Field trip to McNabs
July 11, 2013

McNabs Island is the largest island located in Halifax Harbour. In the past, it played a major role in defending Halifax and is now a provincial park.(Paul Maher Photo)
By Paul Maher

NSCAD design students traveled by a small boat from Eastern Passage to McNabs Island. Their recent field trip consisted of a full day and an overnight stay in tents on the island. The purpose of the field trip was to provide students with an opportunity to produce work, install work in-situ and/or to gain inspiration for work upon return to the letterpress studio.

All work was expected to respond to the theme of climate change along with the resulting loss of land and environmental changes expected. McNabs Island was expected to not only be the focus of the work but also a dynamic location of where some work will be displayed. The combination of text and context can provoke impactful emotional response. In the project background the original purpose of wood type was considered–namely to create public communication pieces of persuasion–including posters, notices, advertisements and propaganda. In addition students were provided a conceptual tool kit, which included communication theory (semiotics) alongside ways to conceive of audience and the public sphere.

To further provide direction students were provided three modes of engagement:

  1. Prepare work to take over and install on-site. Content and context will both contribute to the way that meaning is conveyed;
  2. Prepare materials to generate work with on-site. This work will be responsive to the environment; and/or
  3. Create work in response to your experiences on the field trip.

To kick-start the field trip, two volunteers from The Friends of McNabs Island provided a brief walking tour that visited sites of ecological and historical significance. During the tour, Eve Burns and Don Dine provided a comprehensive overview of the island in the middle of Halifax Harbour, highlighting its connections to the community of Halifax and how that has changed over time. Interestingly, the connections at present are the most tenuous with there being a greater connection between the island and the mainland in the past. Previous histories include its great military significance for Halifax, its popularity as a recreation destination and also as a site for agriculture. Despite being long extant, these uses are still evidenced in the range of abandoned buildings and ruins seen throughout the island, all in varying stages of decay. Currently, McNabs Island has the unfortunate use as a filter for Halifax Harbour, collecting enough trash on its shores to warrant an annual cleanup.

Time to set up camp. (Paul Maher Photo)
(Paul Maher Photo)

After the tour, the remaining time was spent immersed in work. Most students produced work on site that they documented with photos. An advantage of the overnight stay was that some projects could be done in the twilight and evening hours, providing opportune photographic conditions. Other students chose to spend their time conceptualizing work to be completed on our return to the letterpress studio. Both forms have been published within a hand bound book a copy of which is to be housed by the Design Division.

Blessed with wonderful weather and a generous spirit from all involved, our trip was a great success.

mcnabs-4-small  mcnabs-5-small 
Work created in situ. (Paul Maher photos)