Hello once again and welcome to the latest in a series of posts concerning my Summer 2014 trip to the Maritime Provinces of Canada where I was on a road trip with my dear friend Lynne in a 33-year-old campervan which we called Betsy for some reason. It’s as good a name as any I suppose.
As usual I will start by saying that if you want to read the story from the beginning, then you can do so here.
Regular readers will know that when I left you last time we were in the excellent Shubie Campground in Dartmouth which is part of the Halifax Regional Municipality (what a mouthful) and had enjoyed a wonderful day of sightseeing in that fine city but we knew there was still much more to see and so another day was called for there.
If you’d like to see what we got up to then please read on.
As always, we had no set plans for the day and we were wandering past the Granville Mall when I spied the NSCAD University lions and had to take an image. I thought nothing more about them or the University until I came to write this piece and found my first piece of interesting information. Yes, it is going to be one of those posts as it was a long day.
As the image shows the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, which is now designated a University, was founded in 1887 when it was called the Victoria College of Art and Design by a woman called Anna Leonowens. Wait a moment, that is an unusual surname and I know that name.
Anna Leonowens was a traveller, suffragist, lecturer and all round fantasist but she is best known as having tutored the children (all 82 of them) of King Mongkut of Siam (modern Thailand) and her story gave rise to the 1944 best-seller “Anna and the King of Siam” which was subsequently filmed as “the King and I” with Deborah Kerr playing Leonowens and Yul Brynner reprising his role as the King from the Broadway play of the same name.
What do I mean she was a fantasist? She lied about almost everything from her name and place of birth, her parentage when she claimed her Father was a Captain (he was a Sergeant), and historians now doubt many of the wilder claims she made about King Mongkut.
One of these was that he kept one of his wives in a dungeon and then tortured her and had her publicly burnt. As a member of the Thai Royal family pointed out in a 2001 interview, there were no dungeons anywhere in Bangkok as the water table is so high they would have flooded. The King had been a Buddhist monk for 27 years before ascending the throne and so is unlikely to have ordered an execution or torture.
Leonowens also lied about her schooling by claiming she had been to an English boarding school when she was schooled in Bombay (Mumbai) in a school that admitted Anglo – Indian girls i.e. of mixed race and it is likely her grandmother was Indian, something else she never mentioned. Even in death there is a touch of fantasy about her as her headstone in Montreal calls her the “Beloved Wife of Major Thomas Lorne Leonowens” when he was a Paymaster Sergeant.
Having suitably trashed Mrs. Loenowens’ reputation and probably your illusions of her, let’s get back to Halifax and time for our first Museum of the day, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. As always, I shall use my contemporaneous notes to describe it.
“To a great extent, the Atlantic Ocean defines Nova Scotia and the surrounding Provinces. They are not called the Maritimes for nothing.
Apart from the physical definition of the coastline, it is an entity that is in the very souls of all Nova Scotians. I do not wish to sound overblown about this, but it is a fact. That huge and often horribly unpredictable body of water effectively determines just about everything in that Province, from cuisine (excellent) to livelihoods to industry, you name it.
It was therefore with great interest that we visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic whilst we were in Halifax and what a find it turned out to be, I loved it, this museum really is worth a visit. If truth be told, my travelling companion Lynne had to just about physically pull me out of the place. I really loved it and it was so full of interesting artefacts that her necessity to remove me was no real surprise.
I do not really know where to begin in telling you about this Museum, as it has just about everything. From the extremely helpful “front of house” staff and right the way through, this was a delight.
Just about anything maritime is represented here from small sailing boats to artefacts from the Titanic which foundered not too far from this spot. I mentioned previously a huge and often horribly unpredictable body of water which is what sent so many people to a watery grave. It really is very touching to look at the artefacts of that long since gone liner.
There is also a very moving display in respect of the day when just about half of Halifax was blown to pieces with a munitions ship blowing up during the First World War which, I believe, was the biggest non-natural explosion ever prior to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War. It really is very thought-provoking.
They had even managed to knock together a display about the hurricane of a couple of days previous, quick work guys. This is an excellent museum and I do highly recommend it.”
A fine piece of maritime history.
“As part of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the traveller can also visit the CSS Acadia, which is an old sea-going vessel, the letters CSS standing for Canadian Scientific Ship or latterly Canadian Survey Ship, for that is what she was.
If you are headed this way, I believe you can go on the ship independently of the adjacent Museum of the Atlantic which administers it, but I cannot imagine why you would want to unless time is extremely pressing.
She is a bit of an “old tub” as I believe mariners refer to them, having been launched from the Swan Hunter yard in the UK in 1913. Notwithstanding that, she is a tough old bird and enjoys several distinctions. She is the only vessel afloat (and still very much afloat, believe me) to have survived the catastrophic Halifax explosion of 1917 (serving as a guard boat) which I mentioned above.
She is also the only Canadian vessel extant that served in both World Wars. Fighting, however, was never her principal purpose as she was a survey ship and spent many decades charting the often unpredictable waters all around Eastern and Northern Canada, and it is as such that she is presented for the visitor here.
As always though, it was not the huge and very interesting history that got to me as I stepped aboard, it was when I peeked into the Radio Officer’s cabin or looked at the crew’s mess and so on that I got a an idea of what it must have been like to work here over so many years. It is always the small things that I remember.
Conditions are spartan, to say the least, and even the Captain’s cabin, whilst naturally more spacious than the rest, is hardly what you would call luxurious. Such were the lives of these brave, seafaring men and I have nothing but admiration for them.
If you are wondering about the name, Acadia was the name given to the region under French rule some centuries ago. Opinion differs as to the origin of that name but it is, to this day, a very potent symbol of French influence around the Maritime Provinces. You may wish to look at some of my other posts for further clarification of this.
I do thoroughly recommend that you visit the Museum but if time does not allow, then a quick visit to the CSS Acadia will certainly satisfy you, it is absolutely superb.”
By the time Lynne did manage to tear me away from the Museum and the Acadia it was past lunchtime for her and well past beer o’clock for me so we though a return to the now sadly closed (in 2020) Maxwell’s Plum. Lynne ordered the daily special of burger and chips (fries) and I just had a snack of chips and the item you can see in the image above.
I don’t even know the proper name of this contraption (beer tower perhaps?) and I had only hitherto seen them in Asia. It is effectively your own beer tap which looks a bit like an old soda machine. The central core is filled with ice and the outer with beer so it remains cold. I know I am not describing it very well so I hope the image gives you some idea.
Needless to say, the tower and it’s successor, yes we had two between us, put paid to any further sightseeing for that day and I only took two more images which you can see above and are not just random, believe it or not.
The one on the left shows a large container ship, complete with it’s helping tug underway to the Atlantic. I don’t know why but I just found it slightly odd to be standing outside a city centre pub and watching this massive vessel sliding past a few streets away. It does show that Halifax is still a thriving deep-water port.
The second image is of some of the dozens of cranes we saw all over the city (OK, I know it is technically not a city now but I think of it as one). There was a lot of building going on when we were there. I suspect that if I was ever to have the chance to return, which regrettably I doubt will ever happen, that I probably wouldn’t recognise the place.
As that was a fairly short piece, at least by my standards, I think we shall pass onto the
8th July, 2014.
On the morning of the 8th poor Lynne wasn’t feeling great and so I went for a day into Halifax by myself with her blessing. I suspect a day of not having to drag me out of Museums would have sounded good to her. It was the usual 55 bus and the ferry to get to the waterfront and by now I was beginning to feel a bit like a commuter!
As usual I did not even have the beginnings of a plan and just went for a walk, slightly away from the main downtown area which we had already explored fairly thoroughly. I took the image on the left simply because I loved the brightly painted shopfronts and this is what happened next.
“I was wandering about sans guidebook, sans map, sans anything else, which is the way I like to do things anyway. Picking a random side-street (Brunswick Street as I have subsequently discovered) I literally stumbled upon the place you see in the right hand image, the Halifax Folklore Centre. Well, that was enough to pique my interest anyway and a look at the hanging sign was quite enough to entice me to go in there.
I walked into what can only be described as guitarist Heaven, there was such a selection on display. I was approached by a very friendly assistant who asked me was I looking for anything specific. I made a bit of a joke and said I was just looking at lovely guitars that I could never afford and he laughed. He told me that if I wanted to have a play at any of them to give him a shout and he’d get it off the rack for me. I have to say that there were some absolute beauties in there.
Now, I had been very graciously gifted a pretty decent guitar by Lynne’s father and I thank you mate, lovely gesture. However, in fairness, it could have done with a bit of restringing, the ones on it were a bit dated. I was thinking to myself, get a few strings and get a few plecs (the picks you play with if you do not know).
I asked the other (again very friendly) bloke on the counter for a set of D’addario acoustic lights which is what I always play. He asked me if I would be interested in a box of three sets (sure, I go through them pretty quickly) and he quickly produced a “giftpack” with three sets of my preferred strings and a free guitar humidifier, which I don’t really need as UK is so damp, and that little set was $19.99CAD which is literally about half what I would pay in UK, never mind the free gift. I was a happy bunny.
I was liking the place and thought that I should maybe get a few plecs as I had only brought about two from UK. Not a problem, the boxes were produced with every conceivable plec in the world. I bought half a dozen 46’s (my preferred gauge), the deal was settled in no time quick and I wandered off down the road, one very contented Fergy.”
How I can write so much about buying some guitar strings is beyond me but I am sure the reader is used to it by now. Let’s go and do touristy things.
Regular readers will know by now what I am like about cemeteries, graveyards, burying grounds, call them what you will and so when I saw the Old Burying Ground aka St. Paul’s Cemetery I was in there in double time.
“Despite it being early July and therefore tourist season, I had the place to myself save for two young people in a sort of semi-casual uniform of polo shirts etc. who greeted me in the friendly manner I have come to associate with Canadians and told me to help myself to a look round. They further offered to try to assist if I had any specific questions about any of the graves here or the history of the place itself.
Kind as their offer was it was not necessary as the signage here is both extensive and comprehensive. After having read a few of the explanatory panels I began to explore the ground where approximately 12,000 souls have taken their final rest.
What an absolute delight it was for a graveyard afficionado like myself, it was a complete treasure trove of unusual things, various styles of memorials apparently laid out in a more or less random fashion typical of the time it was in use. So when was it in use then? Here is a potted history although I do recommend the attached website for an excellent and comprehensive history.
The Burying Ground was opened in 1749 just outside the defensive structure that protected the relatively new settlement of Halifax in what were turbulent times. It was soon pressed into strenuous service by a typhoid epidemic of 1749 – 1750 which must have been a grevious loss for a relatively small community as it claimed about 1,000 lives. Indeed, such was the pressure on the available space that it was more than doubled in size in 1762.
Interestingly the burial ground was always non-denominational and persons of many faiths lie adjacent in the now rather pleasant park, for that is what it effectively is nowadays.
In the early days there was an interesting anomaly here. The Church of St. Paul’s were responsible for recording the deaths of those interred here but they were not allowed to collect burial fees as the land was Crown owned.
This situation was rectified in 1793 when the Crown granted land title to the Church thereby allowing them to collect monies for their work and the ground continued to be used until 1844 when it was closed to further interments, a new “rural” burying ground having been established further from the city in keeping with funerary practices of the period.
The history of the site is not quite over yet though. In 1860 the huge George Laing monument which dominates the entire site was dedicated to the memory of Major Augustus Welsford of the 97th Regiment of Foot (Earl of Ulster’s), and Captain William Parker of the 77th Regiment of Foot (East Middlesex). Although both Nova Scotians they had fought for the British in the Crimean War and both perished in the action at the Redan in Sebastopol.
It is rather impressive and, if you are interested, the lion which tops it is a whopping twelve tons. I have no idea how they got that up there without heavy mechanical equipment, it was some feat.
Whilst Welsford and Parker obviously dominate the place purely by the size of the monument, there are many more military and naval headstones to be discovered here reflecting the martial and often turbulent nature of Halifax over the centuries.
Do not, however, run away with the idea that this is merely a military place, it is not. There are a regrettable amount of graves of children here which I suppose reflects the harsh conditions of early settler life in the “New World”.
Perhaps the star attraction is the grave of Major-General Robert Ross who coincidentally happens to be a native of my fairly small country of Northern Ireland, having been born at Rostrevor in Co. Down in 1766. I wonder how many American readers will realise the (obviously inadvertent) contribution to their national heritage this man made albeit that he was an enemy. Allow me to explain for those that do not know about it.
Ross was basically the commander of all British forces in North America during the 1812 war between Britain and the Americans. A veteran of Egypt and the Napoleonic Wars amongst other things, he was certainly no stranger to military action and had been seriously wounded in the neck at the Battle of Orthes. Recovering from his wounds, he was sent to “the Americas” where he took a raiding force to Bladensburg before marching on Washington (the only time a foreign force has ever done so).
In acts of fairly wanton destruction and supposedly in retaliation for similar American raids into what is now Canada, which was controlled by the British, he torched various strategic buildings there including the home of the President. The building was so badly smoke and soot damaged that it had to be repainted – white. Do you see where I am going here? That is why President Biden and many before him have lived in the White House.
Also during the same action a chap called Francis Scott Key was watching the glow of the many fires overWashington and was moved to write the following (and a lot more beside).
“Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Yes, the American national anthem.
The rockets referred to were actually a new form of munitions (Congreve rockets) that the Americans had never been subjected to before. Ross was killed by either one or two sharpshooters whilst leading his troops into further battle. His body was embalmed in 129 gallons (586 litres) of Jamaican rum and returned to Halifax for burial. Now that is the way to go! He was eventually buried with full military honours on 29 September 1814.
Certainly, Ross is probably the most famous interment here but I find other less grand memorials equally fascinating like William Newel, soldier of the Rifle Brigade, who died in 1826 aged just 19 and with the lovely inscription on his stone, “A native of Ireland who lived beloved and died lamented”.
Wouldn’t you just love to know what that story was, like all the other stories here. I suspect this is why graveyards fascinate me so much, each stone is just a story waiting to be told if you could ever find out what the story was.
If you want another more upscale monument to have a look at then you could try and seek out the stone to Erasmus James Philipps, a Major in the 40th Regiment of Foot, who was the Grand Master of the first Freemasonic Grand Lodge in Nova Scotia (remember Annapolis in a previous post?).
I have mentioned elsewhere in my posts the great influence that the Freemasons appear to have in this part of the country and this is an interesting memorial to see. The stone obviously is much later and was only dedicated in 1938 but it is still worth a look.
Sadly, time, vandalism, pollution, neglect, lack of funds and various other factors took toll and by the 1980’s this lovely place was basically a mess of weeds and crumbling stonework. To their great credit various agencies (local, Provincial and national government as well as corporate and private donors) took the matter in hand and the Burying Ground was declared a Municipal Heritage site in 1986, a Provincial Heritage Property in 1988, and a National Historic Site in 1991 – the first graveyard in Canada to receive such a designation.
I have to say, it looks very well today and it would have been a disgrace to have let it fall into decrepitude.
I hope I have given you a flavour of this hugely interesting and now aesthetically pleasing place and I do highly recommend that you visit it if you have even the slightest interest in such things as I have mentioned.”
I am going to tell you now about a strange thing that happened to me about a fortnight ago (March 2021), one of those little oddities that I keep running into. My brother still lives in Northern Ireland and is a very keen motorcyclist with his own YouTube channel detailing a lot of his runs on any of the four large machines he has.
In a video which he only posted in December 2020 he was taking his XJ900F out for a run and stopped near Warrenpoint at the Ross Monument,a large obelisk erected to the memory or Maj.-General Ross, as mentioned above.
