July 18, 2002
Notes from Robert Ivy, FAIA
Editor in chief
Nova Scotia may be the great hidden treasure of coastal geography.
Over 4000 miles of coastline snake around the peninsula, farther
than the entire width of Canada, meeting the sea with bluffs
and rocky headlands and lighthouses, all mediated by forested
islands that reach into the Atlantic. Blessed richly with
fish and fertile soil, it is no wonder that its settlement
was fought over by the French and British.
Nova Scotian to his toes, Brian MacKay-Lyons, the architect
from Halifax, draws from the land and its peopleboth
culture and historyin making his own distinctive architecture.
Each summer he teaches a course through Dalhousie University
that steeps students in the fullness of this specific place
and introduces them to the joys of building. This summer,
I was invited along for the ride.
For a week, students from across the U.S. and Canada had
studied Nova Scotia and its people. A key provision of the
Ghost projects is the site located on land near
the mouth of the LaHave River that bears of the evidence of
earliest settlement by Europeans. Champlain mentioned the
place in his own records. According to MacKay-Lyons, archaeologists
have verified that building foundations, now sunken stone
pits, exhibit successive waves of occupation and construction,
from the early French in the 17th century, through British,
to the modern era.
This year, students planned and constructed a pavilion that
bridged between the rubble footprints of two adjacent barns,
long since lost to the elements. The structure served as gateway
to a hallowed spot as well as link of present to past. After
sinking tree-trunks into the soil as a rudimentary foundation,
the students established a gridded floor plate and quickly
popped up walls and the framework for a roof.
I joined the group for the last two days of their efforts
and actually got into the act, wielding a hammer and climbing
a ladder to change the structure at mid-stream. It was encouraging
to see young people working in teams, hauling up lumber, calling
out to their peers for hammers and nails, and generally figuring
things out. Several had never built any structures of significance
before. Their efforts were aided by the presence of a real
contractor, who helped them and taught them and demystified
the art of building.
Events culminated on Saturday, July 13, at a grand party
that matched the excellence of the architectural program.
MacKay-Lyons invited over a hundred people from the community
to his farm, who processed over the idyllic hills through
waist-high grasses, down to the seaside building. At dusk,
a bagpiper played a plaintive song, followed by moonrise,
a bonfire that sparked into the night sky, and a full breeze.
As we left, an Acadian singer lamented, Longue, longue,
longue, accompanied by two acoustic guitars. The ghost
structure glowed from within, lit by an unseen light, while
the wind buffeted the coastline. At eleven, the students vanished
into the night, full of the event and the haunting memories