It’s an Uphill Battle from Here…

Re-enactors of the 78th Highland Regiment of Foot, stationed at the Halifax Citadel, demonstrate how the Scots compensated for a unique handicap they faced while fighting for the empire. Scottish gunpowder was a notoriously unreliable and feeble concoction, due to the inexplicable introduction of such additives as oats and turnip skins (seriously, we have no idea why), and if a musket was angled at more than 45 degrees from the horizontal, the ball couldn’t be depended upon to actually make it out of the end of the barrel. For this reason, especially tall opponents were usually attacked by either bayonet or insulting questions about ‘the weather up there.’ (The obvious solution of shooting them in the knees was considered unsporting.) zz9 13thaOccasionally (for example, while facing mobile infantry with a secure self-image), the soldiers WOULD be forced to fire their weapons. Unfortunately, given the aforementioned anemic munitions, this frequently resulted in the need to execute the ‘gutter maneuver’ – as the soldier would try to roll and shake his musket ball back to his weapon’s flash pan for another go. zz913thb But as fate would have it, this maneuver generally took just a few seconds less than was needed for the opposing forces to overrun the seemingly defenseless foe, and after a few overwhelming surprise victories, enemies saw the gutter maneuver as a feint and a prelude to an overwhelming close-quarters (because the musket balls still couldn’t travel very far) counter-attack. Before long, the mere raising of the muskets was enough to clear the field of opponents, and the Highlanders’ most common battle wound was from getting gunpowder (mixed with oats and turnip skins) in the eye.

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Pothole Portals to the Past

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile many less imaginative cities engage in a never ending battle against their potholes, Halifax embraces these windows into yesterday, to the delight of historians and auto repair shops alike.

Here we see one such asphalt aperture to ancient times – in this case a time of paving stones and tram tracks (which haven’t been used in Halifax since 1949). Other city potholes have been known to reveal mysterious artifacts from unknown civilizations, the secret tunnel between Halifax and George’s Island, strong evidence in support of the Theory of Continental Drift, and of course the remains of countless cars and their unlucky drivers.

Halifax: to see behind you, just look down!

A New Theory About Our History

Last month, the Halifax Port Authority (a Canadian Crown Corporation that flies American flags over its facilities – but that’s another story) unveiled “The Emigrant” – a new public art installation near the cruise ship docks and historic Pier 21.

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A tribute to the millions that left distant lands to build a life in Canada, and in so doing, help to build the nation itself, the sculpture may have unintentionally revealed a little known contributing factor in the centuries of migration – as it appears that some of our ancestors left their homes not as much to build a new life in Canada as to escape regions overrun by zombie families…

haligonians statue3…and creepy hand-plants.

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Seriously, who could blame them?

Halifax Harbour can be a Harsh Habitat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost people think that Halifax Harbour’s population of rubber duckies are harmless, happy creatures, but don’t try to sell that opinion to a scuba diver. These squeaky little bastards are responsible for more scuba diver deaths than dehydration – as they attack the unsuspecting swimmer (always in gangs, known as “tubs”) by first luring potential victims into their trap with their bright colours, and then surrounding and gently bumping against the hapless prey thousands upon thousands of times until they finally succumb.

Perhaps most tragic is the fact that these attacks are frequently witnessed from the shore, but ignored under the mistaken impression that someone is merely living out a childhood bathtub fantasy.

Why these merciless predators seem to prefer wet-suited over swim-suited targets is unknown, but be warned – anytime you’re swimming anywhere and see a smiling mass of yellow drifting your way, GET OUT OF THE WATER!

Samuel Cunard…

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…commemorated here with a statue that was erected in 2006 near the cruise ship docks, was a Halifax native, founder of the famous Cunard Shipping Line, father of nine children, and apparently the owner of an impressively large pair of feet.

Kilroy Wuz Here…

Like most cities, Halifax has it’s problems with idle youth turning to vandalism for entertainment – though Halifax’s vandals often think ‘outside the box’ of typical graffiti attacks or stolen street signs.

Here we see two such ne’er do wells recording their handiwork to show to friends or perhaps post on their Facebook pages.

“AND you’ve got a really nice personality…”

In September of 1943, Winston Churchill passed through Halifax on his way back to England following a series of wartime meetings, and after a brief tour of the city, the Prime Minister made the observation that Halifax was “…not just a shed on the wharf…”

The city’s Herald newspaper responded with a front page editorial headlined, “Halifax Honoured,” and since 1980, a 10 foot tall, 1.5 ton sculpture of Churchill has been striding across the lawn in front of the Memorial Library on Spring Garden Road.

