Maritime Museum Of The Atlantic

How did I choose these tours? You can say, they were chosen. But after a while I begin to see a story forming about Nova Scotia. With this museum being the third one, I have now formulated an educated opinion about Halifax: Lots of people died here!

Maritime10This Maritime Museum tour was my preferred, because it speaks to Halifax’s long Maritime history. I could already see that this museum had more than meets the eye. I inquired at the ticket counter where I should start, and the woman gave me a black and white photocopy five by five map of the facility.  There is a movie starting in 10 minutes, she told me, perhaps you can start there. But, this is a self directed tour. The movie was called  The Halifax Explosion. I was one of the first person to sit in the theatre, but by the time it was about to start, all chairs were filled. I can’t recall how the movie started, but I will never forget the big explosion at the end. The bodies. All 2000 of them perished, without so much as a warning.

Maritime15December 6, 1917 approximately 9 ‘0 clock in the morning, there was a miscommunication between two vessels in the harbour, or what the Nova Scotians call, the Narrows. By just looking at the year this event took place, you may have already observed that World War I was going on. Halifax, being on the coast, and selected  to protect Britain, was deeply involved. “Serving as the assembly and departure point for transatlantic convoys carrying supplies and soldiers to the war effort overseas, the small city was quickly evolving into a world class port and major base of naval operations. (1)” Maritime14

One ship, the Norwegian vessel was leaving the Halifax harbour, while another ship, the French Cargo ship, loaded with high explosives, was coming into the the harbour. The two collided in the Narrows, the strait that connects the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin. The fire broke out on the French vessel, which confused onlookers. They stared out in the Harbour hoping to get an answer as to what was going on. The answer never came. Within twenty minutes the fire grew out of proportion and exploded. Approximately 2,000 people died, and 9,000 were injured. To make matters worse, the worse snow storm hit Halifax and covered the bodies for the winter. The Halifax Wreck exhibit also illustrated what I saw in the movie, except that I could now walk through the ruble myself, even if it was just an exhibit.

“The blast was the largest man made explosion before the development of nuclear weapons (2).”

Maritime8The Titanic connection exhibit was also another extraordinary experience. Unlike the Halifax explosion, most of us have watched the movie. We know what happened. Yet, it felt like I was there as I walked through this exhibit. I saw real artifacts from that time, and place. What does Halifax have to do with the Titanic? The White Starline’s headquarter, the maker of a fleet of vessels, including the Titanic, was located in Halifax. That might have been the reason why approximately 306 dead bodies were brought to Halifax, to be buried. In fact, there are three Titanic cemeteries located here in Halifax: Fairview Lawn, Mount Olivet, and Baron de Hirsch.

In order to ensure that the bodies were identified, and the families aware of their loved ones, the cable ship crew developed a unique system to identify the bodies. They would have kept pieces of the Titanic wreckage in their families, which has now become the essence of this exhibit: Titanic Connection.


A Selection of Titanic Artifacts

The “Unknown” Child’s Shoes
One of the most poignant objects that evoke the solemn and the personal devastation of the sinking are the shoes of Titanic‘s Unknown Child and a mortuary bag which was used to identify and safeguard the personal effects of Titanic victims (3).

My opinion? This is where I realized that Halifax had seen hundreds of brushes with terribly accidental tragedies, that tends to happen out on the sea. There were other exhibits at the Museum too, thereby providing the concept of the lives of those who chose to become sailors; as. a livelihood and maybe even as a calling.

The exhibits explained  that not only were boats built in Halifax, including the Titanic, but that they were maintained  as well. Stores like the Robertson store which was opened from 1841-1976 served to supply sailors with their shipping needs. It had closed after Mr. Robertson retired, around the time the Museum was looking for a home by the Harbour. You could call it providence, Julie my private tour guide told me later. In that the museum is made of two warehouses, along with this store we are standing in. The store has never been altered. I looked around, totally impressed that I was standing in a place that existed centuries ago. This was the feeling I got throughout this experience, and I bet that was the intension of the designers. To put you in a place were history occurred. This is why it’s my preferred museum.


The Halifax Citadel: Lest We Forget

According to my travefy app, my next activity was: The Halifax Citadel. But, lethargy began to kick in. Ten hours had passed since I woke up, six hours since I boarded the plane. I was tired, and hungry. But, the adrenaline pumping through my blood kept me going. It’s only 10 minutes away from Africville. I followed my GPS on Sackville Road, and then up a hill. Signs were pointing to the parking lot, but where was it? Round and round the Fort I drove. Then, I saw an arrow with the P and pointing down a hill. I followed the sign into the parking lot. I am here. But if I don’t eat, I don’t know if I will last through the tour. 

