|A tough and historic city - Friday, September 26
Today we had to get up early and drive into Halifax in the morning commute. A challenging task to say the least. The city is confusing to a newcomer, built on waterways that make it’s narrow streets a tangled maze. There are few places to park or even stop for a moment to get your bearings.
We had to cross the McKay Bridge again, and we knew approximately where Steele Ford was located, but the trick was finding a street that went there. After a long circuitous loop through crowded streets we finally arrived at our destination and squeezed the RV into a parking space. We are here to get the vehicle it’s 35,000 mile service, and also to have them check out the rear suspension to see if there is a problem there that is causing a disturbing noise we hear.
The service rep was very nice and after checking us in she booked us a ride on their shuttle so we could go downtown and see Halifax while they worked on our vehicle. The shuttle driver was a friendly young man who told us a little about the city on the way, and dropped us off at the ferry terminal on the waterfront. We arranged to meet him there at 4:45, and that gave us nearly seven hours to ourselves.
As cities go, Halifax is not a large one - but it is an old city with a long and colorful history. That history is intimately linked with catastrophe and disaster, and the city has survived some dangerous times and violent events. From it’s founding in the early eighteenth century, Halifax has been a staging place for armies and armadas, and the launching place for sending them into battle. In 1758 it was the final battle of Louisbourg. In the 20th century is was World Wars One and Two. Between the wars there has been no shortage of other tragedies, and Halifax has weathered them all and retained it’s unique spirit and personality.
In April of 1912 Halifax was dragged into the tragedy surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. Survivors were taken to New York, but it was left to Halifax to search for the dead and to deal with their remains. Of over 1,500 victims only some 300 were ever recovered, and this grim work was done by ships out of Halifax. The bodies were brought to shore, and morticians were brought in from all over to do the work of identifying the remains and preparing them for burial. Slightly over half were claimed and taken home for burial. 150 remained in Halifax and are buried in three of the city’s cemeteries.
Five and a half years later disaster struck again, and this time half of the city was leveled by the largest manmade explosion ever created. It was wartime once more, and Halifax Harbour was bustling with shipping traffic involved in fighting World War l. On the morning of December 6th, 1917 two ships collided in Halifax Harbour. One of them was the Mont Blanc and it was fully loaded with high explosives and ammunition, and carrying barrels of Benzene and volatile fuels on it’s deck. The ship caught fire, and as the crew abandoned ship it was left to drift toward shore.
In the next twenty minutes it drifted to Pier 6 and there it blew up. The explosion was heard and felt 200 kilometers (120 miles) away. It leveled over one square mile, including much of the north end of the city, and it killed over a thousand people immediately, with another thousand dying later, and over nine thousand maimed or injured from the blast and subsequent fires. A piece of the Mont Blanc’s anchor was found two and a half miles from the site, and a cannon barrel three miles away. Buildings and homes on both sides of the water were obliterated, and people who had survived the blast found themselves hanging on for dear life as an 18 foot tsunami emptied the harbor for a moment, and washed ashore with a vengeance.
Our first stop was the Halifax Maritime Museum, which is a wonderful collection of artifacts and models, and which tells the stories of Lewisbourg, the Titanic and the Halifax explosion with such intensity that you are drawn in and find yourself reading every word and looking at every picture and object. The museum has a number of Titanic artifacts that were recovered by searchers, including an actual deck chair, a medicine cabinet from a passenger cabin, and a number of pieces of carved moldings and panels from the opulent lounges and staircases. Looking at an actual deck chair displayed in front of a life sized black and white photograph taken on the deck before it sailed makes the tragedy real, even after 94 years.
At 1:30 we tore ourselves away from the museum so we could grab a bite to eat (a lobster roll and a beaver tail) before our two hour historic harbor tour on the Harbour Queen l. The Harbour Queen is a strange boat to be riding out to the mouth of the harbor. It’s a paddle wheeler that is better suited to a river somewhere, and to add to the irony the paddle is fake and is turned slowly by the engine that drives the ship along faster - but strange or not, the Harbour Queen was going where we wanted to go and the tour was a good one.
We sailed up harbor to the place where the Mont Blanc exploded, and along the way we passed ships of the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard tied up at the docks. We got a good view of the bridges and waterfront, and we saw refineries and docks where cargo ships are constantly unloading. Halifax Harbour is one of the busiest harbors in Canada, and it is geographically the closest port to Europe. The boat sailed up an inlet where expensive yachts of the rich and famous are moored, and by the time we docked we had a good feel for the city and it’s history.
Scott, the Steele driver picked us up and returned us to the dealership, where we found our RV serviced and fixed! The mechanic had found the back air springs loose and starting to bend out of shape. He straightened and repositioned them, and tightened them so that we now do not hear the noise anymore. He also repaired an existing door panel I thought would have to be replaced, and for all this we paid only $343, which is cheap for the amount of work that got done, and for the peace of mind it gives us.
We drove out of Halifax and headed west, and we soon found our old campground at Hubbards and our same campsite from a few nights ago. It is a nice campground within easy reach of Halifax on a Friday night at dusk, and best of all, tonight they serve the lobster dinner at the restaurant next door! We ended the day with a wonderful dinner of lobster complete with all you can eat salad bar and steamed mussels, and topped off with homemade blueberry biscuit and blueberry sauce.
The locals are out and the campground was filled with noisy partiers until late into the night, but we didn’t mind. Our thoughts are filled with wonderful memories and we easily drifted off to sleep.