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?

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.

BuskerFest 2010

It’s little wonder that Australia’s FlameOz has won the Halifax Busker Festival’s “People’s Choice Award” for the second year in a row. Their after-dark fire show is a dazzling display of daring and dexterity…

Though their daytime production uses an entirely different skillset.

Of all of Halifax’s Summer Festivals…

…the most indispensable is the Annual International Festival of the Porta-Potties.

Arriving with the season’s first major outdoor gatherings, the Porta-Potty festival is so popular that it remains throughout the season – and many higher profile celebrations, like the annual Jazz and Buskers’ festivals,

and the recurring Tall Ship parades,

have been hitching their wagons to this outdoor entertainment juggernaut for years. (And as for the unofficial but inescapable Festivals of the Beer Tents, well, one could hardly find a better match.)

As with many of the city’s other marquee Summer events, the Porta-Potty fest has a significant international component, as people from around the world avail themselves of the event’s attractions. And when they’re not admiring the impressive uniformity and monochromaticity that is the signature of this gathering,

visitors can also enjoy music and parades, good food,

and of course long lines (not shown here for reasons of good taste and legal liability).

The Annual International Festival of the Porta-Potties.
It’s Number 1, AND Number 2!

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.