Le Boreal was welcomed to Halifax by kilted musicians, a bagpiper and drummer. Crystal’s Symphony and Silversea’s Silver Whisper were already here, docked in the world’s second largest natural harbor (Sydney, Australia is the first).
After clearing Canadian customs, the various tour groups disembarked. My 3 ½ hour city tour was led by Barb, a kilted local who told our group that there were probably more kilts here in Nova Scotia (New Scotland) than in Scotland.
Cameras clicked and flashed as we covered some of the city’s highlights: Citadel Hill, one of Canada’s most visited National Historic Sites, Cable Wharf, National Historic Sites, and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
The museum was the place I most wanted to see, for it is a treasure trove of seafaring artifacts and history – from small craft boatbuilding to World War Convoys; the Days of Sail to the Age of Steam; the Titanic to the Halifax Explosion.
At the entrance to the museum is a grisly replica of a time when not only pirates were hanged here, but also minor criminals, petty thieves, for example. Pirates, our guide reminded us, were not the same as privateers, who were authorized by the king to raid the ships of other nations and to take their cargo. She added that one of Halifax’s best-known privateers, Enos Collins, was a kind of Robin Hood, who shared his gains with various institutions, and who became so wealthy, he co-founded the Halifax Banking Company in 1825; the bank still exists and is known today under the respectable name of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
One of the most dramatic exhibitions was that of the Halifax Explosion in December 1917, when two ships carrying war supplies and personnel collided in the harbor, triggering a fire and an explosion that caused catastrophic loss of life (2,000 dead, 9,000 critically injured) and property damage (12,000 homeless). At the time, the population was only about 41,000 (compared to over 400,000 today), so the extent of the losses was especially horrific.
With the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking coming up next April, I was especially interested in the museum’s collection – it’s the world’s largest collection of wooden artifacts. Perhaps the most poignant item was a pair of tiny shoes belonged to an 18 month-old infant who died, who was posthumously “adopted” by the city of Halifax because he could not be identified. The child was buried with great ceremony, his grave a place where locals constantly placed flowers and small tributes. Thanks to the science of DNA, his remains were finally identified, but when his relatives were located, they were so moved by his story that they decided to let him remain in Halifax – and to leave his tombstone as it was, without his name.
On a happier note, our group visited the gorgeous Public Garden, a true and perfect Victorian garden, with footpaths, foot bridges, flower-adorned lampposts, a gazebo, raised flower beds and a stately fountain commemorating the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s monarchy.
All in all, this was a very satisfying day in port. What is remarkable about the itinerary is that we have no days at sea; we travel by night and we land in a different port every day.
Tomorrow we dock in Louisbourg.