WEYMOUTH, N.S. – One of the only things to survive a huge blaze in Weymouth in August was made of paper.
While examining the wrecked buildings that had housed artifacts, photographs and countless historical documents relating to New France’s famed Electric City, Hal Theriault and Stacey Doucette found some metal objects and tools – and then, a manuscript detailing the historic town’s origins and founding family.
The charred pages struck inspiration in both men who now, despite the incredible loss of history, are “more determined than ever” to tell the story of Electric City – with the manuscript front and centre.
“When one considers most metal didn’t survive, and then these flimsy pages did – there’s no logical reason it should have, but here it is,” says Theriault.
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Theriault and Doucette together co-chair a committee seeking to establish an interpretive centre where the story of Electric City and its founding family, the Stehelins, will be told. When a fire broke out at the pair’s headquarters Aug. 29, everything changed apart from one thing – their resolve to tell the story.
“We literally lost everything. But the fire made us stronger. It never stopped us, just made us stronger,” says Doucette.
The two men returned this week from the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia conference, where the province’s department of Communities, Culture and Heritage expressed support for their project.
Specifically, a division within the department has awarded a grant to the project for a new week-long theatre festival to launch next fall in Weymouth.
And since Theriault has already written three plays about Electric City, it seems a perfect fit.
“We were so surprised – they came to us and proposed it, we didn’t go to them – and we will now be able to do a mini festival and tell stories about New France,” says Theriault, listing the town of Parrsboro as an example of how theatre can help prop up developing tourism initiatives in small towns.
“[Theatre] builds up and encourages other culture industries to come in – bed and breakfasts, activities, and such. We figure a similar thing could easily turn Weymouth around too.”
Read previous stories about Electric City:
- 2017: Tapping into Electric City – a unique history and opportunity
- 2017: Support needed from Weymouth residents for New France project
- 2017: Trains and fiery horsemen: Ghost stories still haunt New France
- 2018: Electric City projects have potential to light up tourism industry for Weymouth
The committee has also had to reconsider its approach to the project’s eventual establishment of an interpretive centre. The building slated for it was also destroyed during the fire, meaning buying land and building new might now be the answer, according to Doucette.
For now, the men are focusing on locating artefacts in the community, and say they’ve already found two such sources and are waiting until they have a proper space to store them.
There are also the digital copies of each photograph lost in the fire, and other objects Paul Stehelin, the founder’s great-grandson, has yet to bring over.
And then, of course, is the manuscript, which will be featured at the forefront of the interpretive centre that remains in the works.
The manuscript was written by Paul Stehelin, the grandson of the historic site’s founders, and is titled ‘Electric City: The Stehelins of New France.’ Theriault says it tells the story of the famed lumbermill, its eclectic and multicultural workforce, and its bright electricity from which it got its name.
And now, its charred pages will tell a new story – of how the memory of Electric City has survived, despite it all.
“The story is so vivid, in people’s minds. [This manuscript] certainly is not worth any value, but it gives us a vivid exhibit of the fire, and what happened here,” says Theriault.