Monthly archive

January 2019

Dirk van Loon

Dirk van Loon

Dirk van Loon of East Port L’Hebert didn’t know what the heck he was getting into when in the mid-1970s he came up with the idea for “a classified ad exchange for old farm and country kitchen stuff.” Even from the start, when the first edition of Rural Delivery was published and sent out into the world in June 1976, it was much more than a classified ad exchange. At just eight pages, including the front and back covers, “Numero Uno” included an introduction by way of an editorial, an article on buying piglets, garden notes, thumbnail reviews of how-to books that didn’t pull any punches, several of Dirk’s distinctive illustrations and more. All for 35 cents.

Almost 43 years later, Rural Delivery is glossier and bulkier, but it’s a publication that has remained true to its roots and continues to be enjoyed 10 times a year by thousands of readers across rural Atlantic Canada and beyond. Legions of freelancers and regular columnists such as Frank Macdonald, Anne Gray and Fred Isenor have ensured its pages have been filled with practical, entertaining and thought-provoking content. DvL Publishing of Liverpool N.S. eventually launched other magazines, such as Atlantic Forestry Review, Atlantic Horse & Pony and Beef & Sheep.

A couple of years ago, at the age of 78, Dirk announced that he’d sold the business to longtime employee Chassity Allison. However, he remains on the Rural Delivery masthead as “publisher emeritus,” and continues to contribute his Pot Luck editorial and delightful drawings to the magazine.

Dirk did a lot of living before he started Rural Delivery at the age of 38. He recounts the early days in his family’s Vermont orchard before it was “hammered” by a hailstorm, memories of his famous grandfather, a rocky college career, an eye-opening stint in the Peace Corps in Colombia that ended badly, getting into the newspaper business in Missouri and Colorado, and writing a children’s book that he jokes “sold 10 copies.” And that was all before he drifted to Nova Scotia’s South Shore in 1969.

He later wrote The Family Cow, which he refers to as “the cow book,” and Small-Scale Pig Raising, which he calls “the pig book.” Nowadays, among other things, he’s active helping out at the nearby Harrison Lewis Coastal Discovery Centre, which he helped establish in 2007.

If you want to learn more about Dirk, you could do worse than read his Pot Luck editorials. Or sit down and talk to him. He’s someone not afraid to call “bullshit” when he sees it, all the time with a twinkle in his eye.

This is only a short introduction to Dirk’s much longer story.

To read Dirk’s compelling life story in his own words—interspersed with plenty of great photographs—please consider subscribing to Backstory NS for just $40 per year (tax included). That includes 26 in-depth stories per year from notable Nova Scotians based on old-fashioned personal visits. There’ll be a new story every two weeks, and the entire collection will be available to our subscribers to read and reread whenever you wish. Your valued support will ensure these stories are collected and shared for years to come. Thank you.

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Mary Janet MacDonald

Mary Janet MacDonald

Mary Janet MacDonald is a warm and welcoming human being. She’s genuine and wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s a champion of her many family members and friends, and their dreams. She has friends all around the world but she has that quality that makes the person she’s talking to in the moment feel important.

Though you don’t hear about it from her­—at least not in casual conversation—she must also be extremely hard-working and disciplined. She’s a wife, a mother of seven and a grandmother of 10. She’s also spent most of her life since graduating from high school in 1969 working outside the home, including more than 30 years with the school board in Port Hood “between maternity leaves” and about eight years travelling back and forth between her western Cape Breton home and the Alberta oilsands. She’s “retired” more than once and, at the age of 66, now travels to Halifax to work in homecare.

Mary Janet is also the consummate volunteer and organizer. For instance, during a stint managing the Strathspey Place performing arts centre in Mabou, she also volunteered to manage the high school musical ensemble Celtic Crew, made up of students attending Dalbrae Academy, which shares a space with Strathspey Place. Today, she co-chairs the charitable group 100 Women Who Care Rural Cape Breton.

She has a lovely singing voice. And she and her husband Cecil have passed on their musical abilities, with their children being involved in bands from Kilt to Company Road. Their youngest child Mitch created a bit of a stir in Inverness County and beyond in 2008 when he competed in the reality series Canadian Idol, eventually becoming the runner-up.

However, Mary Janet herself is best known in Nova Scotia and around the world as one of the top practitioners and teachers of the highly engaging style of step dancing that the Scottish Gaels brought to northeastern Nova Scotia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and fostered in the New World. Some researchers question whether the dance style that Mary Janet performs is of Scottish Gaelic origin, although others—such as Scottish musician, bagpipe maker and researcher Hamish Moore—vigorously defend the connection.

Mary Janet has appeared countless times on stage over more than 60 years and many times on television. She also produced two step dancing instructional videos.

There’s a direct line from the dancing of Mary Janet’s great-grandfather Big Dan Cameron—born almost 170 years ago—to her own dancing. The link in that chain was her grandaunt Margaret Ann (Cameron) Beaton, the woman who raised Mary Janet after her mother Margie died and the woman she called Mama. Margaret Ann’s daughter Minnie—who is Natalie MacMaster’s mother—was also instrumental in Mary Janet becoming a dancer. The two consider themselves sisters.

Mary Janet knew a lot of loss at a young age. She also received a lot of love. You’ll notice in her story that she doesn’t use euphemisms for death such as “passed away.” One gets the impression that she lives each day to the fullest because she knows tomorrow is never guaranteed. And, reassuringly, living life to the fullest means she’s still dancing …

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