Editorial: Good Records

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Old photos and family albums tell stories that few of us ever take the time to put into words. My wife’s family was fortunate to have several ancestors who were good writers. They left behind stories, rich in detail, describing their lives in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the struggles they faced, the simple pleasures they enjoyed, and the faith that sustained them.

From a surveyor’s point of view, one ancestor’s story in particular drew our attention, a small book titled Pioneers of Malagash. Published by the North Cumberland Historical Society in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, it is a splendid history and genealogical record written by Alexander MacFarlane "Farley"MacNab (1878­ 1968). The book contains a foreword written by his granddaughter. She writes, "At the age of 16 in 1894, Farley assisted his father, Wellwood MacNab, P.L.S., with property surveying assignments. In 1920, Farley became the 4th generation of MacNabs to be appointed Provincial Land Surveyor. He surveyed properties throughout mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton and kept good records. . . . His work for the [Malagash salt mine] railway also included the design drawings for the salt warehouse and conveyor system at the wharf . . . . " A map titled "Malagash Peninsula from Baker’s Plan of The Remsheg Grant, Surveyed 1784" in the center of the book denotes the original owners of the 58 parcels into which it was divided. The remaining pages are chock-full of information carefully gathered by one with an eye for detail: notes on property lines, purchase prices and transfers, facts gathered from personal accounts and documents of landowners, genealogical histories (including a couple of ghostly experiences) that would have otherwise been lost to the ages.

Like many surveyors, Farley MacNab was a good storyteller, artistic, and enjoyed quiet time alone. "In his retirement," writes his granddaughter, "he designed and made boats, bookcases, chairs and beautiful wooden inlaid lamps. In his workshop, he rebuilt old muzzle-loading rifles, shotguns and handguns from old parts . . . [he enjoyed] woodland walks and the gifts of nature . . . . [He wrote verses reflecting] his inner passion for home, fondness of family, beauty of the seasons, life, loyalty to country, youth, loneliness, acceptance and consolation . . . . "

MacNab ended his book with two of his own poems, one about a family cemetery and the other about his family homestead. He prefaced them saying, "In conclusion, may I be permitted to add the following lines, inspired and written while wandering through the quiet country graveyards where rest our honoured dead, the men and women who, by their toil, sweat and tears, laid the foundation of the great Dominion, while succeeding generations, to the present day, to a greater or less extent, reap the fruits of their labour. Let us in the future ever remember to grant respect and honour to those lone pioneers of the past." He now lies buried with his forefathers in McNab’s Hill Cemetery in Malagash.

Everyone has a story to tell. If in some small measure you are inspired to record your own memoirs, local histories or involvement with new technologies, we know Farley MacNab would have smiled.

Here at The American Surveyor we are pleased to be entering our 8th year of production. The covers of each issue, displayed in the archives page on our website, serve as visual reminders of innumerable conversations, communications and creative efforts of an army of people that go into each edition to bring to you, our valued readers, a quality magazine that you enjoy. We appreciate your support!

Marc Cheves is editor of the magazine.

A 198Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE