CHESS 2011 Recap

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Photo: Ben Bradley
Photo: Ben Bradley

From 27-29 May 2011, 50 academics attended the 6th annual Canadian History and Environment Summer School (CHESS) in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. The theme of CHESS 2011 was “Coastal Conundrums: Using Environmental History to Understand Coastal Communities,” and the seaside resort town of St. Andrews was an ideal location for CHESS participants to learn about some of the many challenges that coastal communities have faced and the ways in which local populations have adapted to a variety of economic, social, and environmental changes.

CHESS 2011 launched with a public keynote address at the W. C. O’Neill Arena Complex Theatre on Friday evening, co-presented by NiCHE and the Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre. The keynote speaker was Dr. Heike Lotze, Canada Research Chair in Marine Renewable Resources at Dalhousie University, and her address was titled “Food, Furs and Feathers: History of Human-induced Ecological Changes in Coastal Marine Ecosystems.” Using a stunning PowerPoint presentation and drawing on evidence from numerous academic disciplines, including archaeology, history, and ecology, Dr. Lotze delivered a fascinating lecture on how human activities have changed coastal environments over time. In addition, the keynote address was well attended by the local community (close to 100 people attended) and it provided CHESS participants with invaluable contexts for the rest of the weekend.


The second day of CHESS 2011 was a busy one, and all of the day’s activities were at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, a working marine research station and our “home base” for the weekend. On Saturday morning, Huntsman staff gave CHESS participants tours of a couple of the station’s research projects. Tracey Dean, Director – Education at the Huntsman, demonstrated how she bands and catalogues migratory birds, and Susan Fordham, Aquaculture Operations Supervisor, described some of the Huntsman’s aquaculture research. Saturday afternoon was filled with two rounds of parallel sessions. During the first sessions, one group watched and discussed Martha Stiegman’s documentary In the Same Boat? on the Bay of Fundy fisheries, while the NiCHE New Scholars reading group workshopped a paper by Michael Del Vecchio. The second set of parallel sessions featured Hugh Akagi, Chief of the St. Croix Schoodic Band, Passamaquoddy First Nation, who talked about the experiences of the Passamaquoddy in Canada and the United States, and Sheena Young from the Fundy North Fishermen’s Association and Coastal CURA, who presented findings from a study of local fishers’ knowledge of the impacts of aquaculture on traditional fisheries. At the end of the day, CHESS participants had a few hours free to experience first-hand the fog-enshrouded tourist landscape of St. Andrews, which was followed by the event banquet at the Harbour Front Restaurant.


The third day of CHESS 2011 began at the historic Algonquin Hotel with the launch of the first Geospatial Workshop in Atlantic Canadian History (GeoWATCH). Dr. Joshua MacFadyen, one of GeoWATCH’s co-founders, explained how the workshop introduces historical GIS to first-time users. Dr. MacFadyen and Dr. Matthew Hatvany both gave presentations on the usefulness of historical GIS to environmental historians, and then CHESS participants had the opportunity to work with GIS software and historical maps of St. Andrews. In the latter part of the morning, participants had the choice of venturing off on one of six themed walking groups to do some “ground truthing,” or listen to a talk given by Dr. Bill Parenteau in the Van Horne ballroom on the “rest cure” and early forms of tourism in New Brunswick. CHESS 2011 concluded with a Sunday lunch at the Kennedy Inn.

By all accounts, CHESS 2011 met the high standards of past events. The organizing committee would like to thank all of those who helped us make it such a great weekend, especially this year’s participants. In the words of Dr. Ed MacDonald, who closed the weekend with a few remarks, a conference is only as good as those who attend.

Claire Campbell has provided some photos from this year’s CHESS. 

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