New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

5 – David Kennedy Completes His Travels of 1876 in Halifax

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5 – David Kennedy Completes His Travels of 1876 in Halifax

This blog has been following the travels of David Kennedy and his father in 1876. They began in Quebec City and continued to New Brunswick where they visited several cities. This is the last segment in the travelogue, presenting Halifax. The story is from Kennedy’s Colonial Travel: A narrative of a four year’s tour through Australia, New Zealand, Canada, &c. by David Kennedy, Jr., Edinborough, 1876.

Halifax Drydock

Halifax Drydock, 1910. From the McCord Museum


Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia. This province is composed of a peninsula 250 miles long and 100 miles broad—also of the Island of Cape Breton, separated from the peninsula by the narrow Strait of Canso. The province got its name in 1621, when James I of England kindly granted Acadia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, and part of Lower Canada, to Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, Clackmannanshire. Nova Scotia is the Acadie or Acadia over which Longfellow has thrown the glamour of his charming blank verse—the scene of “Evangeline” being laid at Annapolis on the west coast, which faces the Bay of Fundy. The Scotch element in the province is now very large. Cape Breton is almost wholly peopled by Highlanders, Roman Catholics from the Western Isles of Scotland. A gentleman told us he had travelled for a long summer’s day in Cape Breton and never heard a word of English. The island is thoroughly Celtic, but the peninsula is inhabited more by the Lowland Scots. In 1871 the population of Nova Scotia was 387,800— 4,316 have been born in Scotland, 7,558 in Ireland, 4,000 in England. As to the bulk of the people, 130,741 are of Scottish origin, 113,520 of English, and 62,851 of Irish. The Presbyterians are the largest body in the province, and number 88,519.

The city of Halifax lies on a world-famous harbour, which opens into the Atlantic. This harbour is a wonderful sheet of water. An island lies across the mouth of the harbour, forming excellent protection, and creating two entrances, doing up about two miles farther, you see a bright emerald islet, which would prove a very ugly customer for an enemy, as it is well fortified, honeycombed with passages, and girdled with earthworks. Then passing this, you see the city spreading up the heights on your left, while across the harbour, on your right, appears the suburb of Dartmouth. Farther up, the harbour narrows a little, but soon opens out into Bedford Basin—another harbour, a magnificent circular bay, in which “all the British navy could easily manoeuvre.” Near the mouth of the harbour, too, a stretch of water, called the North-West Arm, extends for two or three miles inland to the back of the town. Everywhere you are met with the fact that Halifax harbour has capacity. Though, not perhaps so beautiful, it is as spacious to the full as Port Jackson, the harbour of Sydney. To our eyes, taking into consideration that it had but recently escaped from the rigours of a long winter, it looked delightful. As a safe, commodious refuge for vessels, this harbour cannot be surpassed.

Halifax was larger and busier than I had expected. Its situation on the sloping ground and heights, which look down upon the harbour, was very impressive on a first view, and lost nothing by further acquaintance. The city, rising above the fringe of shipping, is crowned with the green hill whereon stands the citadel, the strongest fort in or about Halifax.

There is here all the life, bustle, high-class tone, display, and petit scandal of a garrison-town. The city, when we first saw it, presented a very animated spectacle. The sky was dazzling blue, and a brisk ocean-breeze swept down the streets, raising plenty of dust, it is true, but adding a great deal of life to the scene. The pavements were thronged with soldiers, sailors, ruddy-faced sea-captains, young English “swells” in light tweeds, negroes, Roman Catholic priests, Indians with dyed basket-work for sale, officers in civilian garb, and officers’ ladies with little pet bulldogs, while now and again a military somebody, adorned with cocked hat and feathers, would drive past in an open carriage. The market was another great point of interest. Along the pavements crouched rows of Negro women, smoking short pipes, and displaying baskets of vegetables. The stone flags of the post-office were crowded with marketwives and their goods. Another part of the street was occupied with a red array of lobster-stands. A number of little boys had invested in some of the shell-fish, and were hard at work smashing them on the street, and picking up the mixture of half-meat half-dirt with epicurean relish. At a long flower stand, both sides of which were invaded by ladies, a man was auctioneering plants to his fair bidders—a double calceolaria in pot going for six cents, and a cloth-of-gold geranium for ten. Near this we saw a cow, a calf, and a waggon sold by auction in the middle of the street—also a horse, which went for the absurdly small figure of fifteen dollars (£3), though certainly the animal was not by any means an Arab. The whole neighbourhood was busy with people, and the crowd picturesquely relieved by one or two Indian women, who moved about in richly beaded robes.

