Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Halifax is Foggy in Early May

I suspect, however, that Halifax is foggy a lot.
While I was there earlier this month, the sun constantly played phone tag with me.

I travelled to the city (Pop. 2001: 355,940) for the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences conference, though mostly I went for the free vacation. Mind you, the ALHHS conference was rocking, but I, like most people, go to these meetings to learn a bit of this and a tad of that and see some colleagues, but mostly we go to conferences to visit a place that we've never been before... say, for instance.... Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Being from Detroit, and having grown up across the river from Windsor, Ontario, I watched the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A lot. So I know a tad more about Canada than the average American. Mind you, just a tad more, but not the entire history of the county. I've always wanted to visit Nova Scotia, mostly because of the Titanic, in which the city of Halifax played a role, but mostly because it's a different view of the Atlantic. I love the Atlantic, and I was looking forward to seeing it in a different... well... light. Too bad I wouldn't be able to see it at all!

The airplane ride to Halifax was lovely, on a small American Eagle 52-seater plane. On the way to landing, I could see a sea of pine trees, pine trees, pine trees and a steel-grey sky heavy with rain and light fog. Few houses, but a hell of a lot of pine trees. They looked dry, as if one lit match could set the entire peninsula ablaze. The trees were actually coming out of their winter hibernation, but even a few days later, when the sun was out, it was evident that Nova Scotia, under the right conditions, could go in one fell swoop. I took a tour with a lovely fellow, Blair Beed ("DTours" 1 902 455-9977), who said that after Hurricane Juan in 2003, which wrecked havoc throughout Nova Scotia, the threat of fire by dead and dry pine trees has been a worry to the province.

The Canadian Navy is stationed in Halifax, and as the insane driver of the airport van drove us into Halifax proper, I spied a giant hospital ship. Turns out that it was an American hospital ship, conducting medical exercises with the Canadian, British and Japanese Navys. It looked very familiar to me, and then I realized it was the USNS Comfort, which engulfed the Hudson River as it rolled into New York Harbor after 9/11. It's way huge.

There's really not much to do if you don't have a car and are confined to the Halifax area. I felt a bit claustrophobic after awhile, as if I could smell an entire province out there, but I just couldn't get to it. I hit all the major attractions that I could within the time I was in the city and with my conference schedule, including the Citadel (amazing views, make sure you go when the museum is actually opened), the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (excellent museum, don't miss the Halifax Explosion exhibit, along with the model ships), and the Public Gardens (it's a garden, all right). I also drank a lot, or at least went to several bars.

A Citadel cannon points toward the
Public Gardens

A real deck chair from the Titanic at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

This is either Horatio or Nelson, one of two very originally named swans at the Public Gardens. The cannon is not pointed directly at them. I think.
I took a chance and hired a guide that the hotel, the Delta Barrington, recommended. My tour guide was a local native and historian who has written books on the Titanic and the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Mr. Beed runs tours to Peggy's Cove out of his six-person Nissan van, fully licensed by the Province. A nice Scottish lady and her daughter, who had just been on a whirlwind tour of Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and then Halifax, came along for the ride.

Our first stop was at the Fairview Cemetery, were we paid homage to the 121 victims of the Titanic that are buried there, including the fellow modeled on Leonardo DiCaprio's character in that awful Titanic movie, and the unknown child found after the sinking who was eventually matched to his biological family a few years ago. Though he has now been claimed, the child continues to remain "unknown" as a symbol of all those lost when the Titanic went down.

Poor Jack Dawson, still rolling in his
grave over that damned movie
People continue to
leave momentos for the
"Unknown Child"

Some of the 121 folks left in Halifax

As you can tell from the above pictures, it was sunny outside of Halifax as we toured the cemetery, so I was very excited to head out to see the Atlantic! I could have sworn that since it was sunny in central Halifax, that it would be sunny in Peggy's Cove.

Boy, was I wrong.

As we neared Peggy's Cove, the landscape became incredibly rocky. In fact, there were rocks that seemed to have been thrown around by some Norse god about a thousand years ago, sitting pecariously on top of other giant rocks that just shouldn't have been there. In actuality, it's the leftover remnants of glaciers that froze and melted and dropped their rocky deposits upon the shores of Nova Scotia. It looked eerie. And foggy.

Can you see the Atlantic? Neither could I.

Still, it was pretty. We had a hour at the Lighthouse/Gift Shop, so I climbed a few rocks, but I heeded the sign that said:
"WARNING: Injury and Death have rewarded careless sightseers here. The Ocean is treacherous. Savour the sea from a distance."
I figured that the locals could laugh at someone else's stupid plight; I wasn't going to be a death laughingstock. Walk carelessly at your own risk, indeed!

Do you see more than 100 feet of the Atlantic?
Neither do I. But I do see the Warning sign.

I stopped in the gift store to send some postcards out;
I love postcards, and I actually like to send them. I wrote them in the restaurant so that I could post them at the Post Office, which also happened to be in the gift store. It's a small town. I could see the lighthouse and a lobster boat picking up its lobster traps. I ordered a haddock burger with fries, and I swear to God, the haddock was so fresh that it was still squeaking. It was like buttah, it was so damned good. Thank you, Mr. Haddock. You were very tasty.

I was the last to get back to the Nissan van, and as we drove toward Halifax, we passed the SwissAir Flight 111 memorial. In 1998, Flight 111 crashed five miles from Peggy's Cove after suffering from electrical problems. There were, unfortunately, no survivors.

{{Here is a Flickr set of photographs from a sunny day from a much better photographer than I.}}

We drove back into sunny Halifax.

The entire time I was in Nova Scotia, I kept saying to myself, "God, it's really Scottish around here." Maybe it was the bagpipes I heard at the Citadel, or the names of the streets (Argyle, for one) that kept reminding me of all things Scottish. Of course, in the back of my mind, I knew that "Scotia" meant Scotland, but hey, am I a Latin scholar? As Mr. Beed drove us back into Halifax, with the Scottish mother and daughter in the back seat, he talked about the various tartans that were being newly recorded in Nova Scotia and approved by the Scottish Tartans Society. Apparently a whole slew of tartan designs were being recorded by Nova Scotians in a renewed Scottish frenzy. I said to myself (thank God, only to myself), "There goes that Scottish thing again." Finally, as if reading my mind, Mr. Beed said, "Well, you know, 'Nova Scotia' does mean 'New Scotland' after all." Finally, it clicked. D'oh. What an idiot. I just thank all the Universe that I hadn't asked what was up with all the Scottish stuff. (I had earlier scored some points with the Scottish mother/daughter when I mentioned that I regularly watched "Monarch of the Glen" when it aired on BBC America, and felt mighty proud of myself. Whew... I just barely survived "stupid American" with that one.)

All in all, I'd love to visit Halifax again in the summer, with a car to explore the place and to finally see the Atlantic Ocean.

Oh, and the men were really cute, too. Scottish Canadians. Yummy and fresh. Like Mr. Haddock.

More of my photos here.

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