My brother didn’t know who Ross was which surprised me as he is pretty good about history although I knew about the monument and obviously all about Ross as I had been here to the Old Burying Ground although I did know about him before that. If you want to see the monument you can do so here. Start at about 8:30 unless you particularly want to watch my brother flying along tiny roads at high speeds!
He also digresses (it runs in the family!) into a discussion about the Corvid family of birds which Lynne is obsessed with to the point that her Virtual Tourist username was RavensWing.
Honestly, weird things just happen to me.
When I told Lynne about the Old Burying Ground later, I am sure she was secretly glad she was not there as she would have gone mad trying to get me out of it. Let’s move on.
Directly across Barrington Street from the Burying Ground is St. Matthew’s Church but regrettably it was shut and I had to content myself with an image. Entrance was similarly not an option at my next port of call, Government House.
Sadly no admittance.
“Regrettably when I was wandering round Halifax and came upon Government House it was not open. It is a functional Government building, being both the official residence of the Lieutenant-Governor and the official residence in Canada of H.M Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada. Well, that is fair enough, I would not expect just to swan into Buckingham Palace in London either nor Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland, for example.
I did see a bit of fairly discreet security but there appears to be no prohibition on photographing the place, certainly I was not approached despite very overtly getting to work with the compact camera. So what did I see through the lens?
First of all, it is a wonderful building, as you would expect and, although I knew nothing about it at the time, I have subsequently researched it and found out a little bit. I never fail to learn something when I am writing here which is one of the great delights of it.
If you imagine yourself back in the dim and distant past of 1792, we shall begin there. Sir John Wentworth, a new British Governor of what was not then even a country as such and ruled by the British took one look at the Governmental House and declared it (to use a very modern term) unfit for purpose. He described it (quote from the excellent attached website), as “being of green wood and rotten timbers and in danger of falling into the cellar.” Well, not good then and something obviously needed to be done.
I suppose that in those far off days a colonial administrator must have had to have a few moves up his sleeve. Well, the good Sir John apparently did as he basically requisitioned a piece of land which had been set aside for a new Province House (effectively the Parliament) but which had been deemed to be too far away from the centre despite it’s absolutely gorgeous position. I do assure you, it really is a delightful setting.
Cue then some building works which were actually taken from a book written by a chap called George Richardson. Apart from some hardwoods brought from central America for the doors and Scottish slate for the roof, all the building materials were sourced locally.
I have read that the premises is effectively in a Georgian style although I really have no idea about that, not being an architect (nor even a builder!). What they constructed is the very fine structure you see today that is literally fit for royalty as many have stayed there over the years.
In fairness, the title of this piece is very slightly misleading. For the vast majority of the year there is no admittance here but there are certain days when it is open to the public with guided tours, check the website for details.
If you are not able to be there at tour time then I am afraid you will have to content yourself with a photo of this lovely building as I had to.
By now it was getting on for beer o’clock so I set my “beer nose” to seek mode and it guided me unerringly to the wonderful Henry House Pub.
Lots of history, decent pub.
“I was wandering about downtown Halifax one day and as usual without any real plan. I had walked a fair bit and seen some great things but it was getting to about lunchtime and I was getting thirsty. I have to say at this point that my late Mother once remarked with her incredible insight that I was born thirsty. OK, she was probably right as she was about most things.
I happened upon the Henry House which looked like it was a bar and so a beer was called for. I was dressed pretty casually (jeans, trainers (running shoes?), T-shirt and Wrangler jacket and as soon as I walked in the door of this fine old building I thought I was out of place and would be shown the door from the inside in short order. Not a bit of it.
A quick glance round told me that most of the clientele there were visiting for a meal and were mostly “suits”. Not wishing to dine, I planted myself at the bar and had a bit of a conversation with the well turned out and extremely friendly barman who talked me through what beers he had on offer. I ordered one (a red as I recall) and sat down for a look round.
The place is absolutely delightful as befits a building with such a huge amount of history behind it. I had seen the sign outside and knew it was a fairly historic structure but I really was not prepared for how attractive it actually was, it was like drinking in some 200 year old gentleman’s residence, which is effectively what it is.
After a rapidly dispatched pint of beer and the ordering of another one, I somewhat hesitantly asked would it be OK to take some photos, at which point the afore-mentioned barman started pointing out features of interest to me and suggested I have a run upstairs as there was another great room up there. Never mind the upstairs room, the staircase alone was worthy of a photo as you can hopefully see.
I hate to go on too much about this as it will bore people who read all my pages but for the casual visitor to this page, Nova Scotian and indeed Canadian hospitality is second to none.
I did have a wander round and took a few images which revealed the building in all it’s glory.
This was once the home of William. A. Henry, one of the Fathers of Confederation. If you don’t know about this, it was basically when Canada started to become a country instead of a lot of disparate Territories. He was also Mayor of Halifax and Heaven knows what else until his death in 1888. The building is certainly worthy of the man.
As I say, I did not dine there but the menu looked excellent and the diners seemed to be enjoying their meals.
Sure, I can dress up when required but it pleased me immensely that, wandering in as a visitor to the city and not dressed particularly formally (II don’t carry a suit, formal shirt and shiny shoes in my kitbag!) I was treated very civilly and that spoke volumes to me about the place. The young barman could not have been better, I just wish we had a few more like him where I live!
