Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hurray for Halifax

Friday, June 25, 2010
3,350 miles
Halifax is in full festival mode this weekend. In celebration of the Canadian Naval Centennial, an international fleet of ships is assembling in the harbor. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the baptism of Chief Membertou of the Mi’kmaqs, a huge powwow is taking place on The Common. We are in the center of the action at the Delta, a modern seven story hotel in the center of downtown Halifax—our finest accommodations of the trip (and a far cry from our dumpiest accommodations of the trip last night—in a room with no air conditioning; pearlized plastic tiles on the bathroom wall, some of them missing; a bathroom door that would not close and was rotting at the bottom due to water damage; and mismatched furniture that was probably all picked up at the curb by someone prowling on the evening before trash collection day; but, in its defense the wifi internet signal was quite strong).

Editorial Note: Dick does not want me to talk about “staying in that dump.” I override his veto, but you will note that a photographic illustration is not included.

Back to Halifax: We arrive midday, and head down to the harbor boardwalk area for lunch on a patio overlooking the wharf. I have a local specialty, the Donair, which is somewhat like a Gyro, but made with spicy beef instead of lamb, and topped with a sauce of condensed milk and garlic instead of yogurt. I wash it down with a Keith Light, made by the local brewery just down the street, established in 1820.

Later as we do a self-guided walking tour of the town, we note that brewery founder Alexander Keith did quite well in the beer business--his house appears to be larger than the elegant Government House built in 1800 by Governor Sir John Wentworth, “to gratify his own sense of propriety and that of his glamorous wife,” according to the plaque out front. The Government House is the oldest official government residence in Canada, and now home to the Lieutenant Governor.

We also admire St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, which boasts the tallest polished granite spire in North America, and we add a picture of this beautiful church to our collection.

There are many great sights along the way, and one of our favorites is the tranquil Public Gardens. A Victorian Bandstand surrounded by formal garden plots sits in the center of the park, paths twist through green lawns dotted with formal flower beds, and a large pond with ducks is tucked in one corner. This time of year, roses and freshly planted colorful annuals are in bloom. There are plenty of benches in shady spots where we see locals relaxing with good books, people-watching like us, and relaxing with friends.

Speaking of relaxing with friends, our friends Jan and Jim just arrived in Halifax by train last night, and this afternoon they join us at the Delta. We walk to dinner at a restaurant across from The Commons, where the powwow is just getting started.

After a great meal, we wander back across The Commons, admiring First Nation people in their colorful native attire. Buffy Ste. Marie is performing a free concert, and we stop to listen for a while. A Canadian Cree, she peppers her music with commentary, expressing some ambivalence about performing at an event celebrating the Catholic missionaries’ collision with the First Nations. She says that there is a lot of bad history between the Church and the Aboriginal People, but that her father reminded her of the goodness and kindness of the priest who served their reserve community. “At least they have shut down all the boarding schools,” she said, to very loud cheers from the audience.

An explanation, for those not familiar with Canadian history: The Canadian government set up a boarding school system for Canadian First Nation children in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The purpose was to remove children from their homes, families and native culture, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture—a mission concisely summarized as “kill the Indian in the child.” Funded by the government, the schools were administered by churches, 60% of them Roman Catholic. Around the turn of the century, 35-50% of children died within five years of entering Indian Boarding School. The schools went beyond killing the Indian in the child to killing the child entirely. Throughout their history, the schools were plagued by disease, physical abuse and sexual abuse, as well as the psychological abuse of teaching children that they, their families, and their traditions were inferior. The schools were finally closed in the 1960s, yet another significant civil rights victory of the era.

Back to Halifax: Although we see this pretty little light on George’s Island in Halifax Harbor during our waterfront walks, we can learn very little about it. Tomorrow we will visit the most famous light in Nova Scotia, the Peggy’s Cove Light.

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