In March 2015, Sandra Phinney was reading a blog post by Melanie Chambers that explained her summer plans to explore her city of Toronto as a tourist. Sandra contacted her to let her know she was inspired to do the same in her home town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. And that’s how The July Project was born – Melanie and Sandra agreed to “tour” their respective home towns together for 30 consecutive days in July. An idea that Sandra says would “alter the course of my summer – perhaps the rest of my life”.
Each chapter of the book recounts one day of The July Project, and she fills each day with adventure, history, stories, and reflection. As a Yarmouthian myself, I had so much fun reading her stories of the places she went, the people she met, and the history of the area. Some of which I knew, and some I didn’t. However, whether you are from the area or not, I think Sandra’s book is inspiring for anyone – and a good introduction to a small part of the world.
So, what did Sandra do? I would like to list everything, day by day, but I don’t want to give the whole book away. Although, this is the type of book that one can flip through over and over again. In fact, I plan to make a list of all the things I haven’t done yet, starting with the hidden swimming hole where Sandra went skinny dipping.
Things Sandra did:
- She hung out with her grandchildren, making rappie pie and taking them to the library (named for Izaak Walton Killam who was born in Yarmouth in 1885).
- She also made a short trip to the Durkee Memorial Library in Carleton, where she confessed to borrowing two books from the library 30 years ago and never returning. (I lived in Carleton as a child and have vague memories of the Carleton library… I was happy to hear it was still going! Look how cute it is.)
- A trip to McNutt’s Island, which has a very cool history.
- Rockhounding with my old high school music teacher, who now makes beautiful jewelry out of agate.
- Explored the communities of Weymouth, Digby, and Shelburne, the French Shore, as well as Yarmouth. She visited their churches, museums, cemeteries, community halls and beaches. She went to their bean suppers, historical “teas”, and musical concerts.
- A trip to Cape Forchu to visit my favourite lighthouse. I spent many happy hours of my life climbing around on those rocks. When I take my own kids there, though, it terrifies me to let them climb!
- Went to the Acadian Interpretive Centre on the French Shore, and the the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown.
- Embarked on a three day canoe trip in Quinan. (“Wildlife photographer Peter Dombrovskis once said, “When you go out there, you don’t get away from it all. You get back to it all. You come home to what’s important. You come home to yourself.”)
- Toured the Historical homes and buildings of the town of Yarmouth. (Of this, I am definitely envious.) And, of course, the best part about touring houses is hearing all the stories that go with them!
- Attended the UFO Festival in Shag Harbour. (Read about the UFO Incident here.)
- Visited several cemeteries, including the Hebron Baptist Church Cemetery where I used to play Hide-and-Seek in the dark. (“A place without a cemetery is like a place without a memory.” — Deborah Trask)
Things I learned from Sandra’s book:
- There’s a “Bologna Club” in Pubnico that has been meeting for over 35 years. Once a year, on a day between Christmas and New Year’s, the Bologna Club meets in the woods. They fry bologna over a fire and tell stories. They have only one rule: no more than 12 members allowed. So far, the original 12 members are all still alive!
- There is a book store in Digby called Crooked Timber Books. I have obviously not spent enough time in Digby.
- In the 1960s, Shirley the Elephant came to Yarmouth on a circus boat. Read about her remarkable story here, as told in an article by Sandra Phinney.
- Église Sainte-Marie, built in 1903-1905 in Church Point, is the largest wooden church in North America.
- I first heard of Sara Corning when I read Sandra’s article about her a few months ago. If you’re interested in learning about amazing women, be sure to read about her!
I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking I’ve just given away the whole book. But there’s so much more… I promise!
Things I learned about Sandra:
- She owns 4 canoes, which she has named Cleo, Clementine, Willard Hewe, and Stupid Canoe. (I think we could be friends.)
- She likes to skinny dip. (Yes, we could definitely be friends.)
- The Tent Dwellers by Albert Bigelow Paine is one of her favourite books. (Something I learned from reading the interview with Sandra Phinney at The Miramichi Reader.)
- She likes to shop at Frenchy’s, and gives us a little history lesson on how Frenchy’s came to be.
- She likes to make Rappie Pie. Yum!
- Her children went to the same elementary school I did.
- She has an appreciation for the groups of volunteers out there that make things happen; from the church teas and concerts to the preservation of the lighthouse and heritage properties.
- She is working on a book about Maud Lewis. When she was young, her mother used to take them to Digby to skate, and on the way back they would stop at Maud’s house in Marshalltown (“It was only three and a half metres by three and a half metres, but I thought it was magical. It had lots of flowers, birds, and butterflies painted in bold, bright colours on the front door and window.”) where her mother would buy a painting for $2. She later learned that… “at the time (the early 1950s), many people bought Maud’s paintings to help her out. That’s why my mother visited. In fact, back then, Maud’s paintings were considered primitive and child-like and were not valued as “art”. Her paintings were either tacked onto our bedroom walls or were used to start fires in the big living-room fireplace.” (Gasp!!!)
A few favourite lines…
Doing different things is not the same as approaching things differently.
Some homes had been abandoned – as if people walked out of the front door one day and simply never returned. I felt a sense of sadness and wondered, “If these old homes could talk, what would there stories be?”
… the dismal sound of her foghorn sounded sweeter than a choir of angels. — Captain Lezin Leo Mallett
What makes Sandra’s book so much fun is her enthusiasm and curiosity. She has a knack for getting to the bottom of things, and she doesn’t shy away from remote places or mosquito-ridden locations. I love her appreciation for nature and for her community, its diversity and rich heritage. Her book is a reminder of all the stuff I still don’t know or haven’t experienced in my own province, and an inspiration to seek it out. Thank you, Sandra!