A Stratton bonanza


There are places all over Nova Scotia like this. Crumbling and decommissioned and turned into something else, or fenced-off with a Parks Canada sign that says DANGER. During World War II, Halifax Harbour was the jumping-off point for every Europe-bound enlistee, and the water was thick with supplies, ammunitions, and soldiers stuffed into battleships by the thousands. German attack submarines waited just outside the net that stretched across the harbour mouth. In the hundreds of years before that there were pirates, this place a real-life haven of shoals and hidden coves and unchartered wildness frequented by Ned Low, Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, and every other one of their contemporaries.

All of those eras left a city littered with wonders. Ancient burial grounds with three-hundred year-old graves. The skeletons of hung mutineers buried underneath the sidewalk of the old library. Secret underground tunnels and barrels of gunpowder. One of the world's most outstanding Citadel forts that casts a long shadow over the downtown pubs. British garrisons with shiny black cannons still standing at their posts.

It's a photographic bonanza. Especially if you don't mind climbing through the fence underneath those Parks Canada signs.

Willie Stratton was one of three musicians who played the third annual Shed Workshop party this September, and he made everything in the woods go really, really quiet. By commanding it, even though he didn't mean to, you know? He's loud. And it made us quiet. Everyone-there-with-their-mouths-hanging-open quiet. He wails and stamps and even on his own, it's blistering.

He's a really nice guy. But not when he plays.

We weren't supposed to be in there. The island pirate prison—seriously—with its cells now used as rope lockers for fishermen and sailors. Little slits for shoving through plates of food and iron bars and everything, and that's how Willie Stratton looks at you when he's waiting. That's his resting stance. Then I hit the shutter a few times and he grins. I like this one best.

Clash and flow is what's required for something that feels right in the gut. Tension is necessary. It makes everyone sit up while mouths drop. People that have both those things—genuine niceness and neatness and gentlemanliness plus tension, close to the surface—have this effect on everyone. Like a Nova Scotian plus the truth of Nova Scotia.

Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight.
— Johnny Cash