around & about halifax, nova scotia

Halifax

Our first days staying in Halifax were spent wandering outside of the city because of the damage from Hurricane Fiona. I wrote about them here:

Monday, September 26: Since our power was finally restored Sunday night and since it was raining Monday morning, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and morning in our Airbnb.

We finally went at noon into downtown Halifax, where we went straight to Dharma Sushi for lunch. We enjoyed our delicious sushi and miso soup. Mike got the Monday Special: 6 pieces of spicy salmon roll, chicken teriyaki and 3 pieces of gyoza. I got Shrimp Tempura rolls.

We wandered over to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which was closed despite the website saying they were open. We have encountered so many annoyances due to the hurricane.  At least people should update their websites. Other people were also at the door, equally disappointed.

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

We spent a couple of hours at the Martime Museum of the Atlantic, which was luckily open and packed, since it was the only open place in town. The first thing we encountered was a large map of the 2022 Hurricane Season, with Fiona front and center. At that point, Ian hadn’t yet hit Florida.

We saw a display of Theodore Tugboat and his friends in Halifax Harbour. Theodore Tugboat began in 1989 as a children’s TV series inspired by the Halifax waterfront.  All the boats had their own personalities and roles in the harbor community.

Halifax Harbor is very deep and never freezes. The world’s largest ships can visit even in winter.

We saw a model of a British 74 gunship made by a French sailor captured during the Napoleonic Wars in the 1790s and held at the prison on Melville Island on Halifax’s Northwest Arm. It is made of carved and polished beef and pork bones, likely saved from the prisoner’s own dinner plate.

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model of a British 74 gunship

A lifeboat or rescue boat was virtually unsinkable. It was self-bailing; the space beneath the deck was filled with cork in case the boat got holed or flooded. It was double ended to withstand rough surf. We saw small boats used around the coast and displays describing Nova Scotia’s proud sailing heritage.

“Graveyard of the Atlantic”

East Southeast of Nova Scotia, far out to sea, a small golden arc called Sable Island breaks the blue Atlantic. It is shaped by storms. The same winds that threaten mariners create currents that build this island of sand. The shifting sands lie close to major sea routes in the North Atlantic. Fierce storms, treacherous currents, and obscuring fog have caused many ships to stray too close to its deadly shoals. For many sailors, this sandy island meant death and destruction. Since 1583, there have been over 250 recorded shipwrecks on Sable Island. The map shows locations of known wrecks.

Nova Scotia’s coastline has some of the highest concentrations of shipwrecks in North America. There are over 10,000 shipwrecks in Nova Scotian waters; some think the total may be as high as 25,000.

The Halifax Explosion

On the morning of December 6, 1917, the French steamship Mont-Blanc, inbound from the Atlantic with a cargo of explosives, entered the Halifax Harbour Narrows. The Norwegian Imo steamed into the same confined channel. It was bound for New York to load food and clothing for relief of occupied Belgium.

In homes, schools and factories lining the Narrows’ steep shores, residents started a new day in a busy wartime port, lighting kitchen fires and making breakfast.

At 8:45 a.m., Imo‘s bow struck Mont-Blanc, tearing open the French ship’s hull and raising a shower of sparks. Fire broke out and spread quickly. Mont-Blanc‘s crew rowed hard in lifeboats for the Dartmouth Shore. A column of black smoke, with flames bursting through, attracted a crowd of spectators. The burning ship drifted towards Halifax, coming to rest at Pier 6.

Shortly before 9:05 a.m., Mont-Blanc exploded. In an instant, Mont-Blanc was transformed from a ship to a 3-kiloton bomb in a busy modern harbor. Adjacent areas of Halifax and Dartmouth were devastated. The shock front went through the town at great velocity. In the blast’s wake, fragments of Mont-Blanc from the size of a pebble to the size of a car mixed with rubble of wrecked ships, railways, houses, and personal belongings in the devastated zone. Windows shattered 100km (62 mi) away. People of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and social classes were affected in various degrees.

On December 7, the mortuary opened and thousands flocked to identify bodies. A blizzard dropped 40cm (16″) of snow.  Over 6,000 people lost homes in the blast. Many people were blinded and survivors wore prosthetic eyes throughout their lives.

This was the greatest man-made explosion before Hiroshima, leveling 2 square miles of the city and claiming nearly 2,000 lives. At the museum, newspaper accounts and quotes from survivors are paired with everyday objects recovered from the rubble.

“The Age of Steam” led to an era of reliable transportation of cargo and revolutionized transatlantic travel. One Nova Scotian, Samuel Cunard, used his initial experiences in steam as a launching pad for greater success on the world stage.

