor and Annapolis. The work of (the) expulsion was thoroughly done.”
On his visit to the Look Off above Canning (surprisingly, this was a tourist attraction 80 years ago) Longstreth waxes philosophical, speculating that the long gone Acadians once visited this height to survey their domain. “They too had stood here and looked over this landscape on summer afternoons, and pointed out their barns and their dikes.”
Then comes a poignant observation: “The landscape (below the Look Off and beyond) still gives off memories of the French occupation.”