Reviews — Books, Films, News Media
(November 2007, updated January 2013)
Sable Island has been in the news for four centuries. Until the 1900s, much of the news was about the island as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. As navigation technology improved and the number of shipwrecks decreased, the island’s natural history began to attract more attention. During the past five decades, scientific and historical research and offshore energy activities have greatly increased Sable’s profile.
However much of what has been written about the island contains inaccuracies and misconceptions. While early works can be forgiven for many mistakes, modern writers have little excuse. Sable was somewhat of a mystery to writers in the 18th and 19th centuries, but now there are many reliable sources of information. A great deal of thorough research has documented the island’s natural and social history, and there are many people who have expertise on various topics – wildlife, weather, human activities etc.
Errors and misconceptions are common in print, radio, and television coverage of the island – some are trivial and merely careless, others are more serious in that they mislead readers regarding significant issues. Some of this can be attributed to sloppy and superficial journalism and research, and in other instances, facts are massaged for provocative effect. Although this is most often seen in the news media (print, radio, television, and online), it occasionally turns up in the works of reputable publishing houses (e.g. de Villiers & Hirtle 2004) and in scientific publications (e.g. McKinley & Burke 2000).
Reviews of non-fiction books about Sable have exacerbated the problem. One would expect that people who review non-fiction would have some expertise on the subject. However this is rarely the case in the book review sections of most newspapers and general interest magazines. Too many reviews of non-fiction are little more than a summary of a book’s contents, and comments on the style and presentation of those contents. But guidance regarding the reliability of the author or the accuracy of information is rarely provided.
Further, book reviewers can propagate mistakes. For example, among the many inexplicable errors in the de Villiers & Hirtle book was the statement that there had been a significant increase in the number of beached cetaceans found on Sable Island. In a 2004 Globe & Mail review of the book, reviewer Mark Abley repeated the error, writing “In recent years, the stranding of dead or dying whales has shown an alarming rise. The main reason, almost certainly, is the massive increase in seismic activity below the sea”. Thus readers of Abley’s review were misinformed even if they hadn't read the deVilliers & Hirtle book.
However, Sable Island has also been represented in some very good work by journalists, academics, creative writers, documentary filmmakers, and visual artists. For people less familiar with the island and its issues, it can be difficult to sort through, to know which are reliable sources of information, discussion, and impressions. This page presents reviews on selected items, and will attempt to highlight credible, thoughtful, and interesting material, as well as identifying questionable, inaccurate, and otherwise disappointing works.
Pit Pony: The Picture Book (Joyce Barkhouse & Janet Barkhouse 2012) - Review by Sandra Barry, January 2013
Being a Nova Scotian, Sandra Barry has always been aware of Sable Island, and she connected more strongly with the island through her study of the life and work of Elizabeth Bishop. In 2007, Sandra provided a review of Karen Mulhallen's book of poetry Sea Horses (see below), and in May 2008 she and Janet Barkhouse visited Sable. Together they spent about five hours exploring the springtime landscape, and quietly watching Sable Island mares with their newborn foals.
Sable Island, The Wandering Sandbar (Kitts, 2011) - Review by D. Gusset, November 2011
Dominique Gusset has a long history with Sable Island. She first visited Sable while she was a student at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, and worked on the island with the terrain restoration crews in the early 1980s. Dominique, who has been working (off Sable) as a cinematographer for over 25 years, is presently assisting with archiving of Sable Island invertebrate specimens for the research collection at the Nova Scotia Museum.
Sable Island, The Wandering Sandbar (Kitts, 2011) - Review by L. Meikle, November 2011
Although William Lawrence (Larry) Meikle has not visited Sable Island, his interest in the island spans more than three decades. Larry has been an active, and particularly well-informed, supporter of the Sable Island Station throughout the long years of its uncertain future, and continues to assist with the Green Horse archiving project, as well as being a member and supporter of the Ecology Action Centre. During his 30 years in retail management, Larry volunteered as a proofreader and editor with not-for-profit environmental organizations, and since retirement has written articles for several Canadian magazines on historical and heritage subjects.
Race the Wild Wind – A Story of the Sable Island Horses (Markle 2011) - Review by Zoe Lucas, November 2011
Sandra Markle is an American author of more than 80 non-fiction books for children, primarily on science topics, and has won numerous awards for her work. She helped develop science specials for CNN and PBS, has produced magazines and newspaper articles on science and mathematics topics for adults, adn serves as a science education consultant.
Sable Island (Lidgard 2011) - Review by Cindy Clancey, November 2011
Earlier in 2011, Cindy reviewed the second edition of Bruce Armstrong's Sable Island (see below). Damian Lidgards's Sable Island is a very different book, primarily a presentation of the author's photographs, with a relatively brief text about the island.
