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Entries in migration (23)


oh give me land

click on the image to go to Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters. Don´t Fence Me In (Decca 23364, 1944) Of all the versions, including the near-manic David Byrne version of 1999, Bing Crosby's is the one with a horse's walking gait, much like all the old cowboy songs. The Roy Rogers version is very tumpty-tump: he was no singer.

from Wikipedia: 'Originally written in 1934 for Adios, Argentina, an unproduced 20th Century Fox musical, 'Don't Fence Me In' was based on text by a poet and engineer with the Department of Highways in Helena, Montana, Robert Fletcher.' Cole Porter bought the poem, reworked it and set it to music.

Roy Rogers sang it in 1945 in a film of the same name which I must have seen many times throughout my childhood as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and David Niven movies interspersed with the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and Loony Toons reran on an endless loop after school on channel 11 from Bellingham.  As my parents had grown up in Calgary during the 1930s and early 40s and had romantic (to me) stories of trail rides and/or setting off on their bikes to ride way out into the foothills, this song was about a lost elysium, something that mooning about on the beach on Vancouver Island just didn't match up to.

One might say that I moved to Calgary because of the spirit and the landscapes of this song:

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in


Afterlife, 2013

The Arcade Fire video, Afterlife, directed by the remarkable Emily Kai Bock.


Thomas Morrison: families on the isle of Lewis, 1900s

Island life: a Lewis family, photographed by Norman Morrison in the first decade of the 1900s. Photograph: Tormod an t-Seòladair

The kinds of faces that built Canada, Highlanders and Islanders from Scotland. These, from Lewis, were photographed when they didn't know what they looked like – there is no rearranging of their faces for the camera: this was them.  No one is allowed that grim set to the mouth anymore, even if you actually feel it.  

For such a hard life, living in that pile of stones and sods that is a black house, every woman has a bit of lace somewhere - a collar, a shawl, a bed cover — clearly something so clean and precious, in which to invest one's pride.  

The image above is linked to an article on how the photos were found, and the one below takes you to a slide show of them.

A family group taken between 1910 and 1920. Photograph: Tormod an t-Seòladair . This was the era of mass emigration from Scotland to the Canadian West, especially; my own great grandparents in 1910 for example. It was hard in Scotland, it was hard on the Canadian prairies.


a jewel in Ethiop's ear

Amharic music of Ambassel, by Bahiru Kegne. 

The comments on the YouTube placement tell of a lonely Ethiopian diaspora who hear this music directly in their hearts.  Another video of terrible audio quality, low resolution, moves one to tears in some sort of empathy.

More at


The opening image for Call the Midwife, a BBC drama about nursing at the beginning of the NHS.

The opening of Call the Midwife shows a liner at the end of the street, Saville Road, Silverton, East London.  

There is something so graphic about emigration here: this was the connection to the world, for all those people in East London, who were  completely despised until the 2012 Olympics made everyone realize that here was some prime real estate, cheap. This ship was probably going to Pier 21 in Halifax, below, also visible at the end of a number of streets, such is eighteenth century planning.  

1935: Pier 21, ocean liner, the Nova Scotian Hotel, the combined CNR and CPR railway station, all seen from Cornwallis Park. courtesy Nova Scotia Museums.This aerial, below, shows Pier 21, the Nova Scotian Hotel and the CP/CNR Station lines, angling in at the far right, a triumvirate of immigrant distribution.


Union Bay, British Columbia

Demolition of the Union Bay coke ovens, May 1968. ©Cumberland Museum and Archives.

Yesterday I mentioned that we have a patio made from pale cream brick, scavenged from one of the old Union Bay brick kilns that used to sit crumbling beside the Island Highway. It was a devil to lay as each brick is shaped to be part of a beehive kiln, i.e. no face is parallel to any other.  It turns out that the kilns were coke ovens, part of the coal industry of Vancouver Island.  And the bricks came from Scotland complete with Scottish bricklayers, all imported, in 1880 or so, by Robert Dunsmuir, the coal magnate who effectively owned the island. 

Coke.  From wikipedia 'it is the solid carbonaceous material derived from the destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal'.  Coal is fired at high temperature driving off coal gas (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane, CO2 and H2O), coal tar (phenols and aromatic hydrocarbons) and water.  Coal gas and tar are recovered and used in a number of industrial processes, otherwise, coal gas especially, is fairly toxic.  Coke burns at a higher temperature than coal, thus its value.  It didn't stay on the island, it was exported by the shipload

Union Bay was a company town, with a coal mine, a railway line, a wharf, the coke ovens and a coke washer.  Labour was imported: Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Scots.  Anyone who thinks that the present day anti-development, 'let's keep Vancouver Island natural and beautiful' lobby is stemming the tide of industrial exploitation of the land hasn't taken the coal industry seriously.  It was a significant, extensive, disruptive extraction enterprise, connected by water to the rest of the British Empire in all its outlines.



