Thursday, August 25, 2011

Touring the "Town that Died"

I've been pretty good about exploring the South Shore of Nova Scotia rather than just enjoying Chester summer camp as many CFAs ("Come From Aways") do when they come for their summer vacation.  I have been remiss, however, about learning about Halifax (which people refer to as the "City," which always cracks me up since the "City" is New York, isn't it???)   In one of those small world coincidences, the brother of one of the tutors from our adult literacy program in Florida owns an Ambassatours tour company in Halifax, and she arranged for me to go with some friends on a three hour tour of the City last week. (I can hear you humming the theme song to "Gilligan's Island" now!)   I thought I'd share some of the highlights: 
  • Halifax was settled by Cornwallis and a bunch of city folks from London in 1749.  The City's name was changed then from Chebooktook (the Mi'kmaq Indian word for "big harbour" which had been used for the past 10,000 years) to Halifax after the Earl of Halifax. 
  • Four hilltop forts were established in Halifax so that the British could protect the City. The fort on Citadel Hill has been preserved in its 1869 iteration, complete with a guard at the entrance and soldiers marching in the courtyard. The fort includes a bunk room, kitchen, dining room and a school. Soldiers were encouraged to attend school in their non-working hours and all children of soldiers living at the Citadel were given free education, which was a big deal at the time. The teacher used a projection device known as the "Green Lantern" to give slide presentations that were used both in school and for entertainment.   There is also a tailor shop where tourists like us can try on uniforms, which of course I insisted we do.  (To my eye, the hats make us look like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz!)
  • Sam Cunard ran his start-up cruise line business from Halifax.  What he should be best known for, though, is his invention of the universal navigation system of using green lights for starboard (right) and red lights for port (left).  
  • Halifax was only 700 nautical miles away from where the Titanic went down and consequently served as one of the major recovery centers.   Haligonian searchers recovered 328 bodies from the disaster. 
  • In December of 1917 SS Mont-Blanc,  a steamship chartered by the French government to transport munitions to Europe, collided with the freighter Imo and caused the largest man made explosion in the history of the world until Hiroshima.    The impact of the explosion was quite gruesome, with people within 100 yards of the explosion being totally vaporized.  The aftermath of the explosion included a tsunami that was over 50 feet high and fires that raged throughout the City for over a week.   Over time, the City was rebuilt, but it thereafter became known as "the town that died."
  • On a happier note, Halifax is a popular location for shooting movies and TV shows.  Not surprisingly, some scenes from Titanic were filmed there.  When we went on our tour, Pearce Brosnan was in town filming a mini-series of Stephen King's Bag of Bones.  This was not news to me, since I had run into Pearce at the pro shop at Chester Golf Club earlier in the week!  (Not to burst any bubbles, but he looked very old and wan, wasn't friendly and his group was so slow on the course that people played through.) 
The guide for our tour was quite the raconteur and, as we found out at as we headed back to our starting point, a singer as well.  He ended the tour by serenading us with Farewell to Nova Scotia, a popular folk song that is believed to have been written around the time of the first World War.   The chorus goes:

                                      Farewell to Nova Scotia, the sea-bound coast
                                      Let your mountains dark and dreary be.
                                      For when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed,
                                      Will you ever heave a sigh or wish for me?

As my time in Chester has drawn to a close, I too say my farewells to Nova Scotia and my wonderful friends there (although I will definitely not sing--that would be entirely too painful!)   It is truly a special spot, and I am already plotting next year's adventures.  For now, though, it's back to sunny (okay, hot and incredibly humid) Florida and what passes for my "real life."   Already on the calendar for September are the first Peace River Film Festival and a kayak outing to Sanibel Island so there will be plenty of fun mixed in with my adult literacy work (which is fun in a different way).   Watch this space for updates! 

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