By David Shuman
Dee Dwyer comes from a family tradition of community service and engagement with the environment. She was born in Liverpool, but grew up on West Petpeswick Road in Musquodoboit Harbour and graduated from Eastern Shore District High.
Her father, Dave Dwyer, worked for decades with the Department of Lands and Forests, and passed on his deep love and appreciation for the richness and beauty of Nova Scotia’s environment. One of his specialities was helping the owners of small woodlot owners make a living from their forests without clear cutting them, leading the authors of a book on forestry in Nova Scotia to call him “the Peoples’ Forester.”
Dave Dwyer was also involved in his community, serving as the chair of the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Ratepayers Association. “I remember going to a meeting my Dad chaired,” Dee said. “He did a series of slides comparing the strip-mall development of New Minas with how he hoped our village would develop differently, preserving its rural character. And he was talking about getting sidewalks way back then.”
Dwyer has had a long career as a poet and teacher of literature. “In Grade 5 or 6, our teacher taught us the Japanese haiku form for poems, only three lines, often with images of nature. I started writing haiku, and then reading more and more poetry. I got my first poem published while I was still in high school.”
She went on to earn a Masters in English and creative writing at the University of Windsor, which was one of the only universities offering creative writing in the early 1980s. “I still remember the day I graduated in 1984,” Dwyer said. “It was Election Day. I wanted to go out and celebrate, but all the pubs were closed!” In 1987, Dwyer signed up for a two-year job teaching English in Japan, with a slow trip back to Nova Scotia at the end across southeast Asia and Europe.
Dwyer now lives in a house that she and her late husband Hans von Hammerstein built at the top of Musquodoboit Harbour. “I met him at a house party in Halifax,” Dwyer said. “He did all the carpentry, and I worked on the shingles, the vapor barrier, and the garden, while I was also tutoring at NSCAD.”
Dwyer stepped into father’s old shoes when she was elected to be chair of the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Ratepayers Association. But she says she had never considered running for public office until the NDP approached her after reading a letter she sent this spring to the Premier and several other Liberal party MLAs challenging the government’s secretive decision-making processes in choosing a new high school site and the de-listing and offering for sale of Owls Head Provincial Park.
“It’s true that I hadn’t been thinking of running,” Dwyer said. “But with the Ratepayers Association, we worked hard on communication, on being open and clear about what was going on, to be inclusive. Our board meetings were open to anyone, and people could speak at these meetings about their concerns.”
Dwyer said she knew that running for office for the first time was always going to be hard for anyone. “After I talked things over with my friends and my family, I decided, if I don’t try, I’ll never know what the result might have been. I’m going to work as hard as I can on this campaign, see what happens, and go from there.”
[Editor’s note: Dwyer was a Cooperator board member and a regular contributor to the paper of portraits of Eastern Shore artists and craftspeople. She resigned from the board when she became a candidate, and suspended writing until after the election.]