Saturday, 6 July 2013

Canadian History Revisited

Entrance to the Citadel
We arrived in Halifax on Day 3 of the cruise. It seemed chilly at 16.5 degrees and overcast, but we were lucky and the sun came out and it warmed up. We thought the best way to cover the most ground was to join one of the Gray Line Big Pink Sightseeing double decker buses that cover three different routes.

Detail of the cannon
Each are equipped with knowledgeable guides who give a lot of historical information as well as fun anecdotes. For example, at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, the cannon is fired at noon everyday and has done so for over 200 years.

When then US President Bill Clinton came for the G8 Summit, the noonday gun went off and the secret police pulled him down to the ground. It seemed the local security officials forgot to inform the US secret agents about this noonday gun, but really it's been a tradition since Prince Edward Duke of Kent ordered the daily firing since 1749.

Posing with the Noon Day Cannon fired everyday since 1749
We visited the site, which is a throwback to the colonial era, with "soldiers" in kilts and other traditional regalia. The fort was apparently impenetrable thanks to the very deep and wide ditch. And we did hear the noon day gun which was very loud!

My knowledge of Nova Scotia is not much even though I studied Canadian history in high school, but it was slowly came back to me today. It was colonized by the British in the 18th century and the Citadel was the first military base to protect the 13 colonies.

Nova Scotia was founded by Edward Cornwallis in 1749 and he named it after the Second Earl of Halifax, who was then president of the Board of Trade in London. Prince Edward later developed the town.

Statue of Sir Winston Churchill
Halifax has lots of things that are designated "the oldest", such as Province House being the oldest legislative building; St Paul's Church is the oldest Protestant church in Canada; the Halifax Public Gardens are the oldest Victorian-style gardens in the country.

We did see the Public Gardens on Spring Garden Road and well worth wandering around in. While there are wide gravel paths, visitors are encouraged to walk on the grass and admire the flowers and shrubbery up close. We were quite amazed by the massive rhododendron bush that had a small entrance in it like a hut, while the pond in the middle of the garden looked like it would have inspired Monet to paint.

Nova Scotia has also witnessed some tragedies, such as the Halifax Explosion in 1917 when the French munitions ship Mont Blanc rammed the Belgian steamer, Imo. The 3,000 ton cargo of TNT exploded, instantly killing 2,000 people and the power of the explosion was second only to the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Get your McLobster now at McDonald's!
Another was the rescue but later recovery of bodies from the ill-fated Titanic. The bodies of the dead were laid out on the pier that still stands today. They were then placed on horse-drawn carriages and buried in a nearby cemetery.

Another must in Nova Scotia is the lobster and what did we have for lunch? By the suggestion of one of the guides on the tour buses, we headed for McDonald's where we had a McLobster! It's a long hot-dog-like bun filled with chopped lobster mixed with mayonnaise and spring onion, along with diced lettuce for about CAD$7 each. For that price it was quite impressive for the fast-food chain to be so gourmet, but you can only find it around this time in Nova Scotia.

The beautiful public park on Spring Garden Road
One more interesting fact about the place is that Sir Samuel Cunard, who founded the British and North American Steam Packet Company – known as Cunard Line in 1839 – was born in Halifax.

And right by the pier is a statue of Cunard – and we promptly took a picture of him with our ship – the Queen Mary 2.

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