Thursday, April 11, 2013

Choosing the Right Title

I just finished writing a paper on the management of the cod fishery in Cape Breton in 1891. The next step is to send it out to an appropriate journal for publication. However, I'm stuck, because I can't come up with the right title. I know what I want to call it, but I also know what a huge mistake it would be to do so.

My proposed title is, 'Managing the Cod Fishery from Eastern Harbor, Cape Breton, in 1891'. Can you spot the problem? Before I get into that, let me tell you what's right about this title. First, it is important to ackowledge that this paper is best suited for a Canadian journal that publishes historical articles. With that in mind, an ideal title should indicate the particular subject matter of the paper, where it took place, and at what time. My title does all of that, but the problem, as you may have guessed, is with the word 'Harbor'. Shouldn't I be using 'Harbour'? Actually, no.

As you can see from the trading mark pictured above, Charles Robin and Company referred to the location of their business in Cape Breton, as 'Eastern Harbor'. Why they did this, is a matter for another day. The critical issue for the moment is that, if I want to maintain historical accuracy, then I should go with my proposed title, as it is. However, if I actually want my paper to get published, or if I want interested parties to be able to find my article, I either have to change the spelling, or drop the place name from my title. Here's why.

British spelling follows the conventions established by Samuel Johnson in his dictionary of 1755. In contrast, and reflecting systematic efforts at simplification and de-Latinization, American spelling follows the conventions established by Noah Webster in his dictionary of 1828. Now, with respect to everyday usage, Canadians, as they are with so many other things, are generally tolerant of either convention. However, when it comes to scholarly writing in Canada, we are with the British all the way. If I submit the paper as it is now, an editor is likely to reject it immediately, without ever reading it, wondering how I would have the audacity to submit something without having the courtesy or professionalism to check my spelling.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cape Breton Shipping Marks

A century ago, if you wanted goods to be shipped to the proper location, you could not always assume that everyone handling your merchandise could read. Consequently, companies utilized shipping marks to make the task of identification easier. For example, Charles Robin and Company ran fishing stations at four locations on Cape Breton Island. Here are the shipping marks they used.

This first mark is for the Company's station at Eastern Harbour. This location corresponds to the modern town of Cheticamp, on the mainland across from Cheticamp Island. The Company's principal agent for Cape Breton had his office in this location, and most correspondence with suppliers, banks, and other business interests originated from here. 

The mark for Cheticamp indicates that goods were to be shipped to La Pointe, which is on the southwestern end of Cheticamp Island. The Robin's had their fish processing operation at this location from the late 1700s until 1903.

Arichat is on Isle Madame at the southeast end of Cape Breton Island. This location is actually the first place the Robins did business with local fishers, back in the 1760s. 

This final mark could prove confusing to those familiar with Cape Breton. Usually, Big Pond refers to a town on the East Bay section of the Bras d'Or Lake, well known as the home of the recently deceased singer, Rita MacNeil. However, the English-speaking Robins used the name Big Pond to refer to what was locally known as Grand Etang, a small village located on the north coast of Cape Breton between Cheticamp and Margaree Harbour.