Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Halifax to Remember

Aerial view of Halifax.
When we reached Halifax, it was time for the Good Girls to divide and conquer, Debi to experience attractions new to her, me to play tourist.

Arriving in a city for the first time, my priority is to get a feel for where I am and the best way to do that in a short time is to hop on a hop on-off tour bus. There are several here, but our Halifax host and expert, Glenn Bowie, pointed me to the Big Pink bus.

Big Pink bus.
Glad he did because I experienced a thorough tour with excellent commentary.  Fun, too, because while waiting I ran into a family of University of Florida Gator fans from my hometown and a Big Pink employee whose family lives there. Another small world moment.

Thanks to the tour I saw and learned about ...

Halifax's founding. The native M'kmaq (Mik-maks) called the area shubakta, big harbor.The French came but didn't stay. Some 1,500 settlers arrived in 1749 with Edward Cornwallis and stayed.

Retrieving bodies at sea.

Hearses picking up bodies at the port.

Halifax and the Titanic. When HMS Titanic sank April 15, 1912, survivors of the disaster were taken to New York. Bodies of those who didn't were searched for in icy waters off the Grand Banks and brought to Halifax. Four Canadian ships, each filled with ice, coffins and carrying a minister and undertaker, had the grisly task of searching and retrieving them. The first ship to return arrived with 190 bodies after burying the remains of 116 souls at sea. The other ships arrived in Halifax with another 209 bodies.

Horse-drawn hearses brought bodies of first class passengers to funeral homes, second and third class passengers to the Mayflower Curling Rink. which had been turned into a temporary morgue. Only 59 bodies were shipped out by train to their families.

In the fall of 1912, residents of Halifax donated flowers, wreaths and services. The White Star Lines set up a fund for cemetery plots and their maintenance for the remaining 466. Most can be found at Fairview Lawn Cemetery.

Post explosion photo.
The Great Halifax Explosion. The city's other great disaster occurred the morning of Dec. 6, 1917, when two ships collided in the harbor. World War I had filled the harbor with ships. No damage was done when a Norwegian vessel and a French munitions carrier hit one another, but as the two vessels separated, a spark set off a fire on the French ship. It was packed with highly explosive munitions, 2,300 tons of picric acid; 200 tons of TNT; 35 tons of high-octane gasoline and 10 tons of gun cotton. Fire fighters were just beginning to deal with the fire the drifting ship set off on a pier when the largest, most powerful man-made explosion before the Atomic bomb occurred in a blinding white flash. Literally.

Of the 9,000 residents seriously injured, 200 were blinded; 1,800 people were killed. More than 1,600 homes were destroyed, 1,200 were damaged, and the entire north end of the city evaporated, crumbled into rubble or went up in flames.

Before the day ended, the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts had dispatched two trainloads of medical supplies and personnel. Some of the doctors and nurses stayed for six months. So grateful were the citizens of Halifax that every year since they find and cut down the most beautiful tree to be found in the surrounding forests and send it to Boston where it is set up near the Prudential Center and lit as close to the fateful date as possible.

Halifax Public Gardens is a classic Victorian-style garden with perimeter open fencing, a pond with geese, serpentine flower gardens and a bandstand.

The Citadel.
The Citadel, a National Historic Site, is built on a natural glacial drumlin of solid rock first fortified in 1749. The star-shaped fort atop it is an imposing presence as well as a point of recreation for residents.

Old Town Clock.
At its base is the Old Town Clock, a parting gift from Commander-in-Chief of the Military Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who was a stickler for punctuality. He was also superstitious and believed the Devil couldn't catch you in a round room which explains why so many structures in Halifax have round rooms.

The harbor. The spoon-shaped, deep water harbor, the only one in Canada that doesn't freeze over, is home to the country's largest Navy base. The Halifax shipyards can move 2,200 containers in a 24-hour period and major exports are blueberries, grain, wood and Christmas trees.

Millionaires Row. Young Avenue is where you will see estate-style homes.

Point Pleasant Park, a real bargain.
Point Pleasant Park is a 187-acre wooded haven of trails, paths and facilities the city rents from the British government for one shilling - about 10 cents - a year.

MacDonald Bridge, no longer cursed.
Best bridge story ever. The M'Maqs didn't want to share their harbor so when the British built a bridge, their chief put a curse on it. The night after it was finished the bridge collapsed for no apparent reason. It was rebuilt and demolished by a storm. In the mid 1900s, when MacDonald Bridge was proposed, city fathers met with the chief and asked him to remove the curse. A pivotal part of the opening ceremonies was when the chief in full regalia and riding a grand white steed approached the structure and formally lifted the curse. Bridge is still standing.

On the Halifax wharf.
The bus loops from the wharf, a bustle of activity with its cruise ship port; tour, fishing and ferry boats; shops and boutiques; farmer's market; galleries; casino; restaurants and museums (more about those later).

Thomas the Tugboat.
Residents of Halifax are referred to as Haligonians and the ones I met seemed to love life there. It's terribly cliche, but both Debi and I kept remarking how nice Canadians were.

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