Haligonians are a very easily flattered people.

Shady Trees

Like so many cities and towns around the world, every year Halifax celebrates the Christmas season with a giant tree – in this case placed in the Grand Parade in front of City Hall. Passersby enjoying the smells and lights, however, may not realize the substantial costs involved with this annual display, and almost certainly have no idea how the Halifax City Fathers (and Mothers) have been dealing with never-ending increases in expenditures.

There’s no proof of course, but it seems that starting about 20 years ago, the Halifax city tree would appear overnight, shortly after another regional government or commercial operation had discovered the disappearance of its own arboreal display. For years, no one made the connection, and to this day there has never been an outright accusation over any purloined pines, but rumors abound, and the occasional city worker -after a few too many in the local bars- has been heard muttering about past seasonal skullduggeries.

‘Stories’ are told of midnight raids on city squares, attempts to jam trees into trucks much too small for the task, ornaments used to leave false trails for pursuers, and even one tree pulled off the truck as it sped away (along with three conspirators) because an operative had neglected to unplug the extension cord.

Most famous, though, is the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Woody The Talking Christmas Tree. A seasonal fixture in the local Mic Mac Mall for decades, it was ‘announced’ that he was being retired one year in the late 2000s. That same Christmas, the new tree in the Grand Parade was noted for the especially heavy deployment of ornaments and tinsel at the center-front of the evergreen, and the muffled sounds coming from within – which city officials put down to a lost and impressively cold-resistant parrot.

The Mall never pointed the finger at the government that, after all, was responsible for all the local bylaws, though Woody himself would have been able to answer any questions about his sudden ‘retirement’…

…if he had ever been seen again.

Four Seasons, No Waiting

A snapshot sequence from November:

Starting with warm, rain, leaves on the trees.
A week later, full-on Fall – cool, crisp, almost all the trees are bare.
Five more days and 33 centimeters of snow. (That would be the “Winter” component.)
Five days after that and all the snow is melted away. Welcome to an early Spring.

Haligonians are sometimes seen wandering around with a vaguely confused look on their faces.
This is one of the reasons why.

“But do you LIKE me like me?”

As public cries for a new and improved central library increased in the Halifax Regional Municipality, the city’s decision makers were faced with a problem.

Granted, the Memorial Library was now so old that most people couldn’t remember what it was memorialing, but given the rise of the e-book and decline of paper publishing, the endangered status of the Voracious Reader –a species that once darkened the plains with its slouched and engrossed gait– and the fact that the ability to read at all no longer seemed to be a requirement for matriculation (look it up) into any institution of ‘higher’ education, the holders of the purse strings needed proof that there would actually be a demand for a new building before millions of dollars were sunk into its going over budget and behind schedule.

So they chose to test the determination of the Library’s users. For several weeks during the summer of 2011, the entrance of the building was cleverly hidden behind an almost impenetrable scaffolding, forcing determined patrons to climb in through windows, heating ducts, and, if they were small enough, after-hours book return chutes. The experiment was a rousing success for the Library, as resolute readers and bold bibliomaniacs used all manners of tool and strategy to access the sacred stacks. Some lives were lost to the automated portcullis just inside the scaffolding, but as the casualties were restricted to those stubborn and unimaginative enough to insist on using the front door, the costs were considered more than acceptable.

Still, the city plans to continue to test the ongoing, real-world demand for library services even after the new location is built.

Hence, the moat.

I Think That I Shall Never See…

Halifax bills itself as “The City of Trees,” and true enough, natives and visitors encounter no shortage of green as they walk the peninsula’s streets and parks. But there’s a secret hiding beneath the bark…

Much of the city’s finest foliage is in fact, fake – intricate and exquisite reconstructions of hand-sculpted ‘bark,’ ingeniously covering interior skeletons of masonry and metal, terminating in polymer leaves that are secretly and painstakingly attached, switched, and removed as the seasons dictate.