From the elegantly sublime, Niemeyer, to the desperately expeditious:

Tabby concrete. St. Augustine, Florida. Photo by Nathan Wolkenhauer, 2011In between Roman concrete and the discovery of Portland cement in 1830, there was tabby: burnt oyster shells (lime), mixed with water, sand and broken shell.  Originally Moroccan, although North Africa was part of the Roman empire so it might be continuous with Roman concrete work, the use of tabby migrated to Spain and eventually to Spanish colonies, such as Florida, using broken shell as aggregate when stone was not available.  

The lime/sand/water combination occurs all along the lower east coast of the USA, dating generally from the early 1700s.  The oyster shells were found in huge middens left by the aboriginal peoples of the Atlantic coast. The reported size of the oyster shell piles, and the size of the shells themselves – 6 to 8" x 15 to 20", evidently oysters were gigantic in pre-historic times – indicates a cultural landscape rarely discussed and long vanished.There are shell middens on all coastlines, often thousands of years old, but not all were turned into sources of lime for concrete.   

An article by Jingle Davis on the Tabby Trail on the southeast coast of the US tells how the shells were found, mined, fired, and the resultant lime and wood ash mixed with clean sand and water.  Floors were laid and hammered with linseed oil into marble-like hardness. Walls were built up using slip forms.  

Now, here's a recipe: ten bushels of lime, ten bushels of sand, ten bushels of shells and ten bushels of water gives you sixteen cubic feet of wall. 
1 bushel = 8 gallons, so presumably a bushel of lime is enough lime to fill an eight gallon container.  There is something suspiciously coincidental that all the components for tabby are in ten bushel portions.  It might be loose science, done more by feel than precise measure.

It is interesting that the making of tabby almost replicates the process of producing calcareous limestone itself.  There is something about all this lime, heat and water process that is strangely circular.

A tabby building at the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island in Jacksonville, Florida. Tabby concrete was used in the 1700s and early 1800s in Florida and coastal Georgia. In this photograph, one can see the slip-form casting method uses, whereby each course is a seperate pour. When set the board formwork is moved up for the next pour. photo credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory


concrete occupation


This is from TopFoto's '50 years ago' from December 4, 1962. The note that accompanies the image reads: "David's Curse Lifted"  Mizpeh Gilboa, Israel.  Two of the new settlers at Mizpeh Gilboa are pictured mixing cement and sand for their new houses.  So far six permanent buildings have been erected in the settlement plan according to the settler's choice.  Water is still brought up by tankers from Nurit, but a pipeline [from] Beisan Wells is planned.  UPI Photo 1962

The headline indicates something of the myth of terra nullius that was prevalent at the time of the 1967 War: that no one lived in this new land, and if they did, they weren't taking advantage of it.  

It also shows how concrete allows relatively unskilled fabrication: two farmers, sand, rock and tankered-in water. And yet the results are so permanent that they take on the inevitability of geology.  It is that re-mineralisation that cement goes through that so distorts the legitimacy of construction.


weak systems

Massound Hassani. Mine Kafon, 2011

This is Massoud Hassani's Eindhoven graduation project, Mine Kafon, a lightweight bamboo and plastic large dandelion puff that is blown by the wind over mined fields, detonating the mine and destroying itself in the process.

It is interesting, that the detonater was not conceived of as a large, mechanical force of technology that rolls over mines, survives them, and rolls on to the next land mine.  Like children who mostly detonate land mines, this is a lightweight, expendable, one-time use detonator.  Each unit contains a GPS that maps where it has been, showing areas that are safe.
It was tested by the Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands, and a second version is being developed that moves less randomly and is not so reliant on the wind.  It is likely to be used to indicate a mined area, rather than clearing the area.  Thus in the development process it becomes more controllable, probably heavier.  

Hassani is from Kabul, smuggled out at 14, ending up in the Netherlands in 1998.  On his website he talks about flying kites as a child and making other small things that caught the wind, the genesis of this project.  The project has won a slew of awards so far, in its original bamboo form.  The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is cautious: 'What the ICBL and our members, many of whom are humanitarian mine clearance organisations, are focused on is not the financial cost of clearing landmines but the humanitarian and socio-economic cost of not clearing them.'  I'm not sure what that means. 


making a kilt

I did this once.  It was quite hard.


scots wae hae

Kemnay, Aberdeenshire. postcard, circa 1980, but unchanged for a century

The main street of Kemnay: the flinty buildings and people of northeast Scotland found in A Scot's Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.  