The general appearance of Halifax is satisfactory. Owing to destructive fires in 1857, 1859, and 1861, the way was cleared for many handsome buildings. To us the most noteworthy feature of the city were the old Provincial Buildings in Hollis Street. These contain the House of Assembly, or Commons, and the Legislative Council Chamber, or local House of Lords. Both were stylish-looking apartments. Nearly opposite are the New Provincial Buildings, which were erected in consequence of the old buildings proving too small. After Nova Scotia had joined the Confederation, the old buildings were found to be quite large enough for the requirements of the local Parliament, the general legislation of the province being merged in the Dominion Parliament at Ottawa, and the new buildings are now occupied by the Post Office, the Museum, and other departments. The Museum is rather badly off for room, but possesses not a few interesting objects.

The 24th of May, the Queen’s Birthday, was as fine a day as ever dawned. Halifax being a thoroughly British city in feeling, a military city, and of course a loyal city, we were prepared to see a worthy celebration of the day. In the forenoon a review took place on the Common, an open piece of ground lying at the foot of Citadel Hill. Including the various soldiers engaged on the batteries at the citadel, the troops may have numbered 2,000. A salute of twenty-one cannon was fired from the citadel, upon which the military band played the national anthem. The soldiers discharged a feu de joie, and then delivered three lusty cheers for the Queen. The view of the returning troops and dispersing crowds, as seen from the heights of the citadel, was exceedingly fine. The red-coated and dark-coated soldiers, the black streams of people, the dazzling greenness of the hill slopes, the dense mass of the city basking under a brilliant sun, and the harbour rippling under a cooling sea-breeze—all made up a delightful picture. In the afternoon we went to see a baseball match. This is a favourite Canadian game, and in the United States entirely takes the place of cricket. It is the same that is known in London as “rounders,” and in Edinburgh as “dully,” only here it is played in sober earnest by persons of mature age, and reduced to rules as well-defined as those of cricket. Among the advantages of the game is the fact that it requires only a round stick and ball, and calls for no expensive equipments or particularly level ground. Baseball demands quickness of eye, agility in batting, and speed of limb in the feverish dashes from base to base.

Churches are numerous in Halifax, and the Presbyterian body is well represented. In one Scotch church there is a splendid organ. The subject of instrumental music in church is agitating the minds of the people here, as everywhere else in Canada. It is related that during the discussion of the Organ Question at a certain meeting of Presbyterian clergymen, one of them rose and said:—“Brethren, I think it expedient that instrumental music should be introduced, to give variety to our plain and quiet Presbyterian service, and keep up with the wants of the day, thereby drawing more young people to the church.” At this a grave old minister remarked, that his worthy brother, by making the organ an attraction, was acting on the principle of the old song, “O whistle an’ I’ll come to ye, my lad!”

One day we took a walk as far as the Public Park, which lies on Pleasant Point, and which has but lately been opened. It is not a park as that is generally understood at home, being at present an enjoyable tract of woods pierced by carriage-drives. There are smaller winding paths also, and narrow tracks running through thicket and brushwood, and amongst the trees, where it is quite a treat to get lost. We rambled about, jumping this little burnie, rounding this small morass, passing this shady high-banked pool, over which the busy flies were shooting—now sitting on a fallen tree and drinking in the silence and the sunshine—now scrambling over bush-grown rocks, not caring how or where we were going. We were always sure at last to come upon some metalled road. Once, indeed, we burst through the trees, and emerged upon a radiant view of the North-West Arm, which lay glittering before us—all its wooded and green sloping heights bathed in sunshine—its rocky shores washed by the rippling blue waves—and its surface further brightened by the snow-white sails of yachts, that were gliding far up the reach, or disappearing round the many little capes and headlands. At the farther extremity of this “Arm” is Melville Island, where the French prisoners were held in durance about the commencement of this century. Beneath our feet lay an immense boulder-rock, in which was fixed a massive iron staple and ring. These were used in olden times to secure the boom-chain which stretched across the water to prevent the passing of an enemy’s ships. On our way back to town we saw the harbour dotted with sailing-craft, their canvas bellying in the sun, and the water flashing from their bows. Up the harbour, too, came the mail-steamer, the Hibernian, which had especial interest for us, as in a day or two we were to sail in her for Newfoundland.


Written by johnwood1946

October 19, 2016 at 9:40 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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