After a couple more pints I decided to go a bit further and headed towards the waterfront as I thought I had not seen enough of it and it is so integral to the history of Halifax. Having got to the water’s edge, the first thing I noticed was a stone monument and went to to investigate. Here’s what I found.
It doesn’t look much like a prison – George’s Island.
“If the modern day visitor to Halifax wanders down to the lovely waterfront and looks to the right a little (left if you are looking from Dartmouth, then they will see the fairly small island pictured which today looks like a lighthouse station with a couple of buildings and a telecommunications mast on it. Frankly it is, in and of iteslf, fairly unimpressive but a little digging into it’s history reveals a fairly tragic past.
I have mentioned in other posts around Nova Scotia about the Acadians, French people who had come to settle there, got on famously well with the Mi’qmak (the local indigenous people) and were generally minding their own business and not annoying anyone.
However, the British and the French were then contesting rights over what is much of the North American continent and some bright spark came up with the idea of deporting all the Acadians as they called themelves, and still do very proudly in the Maritime Provinces. In French, this is called the “Le Grand Derangement” and the whole idea sounds pretty deranged to me.
Effectively, what happened was that the Acadians were rounded up and transported back to France, England or the (then) French colony of Louisiana. Indeed, it is from here that we get the word Cajun, a corruption of Acadian with all it’s associated culture, music and (for me the best part) cuisine. George’s island is where they were penned, and I use the word advisedly, until another ship appeared to take them away from their homes.
Much has been written about this, specifically the epic poem Evangeline by the poet Longfellow and it does make for pretty tragic reading albeit written, shall we say, under poetic licence.
Sources differ about how many people passed through this place but the sheer weight of human misery must be intolerable there. I am not sure if trips to the island are offered (I believe you can travel round it on a boat but I am not sure if you can land). I am British and very happy to be so but even I must admit that this was not one of our finest hours, it was frankly barbaric.
Isn’t it funny how you have to travel to find out the failings of your own society? I found much of that in Canada as in many ways we did not distinguish ourselves there but I am glad I found out the many often unpalatable facts I did not know as I like to learn new things.
Subsequent internet research confirms that you cannot land due to the fragile nature of the environment, which is a shame.
Perhaps best if the traveller pauses at the very pleasant monument on the waterfront (pictured) and gazes out on the island as undoubtedly many people have done before whilst losing their loved ones back across a notoriously dangerous sea which they had already crossed once to try to make a better life.
I certainly do not wish to sound over-emotional about this but, clichéd as it is, travel broadens the mind and like most clichés it has a basis in truth. If you happen to pass, just stop and have a little think. Time for a walk, I think.
Since I wrote the piece above some years ago now, Parks Canada have opened up the island and you can go on a self-guided tour and / or a guided tour of the tunnels under the fortifications. See the attached website for dull details.
Walk by the water.
“Halifax, and indeed most of the Maritime Provinces as the name suggests, have been effectively formed by the sea. The Atlantic Ocean, in all her many moods, has shaped this place and, in the process, taken many lives. The sea is indeed a cruel mistress.
To walk down the waterfront on a pleasant, if not overly warm July day, a couple of days after a hurricane had ripped through here, was indeed a delight. Halifax was effectively built upon this waterfront, it was the raison d’être for the city for many years and has obviously been recently refurbished to allow the visitor (and obviously the local person) a chance to enjoy the wonderful views and great history associated with this place.
The waterfront appears to be fully wheelchair acessible which is a bonus. I rather like the tagline they chose for the waterfront on a now defunct website which read, “We bring people together at the water’s edge”. That seemed about right to me as there was everyone on show from elderly people, some using walking aids, to young mothers with prams or pushchairs or whatever they call them in Canada and everyone seemed to be completely enjoying the experience. It seems like quite a thing to do in Halifax.
Having had the great pleasure of visiting there, I can vouch for the veracity of the internet statement and I do recommend you take a walk along the waterfront if you are in Halifax, it is very pleasant. Best of all, it is totally free!
I did not have far to walk until I came upon another memorial.
Yet another sad memorial.
“I have mentioned on other posts about how keen I found Canadians to honour those that had served their country in one way or another. It is impossible to pass through a small settlement and not see a war memorial or, if you stop, notice a memorial plaque in the local Church (whatever denomination) or a local library named for a fallen serviceman or whatever.
Regrettably in my country it is not so much the case any more as a generally left-wing media now equates patriotism and remembrance with xenophobia, jingoism, imperialism and who knows what other words they will dream up although it most certainly is not. Anyway, I shall refrain from further comment upon this as my blog is predominantly travel-related.
The memorial I am writing about here, and which you can see pictured, is one to all those members of the Royal Canadian Navy (and indeed the ships) who perished in the brutal Battle of the Atlantic during World War 2 where such vessels were predominantly escorting the supply convoys that were providing a vital lifeline to a UK more or less blockaded by Nazi Germany.
Apart from the often atrocious weather conditions in the completely unpredictable Atlantic, the major difficulty was from German U-boats who would torpedo and sink military combatants or merchant ships without differentiation.
This memorial, which stands on the Harbourwalk, near the Farmers Market and Garrison Brewery, was apparently erected by to PO’s and CPO’s Association. For those of you not of a military background that is Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers who are basically senior naval NCO’s and the equivalent of colour or staff Sergeants in the Army or even Sergeants-Major.
