"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Elizabeth Bishop House, Great Village, Nova Scotia: A Site of Pilgrimage, Part 3

The village takes note
Residents of Great Village publicly acknowledged Bishop’s connection to the village in 1992, when a bronze plaque was placed on St. James United Church.
(Photo by Laurie Gunn)
With awareness of the growing interest in Bishop’s Nova Scotia connections, a group of scholars (including myself) and Great Village residents formed the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia (EBSNS: www.elizabethbishopns.org) in 1994. The society’s activities are directly focused on fostering awareness of Bishop’s Nova Scotia connections and hosting public events to honour this connection. The EBSNS has watched the trickle of pilgrims become a steady stream — not, it must be said, like the flood that occurs around “Anne of Green Gables” and her creator Lucy Maud Montgomery in Prince Edward Island; but a serious, continuous flow of visitors from around the world.

Hazel Bowers died in 1996. She had lived in the house for over sixty years. The house was put on the market and bought quickly by Paul Tingley, who was looking for an old house that had not been renovated or modernized inside. According to Paul, as soon as he walked into the house he knew he wanted it. At that point, he did not know who belonged to this house; but his daughter quickly enlightened him. She was taking Len Diepeveen’s American literature course at Dalhousie University and was at that very time writing a paper on Elizabeth Bishop. Paul joined the EBSNS and immediately set in motion an application to register the house as a Provincial Heritage Property, which happened in 1997. For the next seven years he welcomed an increasing number of pilgrims making their way to Great Village.
 Heritage designation parchment that hangs in the dining room of the house.
(Photo by Sandra Barry, who is no photographer!)

I began to act as tour guide for scholars and artists soon after my first essay about Bishop was published in 1991. I have lost count of the number of people I took to see the house in the 1990s and early 2000s, who I drove along “The Moose” route and showed “the long tides” — pilgrims from Poland, England, Ireland, many parts of the United States and Canada, and elsewhere.

By the mid- to late 1990s, Bishop conferences were happening regularly. In 1998, Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., its archives a repository for a large collection of material belonging to Bishop’s maternal family (http://openarchive.acadiau.ca/cdm/landingpage/collection/BBHS), hosted a symposium. A busload of participants did a field trip to the house.1
Symposium field trip at the house, 1998. Left to right: Neil Besner, Lorrie Goldensohn,
Peter Sanger, Kathleen C. Johnson, Laura Menides, Jane Shore,
Paul Tingley, Sandra Barry. (Photo by Kathleen A. Johnson).

This decade of intensifying Bishop scholarship culminated in a conference in Ouro Prêto, Brazil in 1999. To have the chance to see Bishop’s southern landscape, see “Casa Mariana,” Lota’s house at Samambaia and Bishop’s estudio was thrilling.2

The new millennium
In early 2004, Paul Tingley approached me to say that, life being life, he sadly had to sell what was now called the “Elizabeth Bishop House.” Over the course of several months, a friend and I created a proposal and plan to bring together a group of people to buy it (including myself). This happened in November 2004.3

The agreement we set up stated: “Primary to occupancy and operation of the Elizabeth Bishop House is the literary importance the Elizabeth Bishop House holds within Nova Scotia, and throughout the world …. Much of Elizabeth’s world-renowned poetry and prose entwines with her memories of experiences residing at the Elizabeth Bishop House, within Great Village.”

The house had always been a home, where people lived their lives. The new owners wanted to keep that feeling as much as possible, while sharing it with friends and Bishop fans. The owners immediately established an artist retreat at the house. The first artist arrived in February 2005. Over the next decade the number of artists staying there increased each year.4

1. Scholars from England, Israel, the United States and Canada attended this symposium. Its proceedings were published in 2002: Sandra Barry, Gwen Davies, Peter Sanger, eds., Divisions of the Heart: Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Memory and Place, Kentville, N.S.: Gaspereau Press, 2001.

2. “Casa Mariana” is owned by Bishop’s friend Linda Nemer and her brother José Alberto Nemer. They have welcomed Bishop pilgrims over the years. I understand that some Bishop pilgrims have accessed Lota’s house at Samambaia. But I understand that access to Bishop’s and Louise Crane’s house in Key West is difficult. I have seen Lewis Wharf, Bishop’s last home, from the outside, which is, I assume how most Bishop pilgrims have seen it. Bishop’s grave in Worcester is another major site for pilgrims.

3. Initially, the group comprised twelve owners, but over the next year, four left and two joined, so that by late 2005 the number of co-owners settled at ten, five Nova Scotians and five Americans.

4. There are a number of other literary houses in Canada that operate as artist retreats. Among them are: Pierre Berton House (http://www.bertonhouse.ca/home.html);
Joy Kogowa House (http://www.kogawahouse.com/);
Wallace Stegner House (http://www.stegnerhouse.ca/);
These retreats are all operated by professional associations, registered charities or government agencies. The Elizabeth Bishop House is the only literary house retreat that I know of in Canada that was operated privately by a group of individuals.

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