Nov 4, 2010

Nice town, y’know what I mean? (2010)

Style & Artifacts is a series of articles about the cultural symbolism of artifacts and monuments in landscapes and cityscapes. Black and white welcome signs, an outdoor sculpture that gets wrapped in winter, as well as bizarre swastikas patterns integrated into architecture are some of the topics that will be examined. The articles will be posted in episodes.

Editing assistance: Valerie LeBlanc


Nice town, y’know what I mean?

Last year the town of Sackville, in an attempt to bring more people to town[1], installed two black and white billboards on the Trans-Canada highway.  The team of marketing specialists believed that the use of a black and white image would create enough of a shock to achieve this goal.  This æsthetic action created waves within the community.  There were a few newspaper articles and letters to the editor written; some praising the audacity of the signs, and some others were more critical.  After a year, I was curious to see how the marketing dust was settling in the ever-windy Tantramar Marsh.

Traveling in a northwesterly direction toward Sackville, I stopped on the side of the road in front of one of the billboards.  I had seen the image[2] before, on a previous voyage, but this time I wanted to confront the bucolic scene at a different speed.  I got out of the car to stand directly in front of the landscape image.  It was huge.  The four hay bales lying in a field was even bigger than I thought.  The composition of the photograph was centered and balanced.  The muted tones and the realism depicted spoke of time-honored tradition and conservatism.  The blowup of the image had something of The Gleaners, an oil painting by Millet (1857), but without the peasants.

Looking at the photograph, I was reminded of the famous line by the Stage Manager, the narrator of the play Our Town[3] written by Thornton Wilder in 1937: Nice town, y’know what I mean? There was something warm and safe about it, even if was wrapped in the coldness of the black and white.  Under the picture is a slogan stating that Sackville is the Cultural Crossroads of the Maritimes.

Marsh and Mirror

Trucks were traveling down the highway at ferocious speeds raising trails of dust behind them.  I was taking pictures of the picture when I realized something both interesting and puzzling at the same time.  The billboard image is a mirror of its surroundings.  This, by itself, is interesting, after all mirrors are important tools of discovery.  Montaigne spoke of the world “as a mirror where we must see ourselves in order to know ourselves,” [4] and Rabelais in a more sarcastic manner reminded us that  “If you wish to avoid seeing a fool you must first break the mirror.” [5]

Like a Droste Effect,[6] the image of a marsh within a marsh, could make us question the reasons behind – or beyond the panels.  Is the smaller black and white version of the marsh saying something important about the real thing?  Is it augmenting or diminishing the existing reality?  It is puzzling because there are unfortunately, no answers to inform or transform an understanding of the choice of the image.  On that particular day, it looked like a visual hiccup planted on the landscape.

The signage was part of a new strategy to set Sackville apart from other communities. The Tourism Committee hoped that the distinctiveness of the image, ‘its art like qualities’ [7] would be so attractive that it would incite visitors to drive into town.  But were there more tourists coming in?  In answer to my inquiries, Rebekah Cant – Sackville’s Director of Tourism, offered to set up a meeting with two members from the Tourism Advisory Committee; Councilor Virgil Hammock[8] as well as idea manGraham Watt, who once worked as an advertising man on Madison Avenue.  According to them, the billboards have been successful.  People have been talking, some positively and yes, others negatively about the signs.  If we believe that ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity…’ [9] like Brendan Behan said, then this daring black and white coup might just work out!


Crossroads and Tollbooths

Marketing strategies are plans of actions and the slogan Sackville, the Cultural Crossroads of the Maritimes is part of the new identity promoted by the highway signs.  But what is this Cultural Crossroad business?  What does it mean?  Like some people in Sackville that I spoke to, I thought it was a printing error.  Was it supposed to read Agricultural Crossroads?  After all, hay bales strongly point to cultivation.

A crossroad is a point of intersection.  It is also the point where an important choice has to be made.  Am I going straight or am I turning off?  If the Trans-Canada Highway and the streets of Sackville are the cultural roads, then what important choice has to be made here?  To stop?  Maybe, although it might not be extremely important if you don’t need the usual services required by travelers.  Does this great intersection of roads warrant our attention?  Is there a traffic light where we will have to stop, or a tollbooth where we will have to toss a coin?

How can Sackville set itself apart from others when a crossroad is exactly about the importance and the dependency of others?  Because, let’s not forget that without these ‘others’ there will be no crossroad at all.