Titanic

The most memorable exhibit was on the Titanic. When the “unsinkable” ship sank in 1912, Halifax was the closest major port and became the base for the rescue and recovery operations. One hundred fifty victims were ultimately buried in city cemeteries. Displays include the ship’s only surviving deck chair, a section of wall paneling, a balustrade molding and part of a Newell from the dual starving staircase. Finally a handwritten log kept by the wireless operator in Newfoundland on the night the ship sank was on display.

When Titanic departed Southampton on April 10, 1912, her registered size and tonnage made her, for a short time, the largest ship in the world, in fact, the largest moving object yet created.

The victims were mostly men of all classes and the crew, women and children in third class.

Titanic‘s engineers, none of whom survived, kept her lights working almost to the end. She sank at 2:20 a.m. on 15 April, 1912. There were over 2,200 people aboard and only 705 survived.

Carpathia, a small cargo and passenger liner owned by the Cunard line, came to the rescue. She was 58 miles away. She was too far away to save those in the water, but her rescue of Titanic’s 705 survivors from lifeboats and their delivery to New York won world-wide acclaim. Carpathia took survivors to New York, while the dead would come to Halifax.

The Old Triangle

Since it was still raining when we left the Maritime Museum, and no other museums were open, we headed straight for The Old Triangle, an Irish Alehouse. There I had a beer and Mike a whiskey and we nibbled on a plate of poutine (French fries, beef gravy, and cheese curds). We sat for a long time, chatting with the friendly waitress. I bought an Old Triangle T-shirt.

After strolling a bit more, we drove all over Halifax, looking at the downed trees and the damage done by Fiona. Things were slowly getting cleaned up but we passed through many places with trees still downed and without power.

We finally ate the chicken/mashed potato/stuffing meal I had bought on Friday at Sobey’s. It was a late meal because we were still stuffed from the poutine earlier.

We watched two hilarious comedians on Dry Bar Comedy. One was Karen Morgan, a 50+ year-old with 3 kids. The other was Bengt Washburn, who was born in Salt Lake City but grew up in a “large” Utah town of 1,200 people. He was the 5th child in a “small” Mormon family of 7 children. He was in his late 50s with brown hair at the top and gray hair at the back and sides.  He said, “Walking away I look like a grandfather and coming at you I look like a youngster.”  We also watched Episode 6 of Season 1 of Bitter Daisies, a crime series set in Galicia, Spain.

Steps: 5,704; miles 2.42.

The Annapolis Valley

Tuesday, September 27: You can read about our day in the Annapolis Valley here: nova scotia’s minas basin & annapolis valley.

Halifax and surrounds

Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park

Wednesday, September 28: Our waitress at The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse gave us a list of things we should do since we extended our stay in Halifax, being forced to cancel our Cape Breton plans by Fiona. Besides Wolfville and the Annapolis Valley, she recommended the Pennant Point Trail at Crystal Crescent Beach.  It was just a little south of where we were staying in Spryfield. The provincial park is situated in Sambro Creek. It has three white-sand crescent beaches to enjoy with boardwalks to the first two beaches. The furthest of the three beaches on the trail, around a point, is a “naturist,” or nudist beach. Today was way too windy, foggy and gray for any naked folks, but the coastline was beautiful, from the natural debris like kelp and seaweed ribbons washed up on the shore to the ferns and vegetation to the waves crashing on the rocks. It was quite foggy when we started but by the time we returned the fog had lifted somewhat and the views became clearer. We loved this hike.

On the way back during the hike, I was getting warm so I took off my jacket in which I had kept my phone. I kept trying to put the phone in the side pocket of my leggings but I couldn’t find the pocket. I was baffled because I’d worn these pants many times and I knew they had pockets. Finally, I realized I had put my leggings on inside out!

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me with my inside-out leggings

We drove back from Crystal Crescent Beach and saw some nice little coves with colorful boats.

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

Maude Lewis

At our Airbnb, we showered and went into Halifax to see the museums that had been closed every day since Fiona.  We went to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia where there was a special exhibit about Maude Lewis (1901-1970), a local Nova Scotian who painted local scenes she knew of her life in Nova Scotia. She is one of Canada’s most beloved folk artists. She spent her entire life in areas of Digby and Yarmouth and she captured the spirit of maritime life.

Born with congenital disorders, Maude was physically small and frail. Medical experts now think, based on photographs and descriptions of how her condition worsened, she was born with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. At the turn of the 20th century, few understood the degenerative and extremely painful nature of this condition.

Maude used her own tiny home as a canvas for her art. The actual house she lived in, renovated extensively, was on display in the museum and showcased Maude’s talents. She painted the doors and windows and nearly every interior surface. There was no electricity or running water.  The large wood stove was used for cooking and was the only source of heat for the house.

The door to Maude’s house was always open, inviting travelers to stop to buy a painting, visit with Maude and her husband Everett, or snap a photo.