Sable Island (Armstrong 2010) - Review by Cindy Clancey, July 2011
As a young child, Cindy Clancey lived with her parents on Sable Island while her father, Sid Forward, was employed there as an electrician responsible for maintaining the lights and diesel power station. From 1961 to 1963 they lived at the West Light complex in what is now the "BIO" house. Cindy has maintained a keen and active interest in Sable Island ever since. (The first edition of Armstrong's book was published in 1981 by Doubleday Canada Limited, and reprinted in paperback in 1987 by Formac Publishing Company Limited. For the second edition, reviewed here, the orginal text was published with all new photographs.
Chasing Wild Horses (Matt Trecartin, Driector 2008) - Review by Megan Tuttle, 2008)
In October 2005, Megan Tuttle spent two weeks on Sable Island working on an envrironmental assessment and remdiation project. (This documentary was first aired on April 6th, 2008, on Bravo! It is about Roberto Dutesco and his personal and artistic relationship with the Sable Island horses.)
Chasing Wild Horses (Matt Trecartin, Driector 2008) - Review by Peter d'Entremont, 2008)
Peter d'Entremont is an award winning filmaker. His documentaries include Iceberg Alley (Award for Science Communication, 1984, Canadian Science Writers Association), and Teaching Peace in a time of War (World Peace Film Award, 2006, World Movement for Global Democracy, Lucknow, India). Peter visited Sable Island several times during the 1980s.
The Challenges of an Untamed Soul or Les défis d’une âme sauvage—Review by Janet Barkhouse, September 2009
Since reviewing the movie Touching Wild Horses (see below), Janet Barkhouse has made several trips to Sable Island, most recently to spend a few weeks assisting with field work in support of various environmental studies.
Skirting the Sands of Sable Island (Myron Arms 2008) — Letter to the Editor, and Review, October 2008.
Follow-up regarding the review of Skirting the Sands of Sable Island — January 2009
It has been said that almost any news is good news because it heightens awareness and maintains profile. While minor errors are to be expected, mangled facts and invented quotes can be liabilities for Sable Island and the Station, confusing the issues and misdirecting concern. Author Myron Arms traveled to the island in late summer 2007on the sailing vessel Brendan’s Isle. His article was published in the October 2008 issue of Cruising World
Sea Horses (Mulhallen, 2007) - Review by Sandra Barry, November 2007
Sandra Barry is a poet, editor, archivist, and independent scholar based in Halifax. In 1994, she co-founded the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia, and is on the advisory board of the Elizabeth Bishop Society (Hartwick College, NY). Sandra is one of a small group of people from Nova Scotia and the USA who, in 2004, purchased the house that was Bishop’s childhood home, in Great Village, Colchester County. The house, which was designated a Provincial Heritage Property in 1997, will be maintained and preserved, and is made available to artists of all disciplines as a working retreat. Among Sandra’s many publications—poetry, books, reviews, and papers—is Elizabeth Bishop: An Archival Guide to Her Life in Nova Scotia (1996). This book received the Colchester Historical Society Heritage Award in recognition of achievement in historical activity in Colchester County in 1996.
Touching Wild Horses - Movie review by Janet Barkhouse, April 2007
Written by Murray McRae and directed by Eleanore Lindo, 2002, this made-for-TV movie starring Jane Seymour was produced by Lewis B. Chester, David M. Perlmutter and Frank Hubner as a Canada/Germany/UK co-production. It is a drama set on Sable Island. As indicated by numerous messages in this website’s guestbook, the movie has been shown many dozens of times on television during the past five years. However, an intelligent and perceptive review of this production has been long overdue. and is now provided here by Janet Barkhouse. Janet is a retired actor and educator who lives and writes on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. She has been interested in Sable Island since she was a child.
Sable Island: Tales of Tragedy and Survival from the Graveyard of the Atlantic (Bertin 2006)
- Book review by Lyall Campbell, December 2006
Lyall Campbell has been researching the history of Sable Island for three decades. He is a published author and has worked with various institutions as editor and librarian. In his review of Bertin’s book, Lyall discusses the role of speculation in creative non-fiction, and highlights some errors that have become truisms in much contemporary writing about Sable.
Weighing in… a review of three books about Sable Island – Review by Henry James, March 2006 In the 1970s, while a professor in the Psychology Department of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Henry James researched seal behaviour on Sable Island. He and his graduate students spent time on the island during both summer and winter. Here Henry reviews three books about Sable: Bruce Armstrong (1981), Lyall Campbell (1994), and deVilliers & Hirtle (2004).
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