Halifax is Nova Scotia's capital and the largest city in Atlantic Canada. The nearest large cities are Québec and Boston, each about 400 miles away. Halifax has a natural deep-water harbor that is one of the finest in North America, which has always been part of the city's economic and military base.
We were in town for Canada Day, which promised a long weekend and big celebrations.
If a single edifice could be chosen as Halifax's icon, it would probably be the Old Town Clock. In 1800, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was commander-in-chief of military forces in British North America. He was concerned about his men's punctuality, and commissioned this clock. It has been keeping Halifax on time since it entered service in 1803. The clock is still powered by the original clockworks, a slow movement designed around three weights on drums. It's at the Citadel, but can also be seen from the waterfront at the foot of George Street.
In Canada, the Halifax Public Gardens are considered second in elegance and beauty only to Butchart Gardens in Victoria. This 16-acre jewel is always a good spot to spend a spare hour or two. When we visited here before, we marvelled at the ancient trees, some of them planted by Halifax's earliest settlers. There is plenty of man-made sculpture in the Gardens, but the older trees reminded us who is the Master Sculptor. There are over 100 species of trees here; also ornate fountains, a bandstand, and many sculptures. The Gardens have been fortunate to keep their Victorian character since they opened officially in 1867 – the same year as Canada's Confederation.
Two months after our last visit, Hurricane Juan took a very unusual track, first making landfall near Halifax. The destruction was enormous. In the Gardens alone, more than 80 mature trees were lost; the wrought-iron gate and perimeter fence were damaged; lawns and paths were torn up; and Griffin's Pond got its shoreline rearranged. Two weeks after the storm, there was a weekend fundraiser that brought in over a million dollars to help restore the Gardens. There was more work to be done than met the eye. Juan had exposed a lot of damage below the surface. The city started a restoration project that included obvious damage repair, improvements in areas that had suffered many years of deferred maintenance, and restoring some Victorian-era character that had been lost over time. (This photo is from a report published by the Halifax Parks & Recreation Department.)
Restoration of the main gate and surrounding area gives a strong first impression. The gate had been obscured by a stone wall. The bust in front of that wall was relocated to another place in the Gardens.
Besides the floral displays one would expect, there's a tropical display bed to show off plants that are not normally seen in this part of the world. Because they can't survive the Nova Scotia winter, these plants spend the winter in greenhouses.
Statues and fountains were brought back to look like new. This included removing some earlier inappropriate or ineffective repair. There was research to be sure all statues ended up with "historically correct" colors. In the background, the bandstand is at the center of the Gardens, both in spirit and literally. It's surrounded by 32 "floating" flower beds, which are kept in continuous color by planting and re-planting with annuals.
A carpet bed is a traditional Victorian feature. The name describes it fairly well – this could certainly be described as a high-maintenance item. The first carpet bed represents the Maritime Ship Modellers' Guild. It features Santolina Sage, Alternanthera, and Hens-n-Chicks.
The other carpet bed was still under construction while we were in Halifax. It will obviously honor Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. Two weeks after we got home, the Public Gardens showed a photo of the finished work in their blog.
Griffin's Pond is named for a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and
put to death near this site. Part of a natural watercourse, it was a
source of power for mills in 19th-century Halifax. The Titanic model
was donated in 1994 by the Maritime Ship Modellers' Guild, following a tradition
of displaying ship's models in Victorian gardens. Griffin's Pond has also
been home to several small model sailboats and a replica of the Queen
As at Annapolis Royal, every garden needs a sundial. The inscription on the base informs us that if we want Atlantic Daylight Time, we need to add an hour and 14 minutes to Mean Sun Time.
Not far away, Jessie gets pensive on a souvenir from Hurricane Juan.
The plaque informs us that this rather plain-looking bed was planted by the WCTU to honor the hundredth anniversary of Frances Willard's birth. Miss Willard was instrumental in passing the 18th and 19th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. One gave and the other took away. The 19th Amendment permitted women to vote in the U.S., and the 18th forbade the use of alcoholic beverage. Miss Willard was a charter member of the WCTU, serving as the organization's second president for the last twenty years of her life.
Behind the Willard Centenary Bed, there is a house made of rhododendron. The blooms are gone now, but this place was a purple riot just a couple of weeks before we got there.
Canada Day is the country's birthday, the anniversary of Confederation. Although the proclamation that established the Dominion of Canada was issued in March 1867, it decreed that consolidation would take effect on the first of July. Many aspects of the new nation followed the U.S.A.'s example, but Canada was careful to establish the Queen (Victoria, at the time) as the sovereign and chief of the nation. John Macdonald is considered to be the author of Confederation; he became Governor General of Canada on the very first Canada Day in 1867. Speaking about the monarchy, he said
By adhering to the monarchical principle we avoid one defect inherent in the Constitution of the United States. By the election of the president by a majority and for a short period, he never is the sovereign and chief of the nation. He is never looked up to by the whole people as the head and front of the nation. He is at best but the successful leader of a party. This defect is all the greater on account of the practice of reelection. During his first term of office he is employed in taking steps to secure his own reelection, and for his party a continuance of power. We avoid this by adhering to the monarchical principle – the sovereign whom you respect and love. I believe that it is of the utmost importance to have that principle recognized so that we shall have a sovereign who is placed above the region of party – to whom all parties look up; who is not elevated by the action of one party nor depressed by the action of another; who is the common head and sovereign of all.
