Saturday, July 21, 2012

Halifax, Nova Scotia

 Back in North America and it feels very comfortable – had a wonderful set of experiences; but as you get close to the end, its hard not to start feeling restless.

Beautiful Atlantic port, Halifax has all the attractive features – moderate climate because of the ocean, hilly landscape, lovely and green, beautiful islands. long history.

On the day the city provided us magnificent weather. Clear skies and hot, albeit humid.

Colonel Edward Cornwallis (another Cornwallis?. ?The same one we keep tripping over in all the colonies?) led 2500 British settlers to establish a military outpost at Halifax in 1749.

A citadel was constructed on a hill overlooking the bay – design is star shaped just like the castle in Cape Town. They shoot off a cannon at noon – again like the noon gun in Cape Town.
Factoid – James Arnold (son of Benedict) planned and, from 1816-1823, directed its construction.

Ethnic cleansing has a history here – the expulsion of the Acadians (French Settlers) by the British.
One good thing; those that went to Louisiana (the ‘Cajuns’ from ‘Acadians’) built on their language, tradition and heritage and today we have silly TV shows and ZYDECO :-)

Given its location on the North Atlantic, and the geography of the bay, Halifax has played major maritime role and is best known as the major port in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

Three aspects of this are celebrated within a short distance of the ships gangplank along the spectacular waterfront.

First, Canada’s Immigration Museum at Pier 21 – the ‘Ellis Island’ of Canada – commemorates over a million new arrivals to Canada between 1928 and 1971.

Second,The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. We spent a fair amount of time here learning about the maritime history of the area - wonderful exhibits covering the days of sail and the age of steam as well as the ubiquitous small craft.

Special areas are devoted to the role of the Canadian Navy and merchant Marine in both World Wars. Halifax was a starting point for many cross-Atlantic convoys and had a close connection to the Battles of the Atlantic – minings, U-boats, surface battles and suffered many losses they memorialize.

The tragedy to most directly impact Halifax took place in 1917 when an ammunition ship and a cargo ship collided deep in the harbor. Sparks flew setting the ammunition ship afire and shortly afterwards it exploded. An entire area of Halifax was flattened and there was huge loss of life – amongst residents, spectators attracted by the fire and emergency services.
The museum exhibit is made especially poignant by the personal stories and mementos on display

Another area of the museum documents the importance of the transatlantic cables repeatedly laid deep under the for telecommunication between North America and Europe. These cables required maintenance and regular upgrading so there was an entire infrastructure to service this need.

It was the cable ships and crews that led to its connection with the Titanic catastrophe that represents a large part of the museums floorspace.

After Titanic struck the iceberg on April 14th, 1912, radio SOS signals were famously sent out with variable results. The radio station at Cape Race near here was one of the stations that received the signal and relayed the news to New York. These signals were transcribed and are on display here.

Early morning on April 15th Titanic sank. As the survivors were rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia it became clear that there were many who had died and the cable ships and crews from Halifax were quickly called in to retrieve what they could.

The first on the scene, the Mackay-Bennett, picked up 306 bodies.

Ironies then abound. They had limited logistics for handling this number so 116 were buried at sea. The next ship – the Minia – only found 17 more and buried two at sea. Those buried at sea; like those who failed to survive were predominantly Third Class passengers.

In all 209 bodies came back to Halifax – First Class passengers in coffins, Second and Third-Class in canvas bags!!!

The same distinction held true for those 59 bodies sent home – White Star Lines paid for First Class only.

The remaining 150 bodies recovered are buried in Halifax cemeteries. Mount Olivet (19), Fairview Lawn (121) and Baron de Hirsch Hebrew (10) Cemeteries. Many stones (provided by White Star Lines) are identified only as passenger or crew, male or female and a number.

I wonder how they decided who to bury in the Hebrew Cemetery? Hmmmmmm

At Fairview Cemetery a particularly popular grave that gets lots of visitors is that of J. Dawson the person on whom the Leonardo DiCaprio character in the movie is based

Among the debris was a lone wooden deckchair that is on display here and fragments of various wooden decorations.

No floating clothing was brought back but there is a pair of small brown shoes from ‘Body No. 4” a boy of approximately 2 years old – the only baby recovered.

DNA technology has been used to identify remains including that of ‘ unknown child’ who has been determined to be Sidney Leslie Goodwin.

The third element we enjoyed was the ocean lifestyle – yachts, motorboats, fishing, seafood restaurants and a very relaxed boardwalk with people just having fun.

The fish that they caught probably had less fun

Downtown lunch experience - Bud the Spud

Some take their sailing to the extreme - 'Tall Ships' are a big deal here. I wouldn't fancy the running up and down the rigging thing - though I'm up to book 15 of the Patrick O'Brian Naval saga

Also the motor boat decor - faux tropical island - what is that?

Among famous ‘Haligonians’ is Samuel Cunard - founder of the Cunard Shipping Line whose family made lots of money in the West Indies trade. He was born here in 1787 but founded the shipping line back in the UK

I feel its my duty to remind y’all that Cunard (QE, QM etc) consolidated with White Star Lines after the Titanic disaster and (pay heed here) still offers First Class vs Second Class passage.

Remember insurance to cover the costs, Cunarders all, especially Ye of Little Faith. 

Of course there is always someone who can sense an opportunity where others see disaster

Anyone out there have a pristine boxed set?

as we bid adieu to Halifax and went on to New York - the plaintive notes of the bagpipes - 'sail bonnie boat like a bird on the wing.......'

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