“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.

“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.

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?

Look up. Look Waaay Up.

While not an official part of the Canada Winter Games, the sport of icicle dodging has a long and proud tradition in Halifax. Born from the inefficient insulation and sloping roof construction of the city’s more ‘vintage’ edifices, Halifax’s fickle frozen fusillades have forced many an unsuspecting pedestrian (not to mention tenants leaving their homes and closing the front door with reckless vigor) to dive for cover – in hopes that the only victim of the icy attack might be some loose article of clothing, fallen off from the violence of the evasive maneuver.

(Speaking of clothing, in Victorian times, gentleman’s top hats were frequently adapted as an insurance against these seasonal surprise attacks, and stuffed with hay, old newspapers, and the servants’ bedding. Those too young, too poor, or too female to wear top hats were left to fend for themselves in the finest Darwinian tradition.)

Barbaric Yawps

Participants in this year’s Firefighter Championships compete head-to-head on an obstacle course while specially chosen ‘yawps‘ from the opposing teams hurl insults to break the competitor’s concentration and morale.

Here we see dreaded yawp Ronnie “Ruckus” MacCallum in action as he vigorously challenges the toughness of his victims – in the latter case by bringing up his target’s “puny, pool noodle” arms, frequent use of hair product, and a recently discovered subscription to Martha Stewart Living.

The best yawps thoroughly research their victims, and it’s not uncommon for contestants to abandon the competition in order to attack their tormentors. Yawps consider this to be a coveted victory – even when from a hospital bed.

Take a Walk

Let’s face it – Halifax is big on parades. Especially in the summer months, if a couple of weeks has gone by and you haven’t seen a parade commemorating something or other, it’s because you’ve been out of town on business.

Usually overlooked in this situation is the plight of the marchers, some of whom are unlucky enough to appear in every procession, and who find the challenge of working up an appropriate level of enthusiasm for events like the 27th annual “Second Sunday Afternoon in August Parade” well … challenging. (Below, we see an understandably underwhelmed participant from HMCS Available as he takes part in the one-time only “Have You Ever Noticed That We’ve Never Had A Parade On This Weekend?” parade.)

In an effort to mitigate the ‘event fatigue’ on the part of local marchers, organizers have started bringing in imports to spread the load around a little more. Though the inclusion of the Librarians Of The American Revolution (below) was perhaps not the best choice as replacements – especially as they spent most of the parade shushing the crowd.

Promapalooza!

In June, every graduating student from every high school in the greater Halifax area…

(and their parents)

…converges on the Public Gardens to have their pictures taken in the most expensive clothing they’ll wear before their first wedding.

Of course, with so many people in such a small space, one can easily imagine a bit of … friendly competition over prime locations for that perfect shot,

and while full-out brawls are not common, some believe that the Halifax prom season was the birthplace of the ‘Trash The Dress’ phenomenon.

I don’t want a pickle…

bikes

The Halifax Ferry Terminal is a favourite meeting place for a very special type of motorcyclist – that rare breed that spends tens of thousands of dollars buying, customizing, and maintaining the very pinnacle of two-wheeled transportation technology so that they can bring them here and … well, park them.

Night after night they come, and park. Turning off the highly tuned engines, putting down the polished chrome kickstands, they get off their seats and just park the hell out of their bikes.

These guys park hardcore.

Park, park, park.

And they keep right on parking too – until late into the night, when it’s finally time to go home, put the bike in the garage, and dream about the next evening’s exciting parking plans.

Because you don’t spend that kind of money on a motorcycle to ride it! Motorcycles are for PARKING!

Halifax Criterium

cyclists

The annual Halifax Criterium is Nova Scotia’s only bicycle race held on a closed course – which is to say, a series of right turns, ensuring that no matter how far you go you don’t get anywhere. (A format very popular with the cartographically dyslexic.)

The 2010 ‘Tour de Central Peninsular Halifax’ was held on the 1.5 kilometres of roads around the North Common, and in rain. Lots of rain. So much rain. Frogs were looking for high ground. Spectators were playing ‘Marco Polo.’ Cyclists were having to swerve to avoid salmon looking for a nice place to spawn.

Indeed, the rain was so hard that even the participants were temporarily reduced to a semi-solid, semi-sort-of-watercolourish state, as evidenced by the photograph above. (Most recovered fully, though three unwary participants were lost to rip tides.)

Despite being the first to cross the finish line, international adventurer and extreme stamp collector, Crash Manly, was later disqualified due to his refusal to wear a life jacket during the event.

Fact is, there are times that we get quite a bit of rain around here.

rains

But don’t the grass look green.

One of Halifax’s famous feral cars…

Feral Car

…hiding in the undergrowth and ready to pounce.

Abandoned by their owners and unwelcome at animal shelters (what with their not being animals and all), these castaways divide their time between hiding from parking enforcement and looking for a new home. Unfortunately for everyone involved, their attempts to rush out and embrace a new owner usually result in multiple injuries or death, and the orphan is forced to find new cover as the ambulance arrives.

Though inactive for most of each day, feral cars can be be unpredictable, so it’s best not to make any sudden movements, especially while in crosswalks. (They really can’t help themselves, there’s just something about a pedestrian in a crosswalk.) Additionally, unlike most wildlife, feral cars can move backward almost as quickly as forward, so you should make your approach from the side if you’re hoping to slide a flyer under its windshield wiper.

Staple Trees in Bloom

Staple Tree

If you use staplers in North America, chances are good that your refills come from Halifax. Home to some of the finest staple trees on the continent, the capital city’s bundle binding bounty is harvested every April, even as other hardwoods are just popping the first buds of spring. Unknown in much of the world, the rare staple tree is unique not only for its produce, but for its extraordinarily straight trunks – making past-prime trees the ideal raw material for telephone poles and novelty giant matchsticks. (Check the telephone poles in your neighbourhood and see if you can find remnants of a staple trees’ more productive days.)

When the trees are near to bursting with their spring crop, the raw, unprocessed staples are harvested one by one from the trees by underpaid, but quaint and happy workers known as “pliers” – after the primary tool of their trade. Collected in steel mesh reinforced fanny packs (though even with the reinforcing, a plier who sits down on the job is asking for a punctured posterior), the staples are then taken to a centuries-old processing plant for sizing, cleaning, polishing and gluing into rows of 210. Finally, after as many as 9 days of aging to reach the very peak of potential for paper-fastening perfection, the staples are quick frozen and sent to stationery stores from Gander to Guadalajara.

Though some may scoff at these traditional customs as anachronistic in the age of glue sticks and invisible adhesive tape, and protest the harvest as an imposition of man’s greed over the poor staple trees’ simple desire to reproduce, well really, there’s one in every crowd, isn’t there?

“The Crocuses are here! The Crocuses are here! The Crocuses are here!”

(Or if you’re a stickler for accuracy, “The Croci are here! The Croci are here! The Croci are here!”)

Crocus

True, it may not have the drama of the swallows returning to Capistrano, or the visual splendour of cherry blossom time in Tokyo, but in Halifax, these insignificant little ground huggers are the closest thing we have to a tangible announcement of the actual arrival of spring, and as such, their first appearance is treated in many conversations (and on at least one local radio station) with all the significance of first contact with an intergalactic space ship piloted by a superintelligent race of fishlings – and Elvis.

While not the official flower of Halifax (that honour falls to the Mayflower, which in its very name can sound unsettlingly indecisive to a winter survivor desperately looking for reassurance of warmer times ahead), the crocus seems a much closer parallel to the citizens themselves. As the plucky perennial pokes its fragile blossoms out from the frozen ground or dead brown grass and into the still frigid morning air of early spring, the crocus emulates the crazed natives who run out into the first sunny day in February in shorts and t-shirts, convincing themselves that the tingling touches of frostbite are in fact signs of a mild sunburn and a reminder to check the back of the medicine cabinet for some expired SPF 5.

Photographers should be warned though, that crocuses must be treated with respect and admired from a safe distance. While they often appear so motionless as to almost be invisible, crocuses are known to have fantastic ambush speed and they can capture and devour creatures as large as an antelope or even a water buffalo.

Although, that might be crocodiles.