Column: For one dollar, a history of Nova Scotia

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By Tom Sheppard

We received in the mail the other day a book, which cost us one dollar and one cent. It was the same book as the one we had just returned to the library in Liverpool, and which was so interesting that we decided we needed to have our own copy.

It was a book published in 1994 called Atlantic Hearth: Early Homes and Families of Nova Scotia. We were not anywhere near a used book store, so Sheila pulled out her iPad and began looking for copies. She typed the title name into Google and found, on the Amazon Canada website, a copy of the book for $56.36.

That was costly, but she noticed on the same website that used copies were available from $1.01. What? Just a dollar? She clicked on the site and found that a good used copy was indeed available for that price, with shipping of $6.49. A great price for an excellent book, which, if bought new today, would be over $50.

She placed the order on the Amazon website. She was reluctant to order it online, because we both prefer poking around in bookshops. We like dining at Lane's, for example, because we can gaze at inviting titles while we eat, and then (after washing our hands) hold the books before we buy them. And yet, one dollar for a book we had just taken back to the library, and wanted for reference, was too much to resist.

It took only a week for the book to be in our post office. It had been sold to us through Amazon, but not by Amazon. The book actually came from a store called World of Books, in the United Kingdom, and was shipped to us, so the packaging indicated, from a place in the UK called Goring by the Sea. It was in excellent condition and inside was a bookmark from the Yarmouth County Museum Bookshop, which suggested that it had been bought here in Nova Scotia and taken back home by a visitor from Britain.

The World of Books is an interesting place. Its website says that it is not like other online book stores. It does not believe that books should only be read once, or have a single owner. "Literature should endure and be continually recycled, which is why we help millions of used books find new homes every year."

The World of Books prides itself in preventing the destruction of perfectly good books. Since it buys mainly from charities, customers help support good causes. The company says it has over two million books in stock and recycles 50 million books a year. Founded in 2005, it has become one of the UK's leading retailers of used books. It was started by two young people in West Sussex who bought a car trunk load of used books and sold them on eBay.

It is hard to know just where our book had been in the years since its publication. World of Books buys its book by the tonnage, not by the individual title, but once the books are sorted out they are available for purchase through online companies like Amazon.

The book we received, Atlantic Hearth, was written by Mary Byers and Margaret McBurney, and in fact is signed by Margaret McBurney. They are two Ontario writers who had written four other books about Ontario history, and who published this book as their first foray beyond Ontario borders. It was published by the University of Toronto Press.

They wanted to tell the history of Nova Scotia by tracing links between home, culture and history. They combined photographs of early buildings with research about the people who built and lived in them. They take readers "through periods of settlement, slavery, war, scandal, and prosperity, yet never lose sight of home and hearth."

Their first stop was the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management in Halifax, where they talked to people familiar to anyone who has done research there, including Phillip Hartling, who helped me with my own book on Queens County history. They talked to local historians like Lou Collins and in fact to a wide variety of professors, museum curators and librarians.

We, of course, were quickly drawn to stories relating to areas close to home. They write about Enos Collins, born in Liverpool, in his time said to be the richest man in North America. When he died at 97, he left an estate worth six million dollars, huge by the standards of that day. He was born in Liverpool in 1774, one of twenty children of Hallet Collins and his three wives.

The story of Simeon Perkins is there, told in a lively manner, along with a description of Perkins House, now part of the Queens County Museum. Some excerpts from the famous diaries are included. And the person who bought the house from Perkins, Caleb Seely, is also profiled, with the story of privateering interwoven among his life story and those of Perkins and Enos Collins.

The book goes around the whole province showing houses and describing the earliest occupants. It is fascinating for those who are curious about the people who developed the communities in which we live. Best of all, it is available at the Thomas Raddall Library in Liverpool, or from any branch of the South Shore Public Library system, which will order the book in from Liverpool should there be a request.

- Tom Sheppard can be reached at


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