the old burying ground

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I had to re-read Anne of the Island, book 3 in the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery this week. In this book, Anne attends “Redmond College” (Dalhousie University) and Halifax is called Kingsport. Here is a section describing the city:

Kingsport is a quaint old town, hearking back to early Colonial days, and wrapped in its ancient atmosphere, as some fine old dame in garments fashioned like those of her youth. Here and there it sprouts out into modernity, but at heart it is still unspoiled; it is full of curious relics, and haloed by the romance of many legends of the past. Once it was a mere frontier station on the fringe of the wilderness, and those were the days when Indians kept life from being monotonous to the settlers. Then it grew to be a bone of contention between the British and the French, being occupied now by the one and now by the other, emerging from each occupation with some fresh scar of battling nations branded on it.

It has in its park a martello tower, autographed all over by tourists, a dismantled old French fort on the hills beyond the town, and several antiquated cannon in its public squares. It has other historic spots also, which may be hunted out by the curious, and none is more quaint and delightful than Old St. John’s Cemetery at the very core of the town, with streets of quiet, old-time houses on two sides, and busy, bustling, modern thoroughfares on the others. Every citizen of Kingsport feels a thrill of possessive pride in Old St. John’s, for, if he be of any pretensions at all, he has an ancestor buried there, with a queer, crooked slab at his head, or else sprawling protectively over the grave, on which all the main facts of his history are recorded. For the most part no great art or skill was lavished on those old tombstones. The larger number are of roughly chiselled brown or gray native stone, and only in a few cases is there any attempt at ornamentation. Some are adorned with skull and cross-bones, and this grizzly decoration is frequently coupled with a cherub’s head. Many are prostrate and in ruins. Into almost all Time’s tooth has been gnawing, until some inscriptions have been completely effaced, and others can only be deciphered with difficulty. The graveyard is very full and very bowery, for it is surrounded and intersected by rows of elms and willows, beneath whose shade the sleepers must lie very dreamlessly, forever crooned to by the winds and leaves over them, and quite undisturbed by the clamor of traffic just beyond.

“I’m going across to Old St. John’s after lunch,” said Anne. “I don’t know that a graveyard is a very good place to go to get cheered up, but it seems the only get-at-able place where there are trees, and trees I must have. I’ll sit on one of those old slabs and shut my eyes and imagine I’m in the Avonlea woods.”

Anne did not do that, however, for she found enough of interest in Old St. John’s to keep her eyes wide open. They went in by the entrance gates, past the simple, massive, stone arch surmounted by the great lion of England.

In the previous chapter, Anne’s friend Priscilla Grant, had described the Old Burial Ground (Called St. John’s Cemetery in the book)

Old St. John’s is a darling place… a few years ago they put up a beautiful monument to the memory of Nova Scotian soldiers who fell in the Crimean War. It is just opposite the entrance gates and there’s `scope for imagination’ in it, as you used to say. (Anne of the Island, Chapters 3 and 4, Lucy Maud Montgomery)

Here is the very monument Anne Shirley is describing!

I looked up the old burial ground in Wikipedia to find out more about the ‘lion’s gate’ entrance, and found tit is called The Welsford-Parker Monument, a memorial standing at the entrance to the cemetery.  The memorial, commemorating the Crimean War was built in 1860 and is named after two Haligonians, Major Welsford and Captain Parker, who both died in the battle at Redan in 1855 during the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855).

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Why Halifax?

One question I am asked a lot when people find out I came here knowing no one is why here. I mean, why here? I usually give some smartass answer like “I just closed my eyes, held my credit card to my forehead and here I am!” and the person laughs, and we move on. It wasn’t accidental how I landed here, though. It was the result of research. Herewith, my formula of livable parameters:

1. It had to be on the East coast. While I love the town of White Rock B.C. all over again every time I watch the TV show Psych, my entire family is on this coast, and here I shall stay. Moving out of the country is transition enough, and least I can stay one hour within the time zone, and even some of the weather (a dubious benefit, perhaps, but it makes for a great opener for calls to my parents).

2. There had to be a university nearby. This was my husband’s stipulation. He works. in a University now, and likes the environment and career prospects for his line of work (IT). NB: my husband didn’t actually accompany me on this journey.

