Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Postcard from Nova Scotia

To the Maritime Provinces, for two weeks and a day, on 6th August.
Flew on Jetsgo - good value-for-money budget airline. Arrived at Halifax after lunch, checked into Fenwick Tower, part of Dalhousie University. Fenwick Tower is the tallest building in Halifax and we have a great view of the harbour and we can see the cruise ships and container ships coming and going. A two bedroom self-catering apartment is about twenty five pounds sterling a night - with free internet access!
We checked out tourist information which calls Halifax "Canada's Most Historic English city." They also say that "Halifax is enjoying its greatest economic boom since the explosion of 1917. Halifax's average family income matches Vancouvers."
Bermuda is 1280km to the south hence naval dockyards were located here. There were four principal North Atlantic bases - Portsmouth, Gibraltar, Bermuda and Halifax.
We visited Pier 21 where the immigrants arrived until the seventies and the troops, evacuees and war brides also passed this way.
Many large cruise ships now stop at Halifax - the Holland America Lines "The Rotterdam" and "The Carnival Triumph" out of Nassau were in town while we were there. Cruise passengers dock at Pier 21 and outside they are greeted by primitive faux third-world rickshaws - quite the wrong image for Canada to be projecting to the 170,000 annual visitors.
To Summerside, Prince Edward Island via Windsor, Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy. On the approach to Confederation Bridge I am surprised to see a road sign for a "Rotary" up ahead - this turns out to be a roundabout which are rare indeed in North America (but have great safety benefits).
Across the Confederation Bridge in our rented Chevrolet Cavalier and checked into the seafront Loyalist Country Inn at Summerside. Pleased to see the old railway station nearby, abandoned about 1990, still doing duty as a public library. We visited the Wind Farm at the North Cape which had eight operational Danish Vestas turbines contributing three per cent of the electricity on Prince Edward Island.
Via Charlottetown to the ferry at Wood Islands to Pictou across the Northumberland Strait. Overnight in a motel at Antigonish. Across the Canso causeway to Cape Breton. We turned off the Trans-canada highway next morning south about 6km to Orangedale, once a busy CN center and now home of the Orangedale Railway Station Museum - we didn't realise then that the Bras d'or train would make an unscheduled stop here on our return journey. The enthusiasm of the locals both for the museum and the railway in general was evident.
To Baddeck and a stop at the Alexander Graham Bell museum - besides inventing the telephone he built a world-record holding hydroplane boat and was involved in the first powered flight in the British empire in 1909.
To Sydney and a day spent at Louisbourg Fortress, settled in 1713 by a French expedition relocating from Placentia, Newfoundland and famously seized by the British in both 1745 and 1758.
Sydney to Halifax on the Bras d'Or train. This is a world-class trip aboard a magificient 1950's streamliner complete with observation cars, table service and live entertainment. The ride through Cape Breton stands comparison with any of the great railway journeys anywhere with wonderful views of the lake, countryside and wildlife . Previous travellers have complained of VIA Rail's lack of marketing savvy and we can concur as only about forty passengers join the train at the platform in Sydney - there is no station. There is no merchandising either - a cost effective method of spreading the word - so we go home without Tee shirt or fridge magnet.
In ten days in Halifax we see or hear no mention of the train, which to be fair is better patronised on the outward leg as package tourists carry on to Newfoundland, catching the ferry from North Sydney. Even our cab driver, a native New Yorker, when asked knows that the publicity has been lacking. The railway which makes a splendid entrance to Halifax harbour via a cutting has fallen on hard times. Thank god we made the trip while you still can.
Halifax attracted many opportunists, debtors, fugitives and malcontents, all hoping for a new and better life. The most successful were often resourceful, ruthless and cunning.
One such opportunist was Joshua Mauger, who built his fortune in the West Indian slave trade, and had participted in the plunder of Louisbourg in 1745. Mauger built a fishing station, rum distillery and a large warehouse.
He opened a store in the town, established trading posts in Mi'kmaq territory, and had a contract as a supplier to the Royal Navy. In addition he had a lucrative smuggling business with the French at Louisbourg, and later financed privateering ventures.
In 1760, Maugher left Halifax never to return. By now a rich man, he returned to England, his Nova Scotian interests in the capable hands of his lieutenants. In 1768, he was elected to Parliament for Poole, a seat he retained with only a brief interruption until 1780.
Friday 16th August Al Tuck and the Heartbeats at Bearly's Blues and Ribs.
To the Lord Nelson Hotel, my father-in-law was billeted opposite here in Spring Garden Road in 1940 for six weeks waiting for a convoy to sail to England. One hundred and nine ships assembled in Bedford basin by nine o'clock at night and by the following morning they were all gone - some ships were so small that you couldn't believe that they would cross the Atlantic.
We visited the Maritime Museum and learned that Samuel Cunard was a native of Halifax. Also to Privateers Wharf - ships licensed by the Crown to capture enemy trading vessels - and now a tourist attraction.
We got around Halifax on the FRED bus (Free Rides Everywhere Downtown) which stopped near our apartment and calls at most places of interest in the centre.
At the Split Crow for Saturday lunch (a caricature of the german double eagle), an old Halifax pub. Spent Saturday night on the Alexander Keith's listening to the band Artful Knave in Stayner's pub. Keith's is the local brewery which has been keeping Halifax in grog from the start. Met a couple of young aussies - one recently married to a Canuck and the other waiting for a visa to join his girlfriend in Virginia.
Enjoyed a stroll in Point Pleasant Park.
Only about three hundred thousand people here and quite a pleasant change from Toronto. One hour nearer UK time too - you can fly from London in about five hours. The strong pound makes this a bargain destination.

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