Nova Scotia

Stories from the sky: How a plane and a camera show time's effect on Nova Scotia

After a Nova Scotia photographer discovered a set of historical aerial photographs, he made it his mission to recreate them.

Photographer Len Wagg set out to recreate historical aerial landscapes in a new book

Len Wagg says he enjoys the stories his photos tell, capturing how time has changed the province. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

It started, as things often do, with a chance meeting and then an idea.

About 10 years ago, Wellington, N.S., photographer Len Wagg met Parrsboro resident Conrad Byers, who had purchased a collection of aerial photographs from the 1930s made by Richard McCully.

McCully had operated a flying school in New Brunswick.

The pictures, which show Nova Scotia from the sky and are now housed in the provincial archives, stayed with Wagg.

A few years ago, following the success of a book juxtaposing pictures made by famed photographer Wallace MacAskill with present-day reproductions by Wagg, he recalled those aerial pictures McCully made so many years ago.

Halifax Citadel

The result is Nova Scotia from the Air: Then and Now. It is the product of three years of research and work by Wagg.

For Wagg, the project was about much more than simply making pictures. While one picture on its own might represent a snapshot in time, a collection — particularly when measured against similar pictures from generations ago — begins to tell a story.

"What we don't realize is that how life used to be is happening today," said Wagg.

"I think there's something to be said for taking a moment, taking a step back and documenting, you know, who we are and where we are."

Cumberland County

Wagg said he started realizing the broader context of the work in the midst of the project.

"We saw an entire kind of workforce shift on how the province does business and how people used to do business," he said.

"I think the shift is going to happen in our lifetime. It certainly is happening in our lifetime. But if we get those images, be it from the air, be it from the ground, then we'll learn that things change."

Halifax shipyard

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than Halifax — its downtown, the early days of the Hydrostone neighbourhood and the area around Chebucto Road, which was once the city's airport.

That change continued even while Wagg was working on the project. He had to redo his pictures of the downtown because of how much development has taken place even since he started working on the book.

"Halifax doesn't look like Halifax three years ago," he said.

Halifax Hydrostone neighbourhood

Change isn't limited to the capital city. Acadia University's growth is obvious, as is the shift in Port Williams, once a port of call for ships and now a destination for tourists and foodies. Even Church Point has demonstrable growth.

Other changes, such as the ones that have taken place in Amherst and Springhill, represent the shifting realities of economics and business.

Wagg said Springhill was the most difficult picture to make, because only a single roofline today remains from the photo he had in his possession.

Springhill

While change has happened across the province, some areas have already remained remarkable similar visually from when the earlier pictures were made.

Business may be different these days in Yarmouth, Lunenburg, Parrsboro and Annapolis Royal, but they still display many of the bones McCully and his collaborates in the archives collection saw when they were in the sky.

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