I spent a bit of time looking at this and I have to say that it really did move me. When I went round to the rear of the monument I noticed that they had also honoured the ships lost with outline images of them all carved (see image for a better idea).
There were a couple of quotes on the memorial that I found particularly touching. One was, “To remind future generations of the price of victory” and the other, “They are one with the tides of the sea, they are one with the tides of our hearts”. I found the first to be a very relevant call to a modern generation and the second to be beautiful in it’s simplicity and heartfelt sentiment.
Certainly, I would not suggest that the traveller is going to come down here just to see this but if they are exploring the waterfront, which I do recommend, then it is well worth stopping and giving a thought to those who gave everything in the cause of freedom.
You can barely walk the length of yourself along Halifax Waterfront without coming upon something else of interest and I soon came to…………..
Yet more decent statuary.
“It is pretty obvious as you wander along what is now known as Harbourwalk that a lot of money has been spent on refurbishing it. It is now a delightful and vibrant spot packed with restaurants, bars, shops and even a brewery, of all things. Obviously I never saw it when it was still a working seaport but I can imagine how it was having seen many similar all over the world.
One of the things that struck me was the amount of statuary and various memorials along the way and, because of my insatiable curiosity, I stopped to look at them all. Well, I had all day to do nothing, I was on holiday and I enjoy looking at such things as that is my idea of travelling. I just don’t make plans and go where the wind blows me.
It was not exactly a plan but I had a vague idea to head down to Pier 21 for a look. If you don’t know about it then Pier 21 was where all the immigrant ships landed for many decades (1927 – 1981) for the passengers to be processed before being admitted (or not) to the relatively young country of Canada. The statue pictured here really did encapsulate for me the experience of those many people who came here in search of a new and better life.
If you look at the image you will see the immigrant stepping off the prow of a ship in his best and probably only suit, carrying a small suitcase, striding confidently forward and clutching what are presumably his immigration papers in his other hand. Obviously this is artistic licence as I am quite sure they had gangplanks!
Moving further back there is a gap from the truncated prow of the ship which is presumably intended to indicate the separation across the granite (Atlantic) to the rear part of the statue which depicts a woman with a babe-in-arms and holding another toddler with her left hand. Both children appear to be waving goodbye and this is relevant as many men left their families and loved ones behind, only sending for them when they had established themselves.
The family group are enclosed by what appears to be a tree trunk with numerous new shoots growing out of the top of it. Perhaps I was just over-analysing the thing but the leaves looked a little odd to me in that they all had what looked like an opposible thumb coming off one side and therefore looked like many hands waving goodbye. Presumably it was intentional but I am certainly no scholar of art, or anything else for that matter.
The sculptor of this fine piece was one Armando Barbon and his choice of title for the piece is also interesting given it’s location in Canada. It is entitled the Emigrant, as opposed to the Immigrant with the sometimes negative connotations ascribed to that term in developed countries these days. I found that interesting.
Even more interesting is Signor Barbon himself and yet again I have learned so much through researching for this piece as I had never heard of the man before. Italian by birth, he had a successful plumbing business in that country before emigrating to Canada at age 27 and leaving his wife and two small children behind which may well explain the form of the sculpture.
With his family having joined him shortly after he qualified as an electrician. To help make ends meet his wife began working at a deli which eventually came up for sale and he took a massive gamble by trading his family home for it. Within a few years he had worked it up to a chain of purveyors of imported gourmet products which he eventually sold to a large American corporation.
He visited his native Italy as he wanted to have singing lessons but a throat problem precluded that and so he did no more than wander into the Academy of Art in Florence and persuade the professor there to take him on as a private student, unheard of at the time. Returning to Canada to be with his family, he is now an internationally renowned sculptor. Not only that but he must have had his throat problems dealt with as he is now a recoded tenor! What a man, his life story has to be a Hollywood script if ever I saw one.
Having found all this out only whilst writing this piece, I looked again at my image of the statue with new eyes. It moved me when I saw it for real and it now blows me away knowing the whole story.
How much of himself is in that sculpture? Is that him stepping off the ship? There are a wife and two children left behind which were his circumstances. Is the whole thing autobiographical (if that is the right word)? Whether it is or not, it is well worth the visitor stopping by to have a look at it, if not for it’s implications then at least as a wonderfully executed piece of sculpture.
The inscription on the dedication plaque (in English, French and Italian) I feel is very telling, here in the English, “The pain of separation he overcame, with faith and hope his heart aflame…..”
That says it all really, do have a look.
There are lots and lots of statues in this area and here is the next one.
Ever been on a cruise?
“This particular statue is to the memory of Sir Samuel Cunard (21 November 1787 – 28 April 1865) who was himself a Haligonian (as residents of Halifax are known) and his surname is probably still one of the best-known in the world in cruising circles. It seems appropriate that his monument stands merely a few yards from the water’s edge at the very port that provided the basis for his empire.
Cunard is a remarkable man. Son of a German Quaker father and Irish Catholic mother (itself a bit of an oddity), the young Cunard had a remarkable head for business and was running his own general store at age 17. He then joined his father, himself successful in business, and expanded that enterprise into various areas as well.
After a period as an officer in the loyalist Halifax Regiment during the war of 1812 Cunard returned to business and it was in 1840 that he made his huge breakthrough.
Having entered the area of shipping, notably starting a steam service in Halifax harbour, he went back to UK and petitioned to be allowed to start a transatlantic mail service in which endeavour he was successful.