My grandmother's grandfather, Robert Reid, was a shoemaker there. In the tradition of atheist, radical, autodidactic Scottish shoemakers, he read and wrote Greek, taught Classics to his bright little grand-daughter Nellie, skipping over his own romantic daughter and her Tennyson.

The lapidary 99%, then as now, was much more complex than a number.  Much is made of the lack of social mobility in Victorian Britain: emigration was the only way to really get ahead, but how many people in our relatively wealthy and privileged society would teach themselves to read and write Greek today, or any difficult language, sitting in some small isolated town with no university courses within miles, no online lessons, just the texts?

The shock of leaving Kemnay for Albert Park, a flimsy town that served surrounding farms east of Calgary, was total.  No one ever really recovered from it.  Kemnay and picnics on the grounds at Ballater, the 'Earl of Mar's children who only get half an egg for breakfast so be thankful you have a whole egg to yourself', the rosewood piano, tea with the Bruces – such things became golden, truly a lost Elysium, compared to 'getting ahead' in Albert Park, which along with the rest of the prairies was experiencing both a wheat boom and a real estate bubble: everyone was building houses, everyone lost their shirts.  

The excavation in the photograph below was about getting rid of a hill in Albert Park to make way for houses.  Some things never change in Calgary. 

Albert Park, 1912. Glenbow Archives NA 2087 1


A man's a man, for all that

Not sure who is singing this, perhaps Graham Duncan who put the video together, but it is a gentle version.  compared to Paolo Nutini.  

As this is the week of all things Scottish, can't help think of Nana – Nellie Bruce, born in 1896 in Kemnay, Aberdeenshire and who was brought to Canada at 14 by her family, and for whom even the thought of eating haggis was a shocking insult, it being some sort of horrible boiled sausage thing eaten by peasants in bothies.  Of which, needless to say, she was not one.  

Her mother wept for six months with shock at leaving her little stone village for the wind-swept prairies and forever after quoted great reams of Tennyson and her favourite, Wordsworth's Lucy Gray, mournful and melancholic: 

Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray:
And, when I crossed the wild,
I chanced to see at break of day
The solitary child.

No mate, no comrade Lucy knew;
She dwelt on a wide moor,
–The sweetest thing that ever grew
Beside a human door!

You yet may spy the fawn at play,
The hare upon the green;
But the sweet face of Lucy Gray
Will never more be seen.

'To-night will be a stormy night-
You to the town must go;
And take a lantern, Child, to light
Your mother through the snow.'

'That, Father! will I gladly do:
'Tis scarcely afternoon-
The minster-clock has just struck two,
And yonder is the moon!'

At this the Father raised his hook,
And snapped a faggot-band;
He plied his work; – and Lucy took
The lantern in her hand.

Not blither is the mountain roe:
With many a wanton stroke
Her feet disperse the powdery snow,
That rises up like smoke.

The storm came on before its time:
She wandered up and down;
And many a hill did Lucy climb:
But never reached the town.

The wretched parents all that night
Went shouting far and wide;
But there was neither sound nor sight
To serve them for a guide.

At day-break on a hill they stood
That overlooked the moor;
And thence they saw the bridge of wood,
A furlong from their door.

They wept – and, turning homeward, cried,
'In heaven we all shall meet';
– When in the snow the mother spied
The print of Lucy's feet.

Then downwards from the steep hill's edge
They tracked the footmarks small;
And through the broken hawthorn hedge,
And by the long stone-wall;

And then an open field they crossed:
The marks were still the same;
They tracked them on, nor ever lost;
And to the bridge they came.

They followed from the snowy bank
Those footmarks, one by one,
Into the middle of the plank;
And further there were none!

– Yet some maintain that to this day
She is a living child;
That you may see sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonesome wild.

O'er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And sings a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.

This too is a Scottish immigration experience.  It isn't all kilts and bagpipes you know.


DJ Mehdi, Tonton du Bled

from Chloé Roubert's site:

DJ Mehdi and core-periphery relations



summer solstice wreaths of Latvia

from the archive of Adolf Cops. Camp Sidabarene, Milton, Ontario. Celebrating summer solstice in the 1950s. Solstice, or Jani, is still celebrated each year in Sidrabene.