After her death in 1970 and Everett’s in 1979, the Maude Lewis Painted House Society of Digby took the initial steps to protect the Lewis home, but it quickly deteriorated. The Province of Nova Scotia purchased the badly decayed structure for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in 1984, and removed it from Marshalltown to save what remained of the structure and household items.

In the fall of 1996, the house was dismantled into 10 large sections and removed to a treatment site where initial conservation was completed. It was reassembled in the gallery and has been on exhibition since June 1998.

Maude Lewis developed a very particular vision of Nova Scotia, one that was nostalgic and optimistic. In a distinctive style, she consistently depicted her region.  The harbours reflect the Annapolis Basin, St. Mary’s Bay, and the Bay of Fundy, with the distinctive high wharves needed to deal with the extreme height differences between high and low tides. She painted her countryside with the trees, flowers and animals found in Digby County.  We see farmers and loggers in the familiar red woolen coats of rural Nova Scotia, and oxen with their distinctive Nova Scotian yokes.

She didn’t show parts of the province she didn’t intimately know herself. There are no scenes of Halifax, Cape Breton, or the villages and churches of the South Shores. She painted only the country she knew.

After Maude died, her husband Everett continued to paint his own scenes of Nova Scotia.

Hooked rugs of Deanne Fitzpatrick

Deanne Fitzpatrick is a fabric artist, rug hooker and writer based in Amherst, Nova Scotia. She is widely recognized as one of the world’s prominent modern rug hookers. Born in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, she began making hooked rugs in 1990.

The 22 hooked rugs displayed were designed and created by the artist in 2016.  Each of the images features saltbox houses that sit between crashing waves and windy skies, and illustrate Fitzpatrick’s relationship with, and ideas about, the notion of home. They often depict maritime geography and architecture.

Rug hooking has remained one of Nova Scotia’s most prominent and widely practiced art forms for generations. Hooked rugs often kept out drafts and brought comfort to a bare wood floor. In the past, local women would use old clothing scraps to create the rugs, which they sold to tourists.

Miss Chef’s Wet Dream by Kent Monkman (b. 1965)

The two boats depicted in the painting Miss Chef’s Wet Dream represent the point of collision between European settlers and Indigenous Nations; the contrast between worlds is stark.

On the failing raft, Jesus Christ, Queen Victoria, and Marie Antoinette stand beside dreary men of the church and pilgrims. The pale characters sit alongside rats, showing the great divide between social classes of their time.

In the canoe, the figures are at the peak of health and vitality.

Monkman is from Fish River Cree Nation in Manitoba and currently lives and works in Toronto, Ontario.  His work explores themes of colonization, sexuality, loss and resilience across a variety of mediums.

Halifax Harbourfront

We intended to visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, but we finished at the art gallery too late. Instead we strolled along the harbourfront boardwalk as the sun finally started to peek out of the clouds.

We saw the HMCS Sackville, Canada’s Naval Memorial, “The Last Corvette.”

A sailing ship floated by filled with passengers.

I enjoyed a Tidal Pool Wine at the Beer Garden, but it was pretty deserted, unlike on Sunday when it was packed and lively. Mike had a beer.

The sky was beautiful with blue skies punctuated by ponderous clouds.

Walking back up to the food street, we saw the Sailor Statue representing valiant young Canadians who served in both war and peace. It is symbolic of the thousands of sailors who were instrumental in the victory at sea and fitting acknowledgement to those who continue to maintain the peace.

We enjoyed a fabulous dinner on the patio at Antojo Tacos & Tequila.  I had Chiles Relleno, cornmeal tempura batter poblano pepper stuffed with roasted corn, black beans, jalapeños, jack and cream cheese, smoked salsa, cotija and cilantro. Mike had Pork Carnitas Tacos: pork confit, pickled onion, roasted jalapeño sauce, cilantro. We shared a Sopa de Lima: Yucatan-style lime soup, shredded chicken, avocado, red onion, crispy tortilla.  I was a bit disappointed in my chiles relleno so I insisted on ordering something else: Baja Fish Taco: Haddock in a crispy charcoal batter, crunch slaw, roasted red pepper sauce, citrus crema, and green onions. Delicious!

To top off our feast, we ordered a chocolate brownie dessert with dulce leche ice cream. 🙂

For my drink I had a Jon Like: jose curevo tradicional silver / hendrick’s gin lillet / cucumber / grapefruit / tonic. Yum! I have a real fondness for drinks with cucumber in them these days. Mike had a flight of 3 different tequilas.

It was an excellent ending to our time in Halifax.

We headed back to the apartment where we watched Virgin River and prepared to move on the next morning to New Brunswick.

Here’s a video of some live action from the sea and Halifax.

Steps: 12,988; miles 5.51.