Yore and “Ohm sweet Ohm”[10]

But let’s go back to the image: the sky is heavy with clouds, it rained earlier or it will at some point.  It feels cold.  It is nostalgia wrapped into melancholy.  But why hay bales?   Why this picture?  I know that hay is feed for animals, that there are different qualities of feed and that one hay bale of this variety weights about 1,000 pounds.  I know that making hay involves many steps; cutting; drying; processing and storing.  But really what does it have to say about the town?  Do Sackvillians live in straw houses?  Is there a museum of Hay Fever?  Can I buy a hay-bale-key-chain or a hay-bale-pen at the gas station?

But wait a minute, just above the bales, the sky is lighting up, or as Thornton Wilder wrote at the very beginning of his play ‘… Sky is beginnin’ to show some streaks of lights over the East there…’ [11] Yes!  Now I see, parsed in the glimmer, a series of little sticks planted in the ground.  These sticks are the antennas of the famous Radio Canada International transmitter station.[12] RCI has been located in the Tantramar Marshes since the early 40’s and it broadcasts a multilingual schedule of shortwave programs throughout the world.  Could these high frequencies emitted from this colony of towers represent the cultural roads of Sackville?  I don’t know but I could almost hear something…

The antennas in the background could actually be the clue that unlocks this marketing campaign mystery, but they are so small and so delicately drawn onto the landscape that they might not be seen at all.  I doubt that the restless kid, in the backseat of the average minivan traveling at highway speeds, will notice them and start yelling to his parents: “MOM! DAD! ANTENNAS! ANTENNAS!  CAN WE STOP AT THE RADIO CANADA INTERNATIONAL STATION PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! CAN WE?”

End of part 1.

Tomorrow – the conclusion: Sackville vs Pleasantville vs Ibiza


[1] Tower, K.  (2010, May 6).  Visitors will be welcomed to Sackville with unique image. “In an effort to set itself apart from other communities, Sackville is taking a unique approach to drawing in visitors off the highway” Sackville Tribune Post.

[2] The photograph is part of the Radio Canada International portfolio created by renowned photographer Thaddeus Holownia during a 28-year period (1977-2006).

[3] Our Town. (2010, July 26). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 9, 2010, from

[4] Michel De Montaigne quotes. Think exist – Finding Quotations was never this Easy!. Retrieved September 4, 2010 from

[5] François Rabelais quotes.  Brainy Quote Retrieved September 4, 2010 from

[6] Droste effect. (2010, August 2). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 9, 2010, from

[7] Tower, K.  (2010, May 6).  Visitors will be welcomed to Sackville with unique image. Sackville Tribune Post.

[9] Strangely enough, we really acknowledge the latter part of the phrase: There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituaryThe Phrase Finder. Retrieved September, 1st, 2010, from

[10] “Ohm sweet Ohm” is a song on Radio-Activity a 1975 concept album around simulated radiowave and shortwave sounds by KraftwerkRadio-Activity. (2010, July 24). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 9, 2010, from

[11]“The first act shows a day in our town.  The date is May 7, 1901, just before dawn.  (COCK CROW off stage.)  Aya, just about.  Sky is beginnin’ to show some streaks of lights over the East there…..” Our town: a play in three acts By Thornton Wilder, from Google Books.  Act 1, page 2.

[12] Radio Canada International. (2010, May 10)). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 9, 2010, from

GO TO PART 2 : Sackville vs Pleasantville vs Ibiza


Leave a comment

Daniel H. Dugas

Artiste numérique, poète et musicien, Daniel H. Dugas a participé à des expositions individuelles et de groupe ainsi qu’à plusieurs festivals et événements de poésie en Amérique du Nord, en Europe, au Mexique et en Australie. Son treizième recueil de poésie « émoji, etc. » / « emoji, etc. » vient de paraître aux Éditions Basic Bruegel.

Daniel H. Dugas is a poet, musician, and videographer. He has participated in solo and group exhibitions as well as festivals and literary events in North America, Europe, Mexico, and Australia. His thirteenth book of poetry, 'émoji, etc.' / 'emoji, etc.' has been published by the Éditions Basic Bruegel Editions.

Date : Mars / March 2022
Genre : Poésie / Poetry
Français / English

émoji, etc. / emoji, etc.

Date: Mai / May 2022
Genre: Vidéopoésie/Videopoetry