Zile Liepins wrote in On Site 24: migration about a summer camp at Milton, Ontario, built by Latvians who left Latvia in the 1940s, emigrating to Canada.  This was in the context of a larger discussion of Latvians who stayed, dreaming of life somewhere not Latvia, while in Canada, especially at the summer solstice, they dreamt of the Latvia they knew.  The picture, above is from Zile Liepins' family, taken in the 1950s and shows the wreaths of wild flowers the women wear for the solstice.

This video, below, is from Latvia, taken in 2006 and shows the making of the wreaths – flowers for women and oak leaves for men, accompanied by much singing, singing, singing, which is also what they are doing in Zile's photo. 


Vivienne Koorland

Vivienne Koorland. Close Your Little Eyes, 2010. Oil on stitched canvas 31" x 27" inches (79 x 68 cm) Collection the artist

Vivienne Koorland works in New York, is currently showing in London at East Central Gallery and grew up in South Africa, leaving it before the end of apartheid.  Her mother was a hidden and smuggled child in Poland during WWII, ending up in a Jewish orphans home in South Africa in 1948.
Koorland's work is characteristically complex where everything from the kind of marks made, the material they are made with, the canvas or burlap or bookcovers they are made upon is heavy with historical memory, from her own conflicted childhood in Africa to her mother's loss of childhood and family to her own exile and homesickness for an impossible childhood that cannot be revisited.  
It is not just Germany, or just the holocaust, or just apartheid, or just the unfairness, or just the loss of material goods, or talents, or love; it is all these things, constantly jostling on the crowded historical surfaces of her work.  Letters, writing, ledgers, sheet music, popular songs, maps – they all lie together.  

Her working method reuses her own rejected drawings and paintings, burlap rice bags are stitched together to make a full canvas, their printed labels worked into the content.  Her work is constantly being remade and re-referenced.  
Although nominally about the past, it is the present that is often discussed: a magnificent gold map of Africa is so simple, yet so complex in reference to gold mining, to a shimmering beautiful potential and a hateful process of extraction.  This is work that sinks in complexity rather than skimming on a too easily grasped surface. 

Vivienne Koorland. Gold Africa, 2010. oil and pigment on stitched burlap. 68.5 x 61 inches (27 x 24 cm) Private Collection, London


cab calloway and minnie the moocher

Right, it is the beginning of a dreary month, a storm is raging outside, the ferries can't run, the east is blanketed in snow, the international news is truly ghastly and Gillian Findlay's documentary last night on police actions during the G8/G20 in Toronto last summer was altogether too shocking. 

Here is a little diversion:

A rather more adult version of Dorothy and Toto.

Amazing to think this sort of thing was standard children's viewing in the 1950s.  From 4-5 each afternoon was old cartoons, serialised David Niven movies and Gene Autry.

This explains everything about the baby boom lot.


Paul Robeson: Ô mon cher Canada


un canadien errant

Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers,
Parcourait en pleurant
Des pays étrangers.
Un jour, triste et pensif,
Assis au bord des flots,
Au courant fugitif
Il adressa ces mots
"Si tu vois mon pays,
Mon pays malheureux,
Va, dis à mes amis
Que je me souviens d'eux.
"Ô jours si pleins d'appas
Vous êtes disparus,
Et ma patrie, hélas!
Je ne la verrai plus!
"Non, mais en expirant,
Ô mon cher Canada!
Mon regard languissant
Vers toi se portera..."


Ireland Park

Kearns Mancini Architects, Ireland Park Foundation, 2007Paul Whelan has written about Ireland Park in the new issue of On Site.  It commemorates the huge wave of emigrants from the 1847 Irish famine.  Incredibly, over a six-month period, 37,000 immigrants washed through Toronto, population 20,000, on their way to both inland and to the United States. 

Walls with names seems to be a necessary memorial component now: these names of people who died on the voyage or shortly after, about 20% of the total, are inscribed in the interstices of a rough difficult craggy cliff. 
And, also necessary it seems, are the figurative statues, in Toronto's Ireland Park part of a set, the other half being in a park in Dublin: the wraiths who left, and if they didn't die, arrived in North America. 

Migration stories: is there a point at which oral history – the journeys, the reason for emigration in the first place, the subsequent struggle to re-establish a life –is lost?  And is that when we start to build memorials?  


onsite 24: migration

Marianna de Cola. Travelling the south shore of Newfoundland, 2010

This is one of the beautiful images sent to us by Marianna de Cola, from her study on migration and relocation in outport Newfoundland.  We used it for the cover of issue 24 because there is something so complete and yet so slow about leaving home by boat.  Where you came from recedes, is lost in fog, or over the horizon; your line of travel always marked by the wake scrolling out behind you.