Let’s Bookmark Nova Scotia’s Literary Landmarks

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“All of us are better when we’re loved.” The powerful last line of Alistair MacLeod’s International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award-winning novel No Great Mischief is deservedly famous, and the final paragraphs of the novel, including that line, will soon be honoured on a Project Bookmark Canada plaque in Cape Breton, near the Canso Causeway. I wrote an article about this project for the most recent issue of Eastword, the newsletter of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, and (with permission) I’ve adapted it to share with you here. This plaque for No Great Mischief will be the very first Bookmark in Nova Scotia, and I hope it will also be possible to honour the work of many more writers with future Bookmarks around the province.

No Great Mischief

Project Bookmark Canada aims to create a literary map of Canada by placing text from fiction and poetry in the precise locations where those passages are set. The first Bookmark, unveiled in 2009 at the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto, was a passage from Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion, and since then there have been twelve more Bookmarks across the country. From Vancouver, BC to Woody Point, Newfoundland, these plaques are mapping out what Kristen Den Hartog, author of And Me Among Them, calls a “literary TransCanada highway.” It’s fitting, I think, that the first Bookmark in Nova Scotia will be placed next to the TransCanada itself. And I know many readers will agree it is also fitting that the first Bookmark in Nova Scotia will pay tribute to the work of one of the province’s most beloved writers, Alistair MacLeod.

The Bookmark for No Great Mischief was announced on October 3, 2014 at the Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival, and Miranda Hill, founder and executive director of Project Bookmark Canada, says she hopes the future unveiling of this Bookmark will also take place at the Festival. Supporters of the project include Alistair MacLeod’s family, Destination Cape Breton, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival, and many others, including the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. Our President, Sylvia Gunnery, the WFNS board and staff, and many individual members have demonstrated enthusiastic support for the project from the very beginning, and it’s been clear that there’s a tremendous desire to honour the work of Nova Scotia writers in general, and of Alistair MacLeod in particular, through partnering with Project Bookmark Canada to create permanent, physical markers that map our literary landscape.

Project Bookmark Canada would love to hear from anyone who’s interested in supporting the creation of the No Great Mischief Bookmark and future Bookmarks in Nova Scotia, and in helping to add to the list of potential Bookmark passages. There are many ways to help out with these exciting projects.

You could make a donation directly to the No Great Mischief Bookmark, via the “Build a Bookmark” page on Project Bookmark Canada’s website. You could offer suggestions about potential sources of funding. (Each Bookmark costs $10,000 – $12,000.) You could read fiction and/or poetry to identify passages – imagined scenes set in real, identified locations, either in Nova Scotia or elsewhere in Canada – for future Bookmarks. You could share information and news about Project Bookmark Canada with friends, family, and colleagues. You could volunteer at festivals and other events. You could offer to set up, or join, a Project Bookmark Reading Circle that focuses on, say, a particular area of Nova Scotia, or on poetry set in Nova Scotia, or on classic or contemporary fiction set here (or, for that matter, set somewhere else in Canada, if there’s a specific place you’d like to focus on and explore with your group). When you travel across Canada, you could visit, and celebrate, the existing Bookmarks, such as the one in Winnipeg, Manitoba (at the intersection of River and Osborne, at The Gas Station Arts Centre) that honours a passage from Carol Shields’s novel The Republic of Love, or the one in Hamilton, Ontario that marks a passage from John Terpstra’s poem “Giants” (at Sam Lawrence Park).

If you haven’t yet seen the video that was Sheree Fitch’s contribution to the first “Page-Turner” fundraising campaign for Project Bookmark Canada, I encourage you to watch it. In the video, Sheree – with several other Nova Scotia writers and WFNS members serving as a chorus – explains why the project is so important, and offers a suggestion for a future Nova Scotia Bookmark: “Project Bookmark Canada is an exciting initiative. It means we’re going to be able to read our way across Canada. It means we’re going to be able to go to places, like River John where I live, and go to the iron bridge that I can see from my office, and maybe see an excerpt from a wonderful book called Scotch River by my friend Linda Little.” Sheree talks about how Canadian books “teach me what it means to be a part of this country, this landscape,” and how they “help us know that we are connected from coast to coast.”

I’m very happy to be supporting Project Bookmark Canada, particularly through my work on the WFNS Membership Committee. When I was growing up, my family made several summer trips across the country on the TransCanada highway, from Nova Scotia (where I grew up) to Alberta (where I was born, and where most of my relatives lived), and I wish we’d been able to stop and read literary Bookmarks along the way. I’m excited about the prospect of visiting Bookmarks in various literary spots around Nova Scotia as well as in other parts of the country.

If you’re interested in helping out, or have questions, please get in touch with Miranda and Project Bookmark Canada (www.projectbookmarkcanada.ca; @BookmarkCanada) or with me (semsley@gmail.com; @Sarah_Emsley). Let’s celebrate great writing about Nova Scotia, starting with Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief.

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