That’s not to say that Halifax wasn’t once absolutely covered in timber – there was a time when you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a tree (just one of the reasons that cat swinging is still outlawed within city limits), but in the early 1900s, through an especially unfortunate example of nepotism over practicality, the position of City Gardener was given to Major General Hector Milner-Worthing, a Boer War veteran and known Dendrophobe. Immortalized here in the Public Gardens (in surroundings that would have sent him into full apoplexy) Milner-Worthing immediately set about his new responsibilities with a city-wide program of ‘pruning’ the trees … down to their stumps. And then, shooting the stumps. (Despite what many believe, the rifle in the statue is NOT a tribute to his military service, nor is his choice of target accidental.)

By the time the city fathers realized what was going on, half the city had been denuded of all but pockmarked stumps. Milner-Worthing was given a full pension, a golden handshake, and a statue for agreeing to move immediately to Saskatchewan, while recently demobbed soldiers and idle masons from the just-completed Halifax Armoury were brought in to replace the city’s essential arboreal accessories. Through the years these artisans evolved into highly specialized masters of a still secret craft, which, over more than a century, has only changed in the materials used to replicate the leaves.

Most Haligonians know nothing of their existence, the only hints being occasional unexplained rustling amongst the leaves on dark but windless nights, and the rare cosmetic failure – like the above example outside of King’s College.

(One may submit that planting new trees would be more efficient and less labour intensive than constantly maintaining these replicas in their state of ‘can’t tell the difference’ perfection, but as time passed the Halifax Leaf Changers Union amassed powers that would make the Teamsters run to get their big brother, and local politicians would rather keep a campaign promise than tangle with the HLCU.)

Hard Times …

Every city has its seamy underbelly – aspects that the chamber of commerce would rather not talk about, and tourism departments leave out of their brochures. For Halifax one of those municipal embarrassments is the plight of abandoned office furniture.

Finding themselves made redundant due to downsizing, outsourcing, or a sale at Business Depot, this discarded decor is frequently ‘kicked to the curb’ by the same companies that were dependent on their reliable performance only days before. While the lucky ones may be picked up by local students looking for cheap and functional additions to their bachelor basement abodes, others are left to fend for themselves, and some turn to drink – spending their nights trying to avoid police patrols and small time graffiti taggers, and their days remembering better times.

So if you come across one of these outcasts in your travels, don’t avert your eyes and walk away. You might not be able to give it a new home, but you can always remind it of its glory days.

Ask it for the Johnson file.

You’ll be glad you did.

Some People Just Can’t Wait For The Bus

The Blue Nose Marathon is held every Victoria Day Weekend in Halifax and Dartmouth, as runners from across North America participate in three days of races held for varying distances and age groups running in irregularly shaped circles for the betterment of health and the enrichment of sneaker and bottled water manufacturers. Of course the signature event of the weekend is the full marathon, but as the number of hopeful participants grows every year, organizers have been forced to find a way to keep the hordes straining at the increasingly congested start line under control, and last year, they instituted the now infamous “Simon Says” pre-race elimination.

Since this exercise in self-inflicted crowd control was not announced beforehand, most runners were not prepared for the rapid assault of “Simon says, touch your nose,” “Simon says, hop on one foot,” “Hop on someone else’s foot” … and so on… and a significant number of bodies were successfully removed from the mob before the race began. Here we see one unfortunate eliminatee at the very moment he falls for, “Put your hands on top of your head.”

A Little Gravol Could Help That

A Green Man is a sculpture, often used to decorate buildings, of a human or animal face surrounded by or made from leaves. This symbol of rebirth, representing the renewed cycle of growth each spring, generally features branches or vines (sometimes bearing flowers or fruit) sprouting from the mouth, nostrils or other parts of the face.

The Green Man has existed for centuries and variations on the theme appear in cultures around the world, so it would seem appropriate that this particular example overlooks the main entrance of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia…

And not because it depicts decorative regurgitation.

Turn left. Repeat.

Now that the Canada Winter Games have concluded (a Winter Games that, for some inexplicable reason, included Synchronized Swimming), the debate has resumed about the long-term future of the long-track skating oval on the Halifax Commons.

While ideas have ranged from the obvious (rollerblade track), to tangential (venue for summer Zamboni races), to … imaginative (cross country running course for easily disorientated competitors who don’t like uneven terrain), one thing is certain. Given that 2.1 million dollars went into a facility that was only used for four (yes, four) days of actual competition, everyone involved will be willing to entertain any ideas that might go some small way towards justifying the expense.

So, who’s up for some extreme, endurance, full-contact hopscotch?