People of Halifax are called Haligonians. We wanted to ask if any of them were cloned, and if so, were they called Halifacsimiles. They were all so nice, and several were wearing full dress of the 86th Highland Regiment, that we didn’t dare.
Halifax is on a not-quite island – there’s a very short neck joining it to mainland Canada – so it’s a good thing it has multiple islands in its lovely harbour. I’ll tell you about Georges Island in a minute.
The docks and waterfront are fabulous. There’s been serious investment in mixed development and it felt loved and lively. There’s an arts university, museums, condos, some office space, parks and memorials and cafes etc. We walked along the waterfront and up in to down town in search of coffee. That happy travellers’ luck kicked in and we found the best espresso in Halifax (Canada being a land that drinks filtered coffee). A coffee roasting coop that had just opened this second store. We spent a little more time there than we intended.
But the Maritime Museum called, and it is fab. I am now expert on the Canadian Navy, small fishing vessels of the north Atlantic, the hydrography of Canada (which has the most coastline of any nation) and we met the ship’s cat of The Acadia, who is in disgrace, having been caught bringing a rat on board.
The front two storeys of the museum are based on an incredible chandlery that operated on the site (in a lovely red brick building) from 1890-1980. The museum bought it lock, stock and fishy barrels and it is the centrepiece of the complex. It’s been cleaned up a little, but all the stock is there, the office, the sailmakers room, and the whole place smells incredible – linseed oil, wax, and something mysterious sort of like kero. The rope and fenders are beautiful – I’m sure there was jute from Riga there, though I might just be over-romanticising my maritime adventure.
The most moving part of the museum was the exhibition about the Titanic. Halifax ships were involved in the retrieval of the dead, and the Marconi Radio Office documented the calls of all the ships from the first distress call. Seeing that document, written by hand in pencil, made the whole tragedy very vivid to me. I don’t think I had known than two thirds of all aboard died. Many of the unknown are buried in Halifax – “the wharves were lined with coffins” and 40 embalmers and undertakers from all over eastern Canada came to help. The story of Canada’s response to the tragedy is told more thoroughly on this marvellous website.
The port of Halifax was a crucially important one for the British: they kept worrying about the French supporting the Americans and them moving north. There’s a wonderful star-shaped citadel on the hill in central Halifax, still firing its cannon at noon, and in summer, staffed by those kilt wearing Highlanders. But I was more intrigued by Georges Island.
It’s a tear-drop shaped islet with picturesque lighthouse and outbuildings and if it had a few white sheep on its emerald grasslands, you’d swear it was a movie set. But lurking beneath that lawned facade is a Georgian killing machine.
It has long range cannon carefully disguised, and a complex system of tunnels and storage underground. The story is that it was built by prisoners and pressed sailors who were blind folded when taken to their work site, so no one knew the whole picture and the enemy could not find out. This is said of many forts and citadels, so it might be true of one or many.
Time for some pix
And a song. I wanted to post Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, whose CD was playing in that fab cafe. They are a much loved local outfit. But am having connection issues. So here is the wonderful Cold Water by Damien Rice. Damien Rice