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The Last Best Place: Lost in the Heart of Nova Scotia

by John DeMont

John DeMont’s account of Nova Scotia revisted in The Last Best Place is a well-researched, enjoyable journey of a man rediscovering his roots. Born in Halifax, DeMont has worked as a journalist for 16 years, as a columnist and reporter for The Financial Post, and as senior writer and Halifax bureau chief for Maclean’s magazine.

When DeMont returns to Nova Scotia after a lengthy absence, he finds it almost unrecognizable, and sets out to capture the essence of his ancestral province – a place full of contradictions and surprises. DeMont examines the diverse culture, people of Scottish, German, British, French, and African descent (Demont doesn’t skirt over the racism and unchanging attitudes that are part of the culture); the curious nooks and crannies of the countryside; the night life of watering holes and cafés; and the beauty of the ocean, forests, and wildlife.

Without overly romanticizing his pilgrimage, DeMont recounts adventures to a Buddhist abbey, the first free black settlement outside Africa, an island that harbours pirate treasure, and a backwoods barndance where the music of 18th-century Scotland lives on. His voice is eloquent yet distinctively down home, as he fraternizes with Nova Scotians of all walks of life including some moonshiners who show him their still. DeMont writes that he feels, “like a member of the James gang, sitting in this room full of bleary eyes, cigarette haze and hockey chatter where the defiant, irreverent spirit of the outlaw lingers like smoke.”

A few of the province’s more famous summer residents include Jack Nicholson, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel. AlthoughDeMont doesn’t meet all of the celebrities, or the Canadian chanteuses who have roots in Nova Scotia – Rita MacNeil, Sarah MacLachlan, and Anne Murray – he does get the opportunity to sample some Rankin talent during a live jam session by Jimmy Rankin himself.