Forgive me, I couldn’t resist using this title for what may be (almost) the last post from Halifax, Nova Scotia. If you don’t know of this TV drama, my creativity and ingenuity has been sorely wasted.
Despite the darkening skies, drop in temperature and general deterioration in weather, we are still loving all this small corner of Canada has to offer. In fact, we would love to return and explore further north. Up to Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island but that may need to be an adventure in better weather.
If you are a regular reader you will know that we alternative between us the writing of each post. So you will also know that in mine I can’t resist relaying a bit of the local history. Well from my perspective, we hit the jackpot in Halifax and what is know as the Maritimes. To shelter from some of the most vicious rain storms we have ever seen, we visited two really great museums which is where I got most of this content from. I will try to just give you an overview and not make it too dry but if history is not your bag there are two options. Get a bag now or just look at the photos.
This is basically a crescent shaped sandbank that is about 300km south east of Halifax. It only has 5 permanent residents but over 400 wild horses (descended from horses confiscated from french settlers).
The island is slowly moving as waves erode the western shore and new sand is deposited on the eastern shore. Being only 1.5km wide this makes a precarious habitat in this fog and hurricane prone area. Over the years over 80,000 trees have been planted on the island to try and stabilise the land but one (a Scots pine) has grown. Over the years over 350 vessels have been lost around the island and the wrecks swallowed up the sands.
For many who perished on the Titanic, Halifax (700 nautical miles from the sinking) is where their journey ended. Halifax probably had the saddest part to play in the aftermath of the disaster. Although the port of St John’s in Newfoundland was nearer, it was harder to reach by land and gloomily was predicted to not have enough undertakers. As 700 survivors were disembarking in New York from the RMS Carpathia, the first of four Canadian vessels were sent in relays from Halifax to retrieve bodies. They carried coffins, canvas body bags, an embalmer, a priest and, somewhat perversely, large quantities of ice. The ships were usually for laying and repairing the cable under the Atlantic used to send and receive messages – the Victorian forerunner of the world wide web maybe? The first ship to be dispatched, the CS Mackay-Bennett, recovered over 300 bodies, some of which had to be buried at sea due to lack of supplies.
Despite meticulous cataloging of possessions and clothing, only 59 of these bodies were ever claimed, the remainder are buried in one of three cemeteries in Halifax. The crews also recovered a variety of items from the sea. A complete deckchair and pieces of woodwork from the ornate Titanic interior. All of these can be seen in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The most haunting item was a pair of child’s leather shoes.
Five years after the trauma of the Titanic, a far worse disaster befell the city. A French munitions ship (SS Mont Blanc) packed with high explosives collided with an empty Norwegian cargo vessel (SS Imo) in the harbour. The sparks from the collision started a fire as the Mont Blanc drifted towards the west shore. 20 minutes later the Mont Blanc exploded. The force of the blast was so great that debris was found over 5 kms away, the shock wave travelled at 23 times the speed of sound and it created a tsunami that wiped out a community of first nations people.
Over 2000 people were killed, 9000 injured and 1600 homes destroyed. Many onlookers had not realised that the cargo was explosives and were actually trying to get a good view of the burning ship.
To sum it up, the blast is recognised as the largest man made explosion prior to the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Another day, another museum. We had seen this Museum in the original building and thought it would be interesting. It is located at Pier 21 and was the main arrival point for over a million immigrants to Canada between 1928 and 1971.
After the mass of information, artifacts and visitor friendly layout of the Maritime Museum this felt a bit of a let down. Overall we felt it was a wasted opportunity to not present the building as it would have been “in the day” and perhaps send you on a journey of an immigrant arriving and being processed through interview rooms, medical rooms, baggage collection, etc. But then again, perhaps we have become freelance museum critics after seeing how things are presented in others.
As the rain seemed to be holding off, we decided to push our luck and stay on in the city to wait for the Candlelight Parade – the start of the Christmas holiday season here. So after a very welcome bowl of Tim Horton’s best soup, we headed to the parade route to get our pitch for the 6pm start. Before the parade started, the Red Nose charity fun runners went by at a variety of speeds. Some dressed up, some not. We were most impressed by the runner dressed as an elf juggling three illuminated batons all the way. He wasn’t elf-conscious at all!
As 6pm approached we felt a few spots of rain, shortly followed by first few members of the parade which were the mounted police and the Mooseheads which is the local major junior ice hockey team. It was at this point that the spots of rain became a complete monsoon. Where was my Niagara Falls poncho when I needed it?
We watched the floats for about another 20 minutes before heading off through the streets that were now rivers to the ferry terminal. It was such a shame for the organisers and, particularly, all the children who were so excited in anticipation of seeing Mr HoHoHo himself. Quite a lot of people, who perhaps were better prepared for the weather, stayed on the parade route but there were also a lot like us who squeezed onto the little ferry to head home. Everything may have been damp but no-one’s spirits seemed that way and everyone had a smile on their face.
For a comparatively small city, there is so much to see and do here. We fear our list of places to explore may still have things unticked by the time we leave. As there is still more to see, I should have called this our Penultimate Tango in Halifax but I will have to leave it to Jon to think of a stunningly creative title for the next post. I know he will meet this challenge but be warned it will be a very emotionally charged post as the end of our eight months of JWalking2 gets scarily close.
17.11 – 20.11.2016