Macdonald spoke those words in 1865, but they would sound quite familiar today. We're not here for a civics lesson. Let's go to the parade!
Halifax's Canada Day parade is produced by the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. This group puts on a major festival every year for the first week of July; the parade is their keynote event. Some of the acts we saw are here:
Stadacona Band of Maritime Forces Atlantic. This is one of six full-time military bands in Canada.
Queen's Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force,
from Great Britain.
D'Holmikers, from Switzerland
After the parade, we walked a couple of blocks and up Citadel Hill to Fort George. Halifax's Citadel is built into a large drumlin. This hill impressed Edward Cornwallis as a good defensive position, and he exploited it well when he founded Halifax in 1749. (Many places in Nova Scotia bear Cornwallis's name. Don't confuse him with his nephew, Charles, who left North America after an unfortunate military engagement in 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia.) Four different defensive structures have occupied this spot; the current fort was completed in 1856 after 28 years of construction. Surrounded by a 30-foot moat, Fort George has never been attacked – what fool would try?
Canada even had a birthday cake. Someone had told us there would be an enormous cake, big enough for everyone in the crowd to have a taste. It looks more like there's just about enough to take care of everybody on the speaker's platform.
Since 1856, the Royal Artillery (or these re-enactors) have fired the Fort George gun every day of the year except Christmas, precisely on the stroke of noon. The sergeant counts down while he checks his pocket watch. It should be easy to keep that watch accurate, as the sergeant can see the Old Town Clock just over the rampart from his position. But this is 2012, so he also uses his cell phone a few minutes before the drill begins, to call the Royal Observatory in Ottawa.
The guards kept us informed and entertained before the firing of the gun. In the center photo, the guard is calling to someone a couple hundred feet away, advising him to get down from an unsafe place. The other person heard him, but ignored him. He also called to people several hundred feet away on the other side of the courtyard. It was obvious from their actions that those people heard him clearly.
The Citadel has a commanding view of Halifax Harbor, including two notable islands in its entrance. George's Island is the small island to the left of that tall building. This place was used to imprison 151 Acadians who were deported from Nova Scotia during the Seven Years War (known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War). McNabs Island is seen to the right of that building. Its location has made it important for military defense, but today its use is primarily recreational. During World War II, chains were anchored from here across the harbor entrance, to keep German submarines out.
Life in Halifax is centered on the harbor. It's the main reason the city was built here, and it's the center of its urban life. There's a boardwalk along most of the harbor. People who can't fit into that little ketch (that's most of them) just come down for a stroll or to shop.
There's lots of entertainment on the boardwalk. Some of it is ordinary, and some is exotic. Despite the artist's flag, the didgeridoo is not Canadian. Its origins are at least a thousand years old, with Australia's Aboriginal people. The two-stringed erhu probably dates back just as far, but it's from China.
Mar II was built for Ernest K. Gann in 1959. Gann sold her to Charles Tobias of Pusser's Rum Company, who sailed her around the world twice. Tobias sold her to the Muphys of Halifax, who will let you come aboard for a small fee.
Halifax is proud of its public art. Without really trying, we stumbled on three pieces that are part of the program. We knew about a fourth, The Wave, by Donna Hiebert; but that one was behind a fence for renovation.
Oscar Nemon was a Jewish sculptor born in Croatia. He was living and working in Vienna when Hitler seized Czechoslovakia in 1938. Abandoning his studio and several years' work, he made his way to England, where he spent the rest of his life.
Sir Winston is one of a series of a dozen public statues Nemon made in the Prime Minister's likeness. We saw him strolling by the Public Library.
Andy Francis Cutti
This couple shares an embrace in front of the YMCA, across the street from the Public Gardens. Mr. Cutti sculpted this from a granite staircase that had been removed from a renovated building nearby.
There's another statue with the same name, by Auguste Rodin. But you'll have to go to Paris to see that one.
The artist is not identified, but the statue was commissioned by the Atlantic Chief and Petty Officers' Association. The plaque on its base reads,
The sailor statue representing those valiant young Canadians who served in both war and peace is symbolic of the thousands of sailors who were instrumental in the victory at sea and a fitting acknowledgement to those who continue to maintain the peace.
We saw these guys on our first evening in Halifax. They were on a pub crawl (pub names to be checked off are on the backs of their shirts). I didn't get a picture of our first encounter, but we crossed their path twice more before the night was done. The occasion was a bachelor party for the fellow who's carrying the ball and chain. I hope he wasn't getting married in the morning, because he was in worse shape than poor Alfie Doolittle.
The recipe for poutine is French fries and cheese curds, smothered with brown gravy. Sounds disgusting, but this dish is immensely popular in Canada – especially in Québec, where it originated. Smoke's Poutinerie ("clogging arteries since 2008") is a chain started by Ryan Smolkin, whose face is on every storefront. It appears that somebody has decided he also belongs on the signs pointing to tourist information centers.
Even the bike racks are appealing. These dolphins are near the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. In the background, we see one of the Harbor Ducks getting ready to take the plunge.
Halifax has at least three FBOs for GA traffic, two of which sell 100LL. We used Gateway, and were happy with the experience. They gave us the royal treatment, much as a corporate visitor would expect at Signature in the States. $40 / day for parking, first day waived because we bought fuel at $2.10 / liter. They got us a good deal on a rental car, which was delivered to the FBO for us. We drove right up to the plane for loading and unloading. They would have got us another good deal on a hotel, except we had already covered that point ourselves.
on to Peggy's Cove