1950s - 150 Years of Remarkable Nova Scotians
Preserving Cultural Records
Sister Margaret Beaton, 1893 - 1975
At 19, Margaret Isabella Beaton, entered the religious community of the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal. When Sister Margaret returned to Cape Breton in 1955, it was to become the first full-time librarian at the Xavier Junior College in Sydney.
Sister Margaret turned the Xavier College library into something special. In addition to books, she began to acquire archival material pertaining to the history of Cape Breton Island. The collection grew steadily throughout the 1960s, once Islanders realized there finally was a place to donate valuable documents. Sister Margaret dubbed the collection Cape Bretoniana. It became her full time profession to safeguard it and make it grow.
Having grown up in Inverness County, Sister Beaton was steeped in Gaelic culture and was a fluent speaker of the language. She collected a wealth of Gaelic materials that would otherwise have been lost. She also made sure that the archives covered all other cultural groups on the Island, such as the Italians, Lebanese, Mi'kmaq and Polish.
To honour all she had accomplished to preserve culture and history, the collection she called Cape Bretoniana was re-named in her honour the Beaton Institute of Cape Breton Studies.
Maud Lewis, 1903 - 1970
It is impossible not to marvel at Maud Lewis. The tiny woman with a bent frame and crippled fingers only once travelled more than an hour's drive from the place of her birth in South Ohio (Yarmouth County).
After her parents died in the mid-1930s, Maud made her own way in the world. One day she walked six miles to answer an advertisement for a housekeeper in Marshalltown (near Digby), an ad posted by fish peddler Everett Lewis. The two married a few weeks later.
Maud and Everett lived with little income in the tiniest of houses with no indoor plumbing and no electricity. Each did what they could to bring in money. In Maud’s case, that was art.
Maud had no formal training, but that hardly mattered. She had a natural talent and a distinctive perspective on life and the world around her. "As long as I've got a brush in front of me," Maud once said, "I'm all right." Despite the hardships of her life, she depicted scenes of a re-imagined childhood or her current situation. With their bright colours, the paintings radiate joy.
Maud Lewis died in 1970, but her art lives on. Many of her paintings, and even her entire painted house are on display in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.