In 1840 he made the inaugural journey with 62 other hardy souls (the Atlantic is a treacherous ocean) when they sailed from Liverpool in the UK to Halifax and thence to Boston in the USA, thus beginning what was to become an iconic shipping line boasting some of the most famous liners ever like the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth.
It appears that Sir Samuel returned to UK and died in Kensington (London) having fathered a prodigious nine children in his lifetime. He is interred in Brompton cemetery, which I know.
I do suspect he would have liked the position of his memorial as it was at these very wharves that his liners used to tie up, thereby making him a very rich man. It was originally dedicated in 2006 and then re-dedicated in 2011 when a particular Cunard liner docked in Halifax for the first time, apparently a big deal for cruise ships.
Next up I discovered something I have mentioned already in these posts when I have been talking about local produce, farmer’s markets etc. and here is what I wrote about it at the time.
“On a wander along the wonderful Harbourwalk in Halifax one midweek day I was delighted to find the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market. I had decided, even before I flew to Canada, that I was going to try to buy local produce as much as possible and we had found some wonderful things at little farmers markets in tiny villages and even people selling from the tailgates of their vehicles at the roadside (that smoked mackerel shall live long in my memory!).
Whilst I care about the environment, my position on food miles is a purely selfish one as I just think that fresh local produce tastes a whole lot better for very obvious reasons.
I wandered in with my heart beating just a little faster as I thought about all the lovely things I might buy and what a complete disappointment it was. Apart from a few obviously permanent shops along the front the place looked like an aircraft hanger that the Air Force were abandoning and just waiting for the transports to get there. It was frankly depressing. I hope the images give some idea.
Bear in mind that this is July and therefore supposedly holiday / tourist season and I found it hard to explain. I can only guess that it is busy at weekends when all the local vendors turn up but on a weekday then just forget it. I had thought that maybe I had just turned up too late and it was a very early morning thing but the attached website indicates it open until 1700 and I was there shortly after 1300 so no excuse there.
In fairness, the cheese shop was excellent but there was really nothing else. It was like exploring the Marie Celeste upstairs. Simply awful.
OK, if the food side of my diet had blown out what about the beer side? I had seen the Garrison Brewery in the distance so it was time to investigate that.
Interesting but disappointing.
I am no stranger to a drop of drink or a pub / bar as regular readers of my posts will attest and my preferred tipple is cider, Strongbow for preference and which I was glad to find readily available in Nova Scotia.
However, as I travel the world there are many places where it is not available and so I fall back on beer. I have to say that, mostly out of interest, I found some absolutely excellent brews in the Maritime Provinces of Canada and amongst the many excellent breweries operating there I had imbibed a few pints (or maybe more) of the Garrison product.
Now, I had no prior intention of visiting the brewery and merely came upon it by accident whilst exploring the delightful waterfront area of Halifax and obviously I was in the door like a shot. I was frankly somewhat surprised to see the entire brewing operation right before my eyes albeit enclosed behind floor to ceiling glass.
I had a look round and to my left and saw one young man behind a counter surrounded by all the usual plethora of branded goods. There were T-shirts, baseball caps and just about any other sort of merchandising you care to mention. I still do not understand why you are expected to pay huge sums to advertise someone’s product for them, maybe that is just me.
Anyway, I had a look to my right and saw a very small bar with a few beer taps there. I thought, “This is what I want”. A nice Garrison’s Red ale where it is actually made. Not to be. I sat there long enough with the vendor absolutely unable to miss me but ignore me he did.
Eventually (shades of Mohammed and the mountain here), I approached him and he informed me that the bar was for parties or “special occasions” or some other drivel, effectively telling me that if I wasn’t in a large group spending huge amounts then I really wasn’t welcome. He was pleasant enough about it but the message was clear.
According to the website, they require a minimum of 10 people and at least a week’s notice to arrange a tour which is not a pile of use to the individual traveller, even if I had brought Lynne then we would still have been eight short of the required amount to do anything other than subscribe to their till. I really do not understand why they do not open a brewery tap as we call it in UK i.e. a pub attached to a brewery, they would make a fortune in this very popular area.
I do rather like the product from this brewery in a region where there are many excellent ones but I have to say the corporate attitude at the brewery leaves something to be desired. Go to one of the many excellent bars in the city and have a glass or more of the brew but leave the brewery alone unless you are a group and obviously going to spend a shedload. The solo traveller is well out of place here, as was made very plain to me. Interesting for a look but forget it as a social outing.
That wasn’t great, two blowouts in a row. The day, which had started so well, was rapidly going belly-up and needed rescuing and rescuing was exactly what it got at my next stop. Here’s what I wrote.
Wonderful living history.
“The term “Pier 21” will probably not mean much to anyone outside Canada and indeed it meant absolutely nothing to me prior to visiting recently but to Canadians it is almost a symbol of nationhood and is a place of huge significance to the people of that wonderful country.
Pier 21, as the name itself suggests, is a shipping wharf on the Halifax seafront. OK, there are plenty more (I believe it goes up to 23) but Pier 21 is a very special place and one I feel very honoured to have visited. Please allow me to explain.
Pier 21 was where all the immigrant boats docked for many years between 1927 and 1981. Canada was certainly seen as a place for economic migration early on but then, with the rise of Nazism and fascism in Europe, it became even more important in allowing people to escape persecution.
It is estimated that over one million people passed through what is effectively an old wharf building during those years of it’s operation. Take into account the children and grandchildren of those one million people and that is a fair slice of the current population of the country.
The reader should remember that Canada has a very limited history (apart from that of the indigenous peoples obviously) and they basically needed people to come there. Well, Pier 21 was where they came and set foot ashore in the “New World”.
If you visit, and I do suggest you do, have a look to see the special events that go on daily. The very friendly young lady on the ticket desk recommended that I started by going to the cinema as there was another showing of a film starting in a few minutes. I was up for that and watched an excellently produced video presentation about the history of the Pier.
I went for a wander round and looked at some very interesting things but I had seen that there was a talk being given by an actual “veteran” of Pier 21 at whatever hour it was and so I had determined myself to see that.
I turned up at the appointed time and this is where the magic starts. There was an elderly gentleman who, as soon as he started to speak, I knew to be from the Low Countries (Netherlands / Belgium). He told us how he had arrived at Pier 21 in, I believe the 40’s as he was very young at the time, and explained exactly what had happened to him there.
In what is now a very modern Museum he was pointing out where the medical officer sat, where the luggage pen was, where they ate etc. I love history and this was as good as it gets as this old guy had actually lived it. He then went on to tell us about his subsequent life in Canada (he was originally from Holland incidentally) and it was just fantastic.
He finished his talk by producing from his pocket his original passport and passing it round. I suppose part of me says that it should be in a glass case in a Museum under climatically controlled conditions but it was almost surreal actually holding it.
Looking at this elderly and obviously active guy and looking in my hand at his immigrant passport from when he was a small boy really threw the whole thing into very sharp focus. I just felt very small and very privileged to have met such a man.
Whilst the Pier 21 Museum is well worth seeing, try and get there when there is an actual immigrant member of staff (one of several I believe and all pretty old now), it is something you will not forget in a long time I assure you.
I didn’t actually get pictures of the old guy as I don’t like using flash in people’s faces. Incidentally, the image of the railway carriage is one of the special trains laid on by the Canadian government to take immigrants to the far corners of this huge country.
My day was certainly back on track and it wasn’t about to slip at my next stop-off which you will undoubtedly be pleased to hear is my last.
A very friendly little place.
I have mentioned in numerous tips elsewhere on this page that Halifax is certainly not lacking in very decent places to go and have a drink and / or a bite to eat.
The problem arises in which one to choose and, frankly, with the exception of the appalling place down on the waterfront (see a previous post for details) which was nothing short of a disgrace in terms of service, or more properly complete lack of it, I would be happy to recommend any of the other fine establishments I visited.
I was slightly surprised to find that so many of the pubs / bars in NS were Irish themed as the predominant British influence in this part of Canada was more Scottish than Irish although there were certainly many of the latter amongst the original settlers. The very name Nova Scotia translates as New Scotland and tartan, Scottish traditional dancing and music and culture generally are still very strong here. I even bought myself a kilt in Halifax!
After my day on the waterfront I stumbled completely accidentally upon the Loose Cannon. It had been a long, hard day sightseeing and I really fancied a pint and so in I strolled. Actually, I was somewhat attracted by the name, having been thus described by more than one officer in my Service days many years ago!
It was mid-afternoon on a midweek day, and as the images probably suggest, the place was not really busy at all. Straight to the bar and ordered my pint from a decent selection and was immediately engaged in friendly conversation by the barman who had heard my fairly pronounced and obviously not local accent.
Taking my seat to enjoy my pint, I was almost immediately engaged in conversation by the three gentlemen you can see in the image. The usual, “Where had I been in Canada?. How long had I been in Canada, was it my first visit, was I enjoying my holiday” and so on quickly followed. All terribly sociable which made me feel very comfortable and I really do think this is what a good bar should be about. I had wandered in here as a complete stranger and felt like a local in about five minutes flat, great stuff.
Maritime Province people seem to be very keen to promote their region which is heartening but there really is no reason to, the place is so inherently wonderful it promotes itself. The hospitality is very much appreciated by us visitors though.
I had been deputed to cook for the slightly “off-colour” Lynne and so I had to curtail what would have undoubtedly have been a bit of an evening in this excellent pub but that was the deal.
Lynne drove and performed mechanic functions and I did the cooking and occasional navigating on the odd occasions we wanted to go somewhere specific and not just roam. Odd to some people perhaps but it works for us. We were staying a little out of town and so I had to bid a fond farewell with the notion I would return again, a wish that sadly never materialised due to us moving on.
I had not even checked the menu here for reasons as stated but a look online whilst researching this piece shows a very decent selection of food including one of the loves of my life namely haggis! I know it is not to everyone’s taste but I adore it.
This place is clean and tidy and is so incredibly friendly and I have no hesitation in recommending it.”
I got back to the campground to thankfully find Lynne in much better form so it was time for dinner and then a quiet night in.
That then was my solo day in Halifax and I reckon that after three days I had covered most of it. We had a bit of a chat and decided to move on the next day, as I hinted above. In the next post we eventually arrive, via numerous stops obviously, at what I think was the absolute highlight of the entire trip, which really is saying something as as you can imagine if you have been reading how good it has been so far.
If you want to find out how we get there and what we see on the way then stay tuned and spread the word.