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Tapping into Electric City: a unique history and unique opportunity


Published on July 9, 2017

Hal Theriault and Stacey Doucette, the two men with a big vision for New France, also called Electric City.

©Sara Ericsson

NEW FRANCE, NS – An untapped and unknown piece of Nova Scotia’s history lies in behind the Weymouth area and two men are looking to get the word out.

Hal Theriault and Stacey Doucette are two men with a vision of what they’d like to see at this historic site.

For the first time, they were listening to each other and each other’s stories, so for the first time they realized their concerns were all the same. They cared about family, about the future and for the land.

Hal Theriault

Their current exhibit at Sissiboo Landing tells the story of Jean Jacques Stehelin, the son of a family who founded what became known as New France at the end of the nineteenth century.

Three separate exhibit chapters will be on display this summer. Theriault and Doucette also run the Electric City Research Centre, located in downtown Weymouth, where artefacts are stored and plans kept.

Their next big move is to tackle the site itself and the stories it harbours.

“This place has so much potential. We want to get tourists out here, definitely, but also local people and students,” said Theriault.

“You can’t even imagine the number of students that have no idea this place exists, or what happened here,” said Doucette.

 

The wine cellar, the only site that still has part of its roof intact.

©Sara Ericsson

The significance of the site

New France was a fully operational and in many ways innovative lumber mill complete with a train, running water and electricity.

“The city was about 30 years ahead of its time in so many ways,” said Doucette.

“It had running water and electricity long before anywhere else in Weymouth.”

The site name comes from Mi’kmaq site visitors, who dubbed it the ‘electric city in the forest.’

The founding family dove headfirst into their new country life in many ways. The ladies would hunt, fish and adventure alongside the men, albeit dressed still in fancy costume.

They also learned English and some even bits of Mi’kmaq so they could communicate with their employees.

The foundation of the Big House where the Stehelin family lived.
Sara Ericsson

One European staple they never gave up, however, was the food. The remnants of a large wine cellar are still visible. In fact, it’s the only building that still has part of its roof.
Vegetables had also been brought over, and the family’s matriarch, Marie-Thérèse, learned to cook just so her family would continue enjoying a fancy French diet.
But the biggest way this site was ahead of its time was in its diversity and social inclusion – whether employees were Acadian, of Scottish descent, African Nova Scotians or Mi’kmaq, they not only worked together but were equal.
“The fact that everyone came here, worked and played together – they couldn’t even do that in Weymouth,” said Doucette.

 “For the first time, they were listening to each other and each other’s stories, so for the first time they realized their concerns were all the same. They cared about family, about the future and cared for the land,” said Theriault.

“This is exactly what students need to learn about to accept their peers even better today: that it happened over 100 years ago.”

 

The site is now overgrown, but it’s easy to imagine what it could have once been in places like this path.

©Sara Ericsson

Plans for interpretation

The site currently sits at the end of a rough road carved with rocks and puddles, but the two men plan to change that.

“We’d like to apply for some grants and different kinds of funding to redo this road so buses could bring students on field trips here,” said Theriault.

“We’re already in talks with many organizations associated with the province who see potential in what we’re doing. It’s not a matter of if this will happen, but when,” said Doucette.

The lake at the Electric City site. The beach across is where the casino was located.
Sara Ericsson

Plans to also improve the trails and hire a fulltime site interpreter are in play, each with the intention of making the site physically accessible and digestible to all.
Much time has been dedicated to this effort. Doucette works fulltime running his own business alongside several different initiatives in Weymouth, while Theriault is a writer and spends much of his time at the centre.
He originally dedicated four days per week to it, but that number has now become seven, a number that is only mildly concerning since he loves his cause so much.

“Many people have tried to do what we’re doing, but we’re the first to get the cooperation of the family. We’ve got the artefacts and we’re in a unique position to really get things going,” said Theriault.

“We’re going to realize a vision that many people have had.”

 

For more information on the current summer exhibits and the centre, visit: