Where Past Meets Present: Nova Scotian Living Museum Goes Solar

The Memory Lane Heritage Village of Lake Charlotte, Nova Scotia, is a living museum faithfully portraying rural life through the 1940s, with the exception that everything is solar powered.

It all started about three years ago when this museum’s owner and operator – the Lake Charlotte Area Heritage Society – decided to erect two electric car charging stations on site, acknowledging the transition taking place in our transportation sector and accommodating visitors with electric vehicles.

“That’s what got us started going down the saving electricity route,” said Gordon Hammond, a founding member of the Heritage Society and handler of special projects. While these chargers supported electric vehicles, he said, the power they supplied was still drawn from a predominantly fossil fueled grid, which didn’t sit right. A little research brought him to solar power.

Electrification was only just arriving in rural Nova Scotia by the mid 1940s, and so the buildings making up Memory Lane appear to follow suit, some sporting archaic electrical work, fixtures, outlets and old fashioned power lines while the rest appear to have no power at all, but of course this is a carefully crafted fiction. The Village’s true, contemporary wiring is hidden underground, supplying it’s very modern demands for electricity. The only building as new on the outside as on the inside is the artifact storage facility, housing historical treasures under a huge, sloped roof, perfectly positioned to harness the sun.

This roof, they realized, could comfortably support an array of 66 panels which, early math suggested, would fall just short of meeting Memory Lane’s electrical needs. Their solution was energy efficiency, replacing the Village’s 225 incandescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs with LEDs, its baseboard heaters with heat pumps, and a wasteful hot water heating system with a new, on demand propane heater. These three changes reduced their annual electrical consumption from 45,000KW hours to roughly 35,000KW hours, which their solar array would have no difficulty producing.

The Lake Charlotte Area Heritage Society is a not-for-profit organization which cannot say for certain what its income will be year to year, so while financing did exist for this solar project, they were uncomfortable with so large a loan over much a long time. For this reason they launched an online fundraising campaign for $29,000, in addition to $50,000 provided by the provincial government. The project’s grand total of $79,000 was raised by mid July, paying for both the aforementioned energy efficiency upgrades and solar array.

These 66 panels were installed by Wattsup Solar, an installer in Nova Scotia since 2014. The panels themselves were manufactured by LG, rated at 400 watts each and coming with a 25 year production and manufacturing warranty which is third party insured. The array will work by way of net metering, feeding its power into the grid while Memory Lane itself draws from the grid. If they consume more than they produce, they write Nova Scotia Power a cheque for the difference. If they produce more than they consumer, however, Nova Scotia power writes them a cheque for the difference.

The array itself came online in mid August and is projected to offset 31,170kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, as well as save Memory Lane some $5,000-$6,000 in electricity bills. Gordon has done his research and can find no other museum in Canada powered entirely by solar, meaning the Memory Lane Heritage Village might well be the first. Aside from reducing their environmental impact, the array is one hell of a marketing tool.

While some might have trouble reconciling the radically old lifestyles and technologies on display at Memory Lane with radically new solar electricity, Gordon sees no conflict. As he explained it, Memory Lane is a celebration of the past and an acknowledgment of how much as changed. How better to make that point than with an authentic 1940s ESSO dealership and accompanying antique vehicles sharing space with a rooftop solar array. He said also the 1940s were not a wasteful decade. From this waste not, want not perspective, solar makes a whole lot of sense.

“Conspicuous consumption was not prevalent in the ‘40s,” he said. “That ethos of not wasting things and using as little as possible to do whatever you had to do, in principle, is exactly what we’re doing here with solar and energy efficiency.”

Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, columnist and author active across the Maritimes. This article was originally published with Rural Delivery Magazine.

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