Preserving our heritage is vital

Pictou Advocate sports

If you know me, you know I’ve never stopped loving the Pictou County where I grew up and where I began my newspaper career as a high school student.

I’ve been away for 48 years — yet I’ve never forgotten my roots.

When I’m asked where I’m from, I still respond with two words: “God’s Country.” And I mean it from the bottom of my 79-year-old heart.

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That’s why, as I approached the end of a 48-year stay with The Chronicle Herald, I was delighted to begin writing sports columns for The Evening News, where I had gotten my start in this profession in the mid-1950s.

Four years later, Jason Warren, who hired me at the News, had become editor of The Advocate. When the New Glasgow daily decided to drop my column, Jason took me on with The Advocate so quickly that my column never missed a week.

I mention it because today’s column is my 700th — in 700 weeks — with the Advocate.

Know what’s been the biggest joy in all this? Getting the opportunities to go back “home,” talk and interview so many people I previously knew — the athletes, the coaches, the managers, the officials, the others in the Pictou County sports community.

In that time, I’ve sat down with between 300 and 400 Pictonians, talking about their careers, talking about their contributions, talking about the county’s past.

It’s been wonderful.

I firmly believe in the importance of the county’s heritage. I equally believe that Pictonians, whether still at home or away, love the past, the history, the heritage of “God’s Country.”

That’s why I’m thrilled every time one of our local authors publishes a book on the county’s history. Without their efforts, many important matters in our past could be lost forever.

That’s why I think retired Judge Clyde Macdonald has made a fabulous contribution by producing 14 books on county stories. His efforts are invaluable.

Others, like freelance journalist and photographer Monica Graham (“Looking Back at Pictou County”) and retired teacher Fergie MacKay (“A History of Pictou Landing”), have made great additions to our bookshelves. Even Pictou Landing native Marcia (Campbell) Davey, Fergie’s cousin, got in on the act. A retired teacher and fiction writer living in Rhode Island, she recently produced her seventh novel, “Sweet Landing,” a fictional story based in — yes — Pictou Landing.

Books are a grand way to preserve history.

I do think the county is fortunate to have places like the Carmichael Stewart House Heritage Museum, the Northumberland Fisheries Museum, the McCulloch House Museum, the Pictou County Military Heritage Museum, the Nova Scotia Museum of Industry and the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.

I would be remiss not to mention Clyde Macdonald’s first love, the Pictou County Roots Society. That’s been a great source of historical information.

Clyde’s books have included sports stories, while Monica’s publication has produced some very interesting old sports photos. But to my knowledge, there’s never been a book devoted exclusively to the county’s sporting past.

That’s why, after publishing my memoirs, I’ve Lived My Dream, last year, I decided to write a second book. And yes, it’s sports from end to end.

Just a few days ago, I finished writing Remembering Pictou County. Now it’s on to the editing and formatting phases. I’m hoping to have the book available in plenty of time for the Christmas season.

Since I have a reputation of loving statistics, I’ll go over a few numbers.

The book has 110 chapters, including almost 100 profiles on people who played, coached, managed, organized and promoted sports in the county. The wordage has reached approximately 122,000 words. That compares with my first book that had 140,000 words in its text. Just don’t ask how many hours it took to produce over a quarter of a million words.

My first book, that reached 440 pages and included such experiences as the Olympics, the World Series, Stanley Cup playoffs, Canada Games at both ends of the country, and Grey Cup games, was done following my wife Jane’s death in late 2014. It was written in her memory, with all the money raised given to Woodlawn United Church in Dartmouth.

That was it — one book, one book only.

Then I realized I had a lot of free time on my hands. What will I do now? I can’t go back to bowling. I mustn’t spend all my time watching sports, reading sports and attending grandchildren’s games.

There was but one answer — another book.

It wasn’t long before I began lying in bed at night, thinking about the challenge of writing a Pictou County sports book, one just like I always wished was available.

I knew I had lots of files — copies of a few thousand columns I had written through the last two decades. Why not take advantage of such material and turn it into something that could be preserved in Pictou County homes and libraries?

Remembering Pictou County was the name I chose — at three o’clock in the morning. My two shih tzu pals, George and Gracie, couldn’t understand why the light was on at such an early hour. I just couldn’t wait to review my lists of potential subjects.

Nothing could stop me.

I made a list of possible individuals and teams. Just one problem — the initial list had more than 300 potential people to include. Nobody would be able to hold such a book. The days of producing Encyclopedia-sized publications went out with the invasion of the Internet, Facebook and other social media outlets.

Slowly, I reduced my list of possible stories from 300 to 250, to 150, and so on. Eventually, I settled on a book with 110 chapters. Unfortunately, quite a few worthy individuals had to be left off.

Maybe next time? Maybe a third book?