Wait a minute? A holiday in February? One that also gives Nova Scotians the opportunity to learn a little about their province’s rich, storied history?
What a great idea and since 2015, Nova Scotians have been celebrating Nova Scotia Heritage Day on the third Monday in February.
Following the introduction of Nova Scotia Heritage Day as the province’s newest holiday, Primary to Grade 12 classes were invited to submit their suggestions for significant cultural and historical contributions that should be honoured during future Heritage Day celebrations.
According to the provincial website, more than 75 submissions were received and reviewed by a three-member panel. From those submissions, a list of Heritage Day honourees was created. Viola Desmond was chosen as the holiday’s first honouree while Joseph Howe was the honoured in 2016.
In 2017, Nova Scotians celebrated Mi’kmaq heritage as part of the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday and last year we celebrated the legacy of Mona Louise Parsons. As 2018 was the centenary for Enfranchisement of Women in Nova Scotia, we remembered Middleton native, Mona Louise Parsons, who was decorated for her acts of heroism during the Second World War.
This year, on Feb. 18, Nova Scotians will remember and honour another Nova Scotian woman, Maud Lewis. The world famous folk artist painted scenes that evoke feelings of innocence and child-like exuberance that is as enduring as the spring times she loved to paint.
Maud (Dowley) Lewis was born in South Ohio, Yarmouth County, on March 7,1903, and she died in Marshalltown, Digby County on July 30, 1970. She remains one of Canada’s best known and most loved folk artists.
Maud was afflicted with polio as a child, and it left her with crippled arms and deformed hands. Both her parents died while she was still dependent on them, and at that time she moved to Digby to live with an aunt. At the age of 18, she married Everett Lewis. They were quite poor and lived in a small 10-by-12 foot shack.
Soon after they were married Maud accompanied Everett on his daily rounds of peddling fish, bringing along Christmas cards that she had drawn. She would sell these cards for 25 cents each. After some success with the cards, she started painting on various other surfaces such as plank boards, cookie sheets and eventually on every available surface in their tiny home.
It was Everett who really encouraged Maud to paint and he bought her her first set of oils. Most of Maud Lewis’ paintings are quite small — eight by 10 inches.
Between 1945-1950 people began to stop at Maud’s home and buy her paintings for two or three dollars. As time passed, her paintings began to earn between seven to 10 dollars. Maud eventually became well known around Digby and far beyond with her painting being purchased by wealthy collectors. Unfortunately, arthritis deprived her from completing many of the orders that had flown in for her paintings.
In the last year of her life Maud Lewis stayed in one corner of her house, painting as often as she could while travelling back and forth to the hospital.
Everett continued to live in that house after Maud died in 1970 but was killed there by an intruder 10 years later. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia reconstructed the Lewis House and installed it in their gallery as part of their permanent Maud Lewis Exhibit.
An impressive woman, indeed, and a part of our heritage that we must all embrace. That’s one of the great things about this February holiday. Not only does it provide a brief respite from the winter blues, but it also gives us the opportunity to learn about our past.
Future honourees include, in 2020, we will remember Africville to mark the 10th anniversary of the Africville apology. Nova Scotia will honour this National Historic Site, which holds great significance to the African Nova Scotian community.
The following year, 2021, Heritage Day will honour Edward Francis Arab, the grandson of some of the first Lebanese immigrants to Halifax. He graduated from Dalhousie University law school and practised until he enlisted in the army.
In 2022, Nova Scotians will honour the Grand Pré National Historic site. To mark the 10th anniversary of the Landscape of Grand-Pré becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site, Nova Scotians will celebrate this National Historic Site of Canada, which commemorates the Acadians of Minas Basin and the event, which took them from their homes, the Deportation.
Five other honourees were selected as part of the submission process and they will be celebrated from 2023 to 2027. These honourees, in no particular order, are Nora Bernard, Carrie Best, J. William Comeau, William Hall and Rita Joe.
There was some resistance years ago when the idea of a February holiday was first floated but everyone needs a break, especially in winter, and what better to do that than by celebrating our province’s heritage. This special day gives us an opportunity to learn about these extraordinary people, history and culture. You can’t get much better than that, or least that’s the view from here.
Vernon Oickle was born and raised in Liverpool where he continues to reside with his family. He has worked for more than 30 years in community newspapers on the South Shore and is the author of 28 books.