I climbed up stairs into the Fort, and walked around an alley, then into a building. A woman was standing by a cash register. She punched in one ticket for me to see the  tour, quoted me the price: $7.80, then told me what came with it. There is one leaving right now, you can catch them. I didn’t have the energy to rush. Do you happen to have a cafeteria here? Yes. Just behind you, walk all the way to the end. There was an opening there between the wall, with empty dining tables. I continued walking until I found John standing behind the counter. John too had only been in Halifax for three months. He recommended the chicken sandwich. I paid for it, along with a bottle of water, then waved goodbye. I sat in the other room with the dining tables. It was quiet, except for a few couples sitting in the outskirt. Excuse me, when is the next tour, I asked a worker who had been passing. The next one begins 5 pass the hour. My watch said I had all of twenty minutes. Enough time to catch my breath, check voice messages, and return phone calls.

20181002_141953The temperature seemed like it had dropped. After eating, I still had time to walk back to the car to grab my fleece sweater. Now, I was ready for my tour. I returned to stand inside the quadrangle with everyone waiting for the tour to begin. A man neatly cladded in military attire stood erect. Not unapproachable. I wondered if he was allowed to speak. When does the tour begin? In about five minutes. I will be your tour guide. All that, without moving, except for his mouth.

20181002_160115My attention diverted to the loud cries at the other entrance. I didn’t see what was going on, as the crowd surrounded the gate. It’s the changing of the guards ceremony, the officer behind me said. It happens every hour on the hour. More loud cries came from that direction. Then without warning, our tour guide took off towards where the loud cries were coming from. There goes our tour guide, someone said. And in no time, another military officer dressed differently, in a bushy squirrel tale like hat, a kilt, and thick wool black dress jacket covering the kilt. He stood with his riffle in arms, staring where his fellow officer was running. Are you going to give us the tour? Someone asked. He returned a witty response, I’ll try, I’m not prepared for this. He maintained a level of sarcasm throughout his tour. He gave detailed information about the riffle he held in his hand, the history of it, what it was used for, then took us to another location to observe the sergeant shoot with the riffle. Don’t worry, they are all blanks. Or else, we wouldn’t have a wall. His head lifted to point to the wall where the sergeant was aiming.

20181002_141936The information being dispensed about riffle, about shooting, and the cannons that was our next stop, was rather dry; and I wanted to find other interesting things to see.  I stepped out of my place, and moved to the back to observe what else was going on. But, I stayed close to the group. Should I bother staying for the rest of this? It reminded me of sitting in one of my military classes, on my Basic Military Qualifications course, well over a decade ago. Those classes made me battle with my eye lids to stay up. I trekked on with Avery, our sarcastic tour guide. From the cannons, to learning about gun powder. They were all stored in this dark room. We walked though, observing all the barrels of powder, and came out another door. We climbed up the Fort to look at the positioning of the cannons. Everyday at noon, this cannon is fired. You know when it’s lunchtime here in Halifax.

Halifax Citadel Living History

The Halifax Citadel is anything but a simple museum. Every day, the Citadel comes to life with the sounds and colour of its re-enactment interpreters, the 78th Highlanders and the Royal Artillery. Dressed in the same uniforms that their respective regiments wore in the mid-1800s, the 78th Highlanders guard the Citadel’s entrance and conduct marching and band drills on the parade grounds, while the Royal Artillery fires the Noon Gun every day at 12 pm – a Halifax tradition that is one of the oldest in the world. See Website.

After Avery told us all that we needed to know, he took us back to the location where the tour began. I veered off by this time, into the little rooms, curious about what else was on site at this huge Citadel. I sauntered from room to room. Not totally fascinated, but hate to walk away from the Fort of history. I would be dishonouring all those great men who served right here during the world wars. It wasn’t until I walked into the war museum that the dreariness and disinterest lifted. I entered the site of World War I, then World War II, the Korean War, and what shocked me was the sign at the other end of the room: Afghanistan 2001-2014. That took place during my lifetime. Not something I read in the history books. Wars are still happening. That was the end of the exhibits.

20181002_152857Wars are still happening. It’s why we need to keep remembering the past. The Citadel isn’t used anymore, but sits high atop the hills, so that everyone can be reminded, because we just can’t forget. Men and women had given their lives for the cause of freedom, protecting our soil from the enemy, for independence. Wars are still happening. Not always close to home, but across the seas, men and women are still fighting for great causes, including their own lives. History has spoken loud today. I’m left in a somber mood. Reality has set in, again, I must not forget.