Don Watt and his Canadian Flag.**
The Canadian part of my cruise takes me to Sydney & Halifax Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick where they never shorten the word “Saint”, and there is no ’s’ on John, while in Newfoundland, they use ‘St.’ and there is an “s” on St. John’s. I could never keep that straight. I have not spent much time in this part of my country and I am really looking forward to my visit here.
Our first stop is Sydney Nova Scotia, and we are met by the largest Ceilidh fiddle in the world – 90 feet tall – right at the Sydney waterfront as we disembark, and it plays… of course, fiddle music! A Ceilidh – pronounced – kay-lee – is a social evening of music, singing and step dancing with a mixture of Irish Celtic, Scottish and Acadian folk music. Canada’s maritimes are noted for their music. There is a long list of musicians from this part of Canada including Hank Snow, Rita MacNeil, Anne Murray, Sarah McLachlan, The Rankin Family, April Wine, The Guthries, Ashley MacIsaac, Sloan, Stompin’ Tom Connors, to name but a few. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone also hails from here. We spent the day wandering around town with its beautiful old buildings and also happened upon a very well turned out antique car show. Look! My little TBird’s grandfather!!!
Our next port is Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia with a population of around 400K people. It is the economic centre of Atlantic Canada. It has a symphony, theatres and museums, and Universities notably Dalhousie and St. Mary’s. It is located on the ancestral lands of the Mi’kmaq indigenous people who resided in the Atlantic area since prior to European landings in the 1400 & 1500s. A visit to Citadel Hill, a British fort right in Halifax, built for protection from the Mi’kmaq, Acadians & French, takes you back to the 1700s with daily reenactments of fort life. When the French were defeated by the British, they were told they must speak English. They fled to the USA, many settling in the Louisiana area, and the Acadians of Canada became the Cajuns of that area.
Halifax has one of the largest black populations in Canada. Many came with the British as slaves. The Crown also provided land to the Black Loyalists after the American Revolution in the 1700s, and many also came via the Underground Railway, a network of secret routes and safe houses in the US and used by enslaved African-Americans to escape into free states and Canada.
Pier 21 was an ocean liner terminal and immigration shed from the 1920s to 1971. Over 1.5 million immigrants came to Canada through Pier 21 and it is often compared to Ellis Island in New York City. At the Canadian Museum of Immigration Pier 21, you can go and search their records for information about any of your family who may have entered Canada at this point.
Peggy’s Cove is a must see if for nothing else but a photo of the beautiful lighthouse found there and it is a pleasant drive from the city to the seaside. This area supplies the world’s most lobsters. The season is from December to May and if you are caught catching a lobster during this period, you will be fined and end up with a criminal record. Off season the lobster boats fish for halibut. New Brunswick has the largest groves of apples, and is the blueberry capital, in Canada. Other products are soft skin fruit, pork, chicken, beef, dairy and vineyards – especially their white wine. Tidal Bay wine is served in all of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants. They also supply 80% of the world’s maple syrup and there are over 700 Christmas tree growers whose Balsom firs are shipped the world over. Also if you like the the claw meat of the lobster – ask for a male lobster, and if you like the tail meat – ask for a female. I also learned that Digby Nova Scotia has the largest scallops in the world. They are the size of the palm of a man’s hand.
The average house price is around $350, but if you want waterfront property it would be around $500K. Irving oil is the largest employer in the area with their fingers in everything from oil to pulp and paper and more, creating lots of jobs so kids don’t have to leave to find work elsewhere.
Halifax is also known for one of the greatest disasters in Canadian history. A French cargo ship carrying munitions through the “narrows’ in December 1917 collided with a Belgian relief vessel which caused a spark which created the explosion and fire which devastated much of the downtown area of Halifax, killing over 2000 people and injuring almost 9000 others. Firefighters and others came from the Boston area to help and to this day, to say thank you, Halifax looks for and sends the biggest Christmas tree to them every year. The blast was the largest artificial explosion before the development of nuclear weapons.
The other disaster of course was the sinking of the Titanic on April 14/15, 1912 some 700 miles from Halifax. They were in “iceberg alley” and the Titanic was told not to go on that night, but the owner wanted to arrive faster than anyone before him. They say various grades of steel had been used in its hull and that allowed the iceberg to open up the ship like a can. They have a very good display in the Marine Museum of the Atlantic where I found the photos and information below.
On Sunday, April 14 at 11:40 pm, the Titanic struck a giant iceberg and by 2:20 am on April 15, the “unsinkable ship” was gone. In less than three hours, the pride of the White Star Line had become one of the greatest marine disasters in recorded history.
On April 17, the Halifax-based Cable Steamer Mackay-Bennett set sail with a minister, an undertaker and a cargo of ice, coffins and canvas bags. She arrived at the site on April 20 and spent five days carrying out her grim task. Her crew was able to recover 306 bodies, 116 of which had to be buried at sea. On April 26, the Mackay-Bennett left for Halifax with 190 bodies. She was relieved by the Minia, also a Halifax-based cable ship. The Minia had been at sea when the Titanic sank, but returned to Halifax in order to collect the necessary supplies before sailing from the Central Wharf on April 22 for the scene of the disaster. After eight days of searching, the Minia was only able to find 17 bodies, two of which were buried at sea.
On May 6, the Canadian government vessel CGS Montmagny left Halifax and recovered four bodies, one of which was buried at sea. The remaining three victims were brought from Louisbourg, Nova Scotia to Halifax by rail. The fourth and final ship in the recovery effort was the SS Algerine, which sailed from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador on May 16. The crew of the Algerine found one body, which was shipped to Halifax on the SS Florizel.
The majority of the bodies were unloaded at the Coal or Flagship Wharf on the Halifax waterfront and horse-drawn hearses brought the victims to the temporary morgue in the Mayflower Curling Rink. Only 59 of the bodies placed in the morgue were shipped out by train to their families. The remaining victims of the Titanic were buried in three Halifax cemeteries between May 3 and June 12. Most of the gravestones, erected in the fall of 1912 and paid for by the White Star Line, are plain granite blocks as no one knew their identity. In all, 150 unclaimed victims were laid to rest in Halifax, forever linking the city to the vessel’s tragic tale.
Today, the city of Halifax and the Province of Nova Scotia retain many reminders of the way in which the tragedy of the Titanic touched the lives of those who lived here. From the gravestones of victims, to memorial monuments; preserved fragments of the vessel, to original photographs and documents; stories passed down through generations, to new insights and discoveries; Nova Scotians have remained respectful keepers of the vessel’s memory.
This year the city of Halifax was badly damaged by Hurricane Dorian. You could see many of the huge 100 year old trees that dot the city ripped out of the ground leaving gaping holes. A crane that was being used in the construction of a building downtown toppled over and was still bent in half over the site. It will take them some time to clean up the debris from the storm.
Saint John, New Brunswick has a shrinking population of approximately 70K people. It has the distinction of being the only CMA (Census Metropolitan Area) in Canada to decline. They have set goals to: 1. Attract new people; 2.Enhance the newcomer experience; and 3. Retain their population and hope that by the 2021 census, they would have stemmed the number of people leaving and attracted many more newcomers.
Saint John is fully bilingual, and I learned the average age here is 65+ because many of the young people have left in search of better jobs. It’s a beautiful city, great for wandering around. The downtown area known as Market Slip is where three thousand Loyalists disembarked in 1783. It is no longer a port, but is still the heart of Saint John with warehouses converted into wine bars, restaurants and boutiques. Great place to visit!! The town has a lovely feel about it. Old buildings and houses dot the downtown area. I hope they are successful in attracting/keeping more people there.
Their biggest attraction is the Bay of Fundy which has the largest and highest tides, with one hundred billion tonnes of water surging through the area daily. The Reversing Falls Rapids on the Saint John River are caused by a bay tide that rises more than 28 feet. When the tide is low the river empties into the bay. As the tide rises, the water begins to churn in a series of powerful rapids and whirlpools until the river is actually flowing backwards. It then reverses again when the tide goes out hours later. Unfortunately we were there at the wrong time and the river was just flat, but with very strong currents.
I learned something I didn’t know about Christopher Columbus on this trip…
My belief and perhaps that of many others, is the explorer Christopher Columbus was the discoverer of North America, or the Americas. But now I learned that he never stepped foot on North America. However, with financial backing from the Queen of Spain, he did set off from Spain, and it is said, “he didn’t know where he was going, when he got to the Caribbean, he didn’t know where he was. He thought he had founded India hence the name West Indies, and when he returned to Spain he couldn’t tell them where he had been.”
I did a bit of research and found that this is likely true. That in fact Eric the Red reached North America (Newfoundland) 500 years before Columbus was born, and that the Portuguese and Spanish got here before he did largely because of the ocean currents. And some also believe the Phoenicians crossed the Atlantic much, much earlier.
Also, Columbus probably knew the earth was round. In the 6th century BC, Pythagoras and later Aristotle and Euclid wrote about the earth as a sphere. So historians say there is no doubt that the educated in Columbus’s day knew quite well the earth was round. Several books were published in Europe between 1200 & 1500 which discussed the earth’s shape including “The Sphere” which was required reading in European universities. It’s ironic to think of the statues, cities, streets and a US national holiday named for this man for discovering America and it’s all specious. The things one learns in the Maritimes!!
At the end of a busy day in Saint John, NB, we had an enjoyable dinner with a lovely talented pair, Nadia & Martin, from the ship’s production cast. And then it was on to Martini’s for a night cap. After two martinis we were all ready for bed and looking forard to our next port – Bar Harbor Maine, USA.
** The design for the Canadian flag was created by Don Watt. It was taken to then Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. He liked it and it was sent on to the heraldic committee. The only change was the two red bars. Don’s flag had two blue bars – from sea to sea. He never was given credit for it. But as Don always said…”I knew I created it!!”