3. There had to be good public transportation. This was also M’s requirement. He currently drives to a carpool lot, then rides a bus to the university. In the summer, he bikes from the carpool lot, which brings us to

4. Bike paths, and lots of them! We have been taking our bikes on vacation, and it has added a really fun dimension to our travels.

5. A ‘green’ community. Massachusetts is relatively progressive on environmental issues, and we like the direction a lifestyle less dependent on fossil fuels.

6. Quality of life issues. How does one determine this? This was in the late ’90s, before the onslaught of ‘best places to live’ surveys. so we asked our friends. One friend in particular, gave us some great advice. ‘You should look for gay-friendly communities, because it’s likely they have everything you want.’ He was right. I’m straight, but I’m not narrow, and people who accept gays are simply better people to have as neighbours.

and that’s it–that was our formula that resulted in Halifax.Here’s another reason: some photos I took yesterday.Halifax Harbour at dusk

Canada Coast Guard cutter, Hallifax Harbour near Georges Island

Umbrellas

Hardly anyone in Halifax uses an umbrella. I noticed this right away when I got here, since it was raining. People kind of bend their heads into the rain, stoic as cows. Almost everyone wears a hat of some kind or other, though. I asked my landlady why nobody uses an umbrella and she said “it rains sideways, so an umbrella won’t help.”

I brought two umbrellas up North with me, a little wee lavender job that fits in my purse and a big black English ‘walking umbrella’ with flowers sewn around the edge for when I want to bring out my inner Mary Poppins. Today, I was running a bit late, and I couldn’t find the big one. It had been on the bedpost, as a handy weapon, but it kept getting in my way so I banished it somewhere. The wee lavender one was in my purse already, so I went with that.

I don’t really like the collapsible umbrellas, I feel like Charlie Chaplin when I walk with one, because of my height. I mean, from elbow to hand is parallel to your body, while shoulder to arm is straight out. It isn’t comfortable and it looks silly. One more reason to dislike them, I discovered today, is that they’re not very strong. I don’t think it was so much a matter of the rain moving sideways today as the wind gusting in different directions. It did blow my brolly inside out once, but I was able to snap it back. After a while, though, I gave it up and tucked it back into my purse.

As I wasOK, this wasn't the one I saw; it was too damn wet to stop and take a picture, so I got this one from another blog. walking along, I was able to raise my head enough to see a couple of trash cans with broken umbrellas in them. This picture is not one of them. It was raining too damn hard for me to want to stop and take a picture.

Now I have lived in windy cities before. Boston’s weird buildings create wicked wind tunnels. One time, I saw a

Cambodian woman swept right off her feet. If she hadn’t been hanging on to a post, she would have been blown right off the face of the earth, I think. I also lived in Chicago one summer. They say the name is from the politics, not the climate, but it was a hot summer, and even the shore breeze we got felt like a blow dryer aimed at your face. I say this so that readers will not think I am some sort of delicate flower, but DAMN, this place is windy!

May 31

I had to get out of the house so when I heard about a concert featuring Brahms at Dalhousie University, I decided to go. I also decided to walk. I find living in a city with good public transportation novel, and I am trying to limit my use of the car. The concert was at 7 and I left around 5:30. Walking and leaving when I did were in hindsight both bad ideas. Another was my choice of footwear. That afternoon, I looked at what I thought was appropriate concert wear for the weather in my closet and decided I needed accessorizing. Went back to the marvellous Value Village and bought a yellow scarf to wear as a belt and a lavender girly purse. I wore my aurora borealis skirt, a black linen sleeveless blouse and a black cardigan (de rigure in NS changeable weather). My third mistake was my choice of footwear: I broke out my ‘dress Birkenstocks,’ rhinestone-studded thong sandals and headed out.

I had wanted to grab a bite to eat, too, but not knowing how far the theatre was, I kept walking. Halifax is a pretty cool little city, with lots of little ethnic restaurants and funky boutiques, all uphill. The hill that I kept walking up and up. I have been reading Halifax, Warden of the North, by Thomas Raddall, and he describes the question of where the fort and town should be situated. The army wanted it to be in Bedford Basin, the governor wanted Point Pleasant. The New England traders and fishers objected to both sites: Bedford Basin was eight miles from the harbour mouth and Point Pleasant too rocky for dockage. The governor compromised by picking a site two miles farther up the harbor, a  deep area screened from northwest winds “with the result that the inhabitants of Chebucto and their descendents were fated to cling to a slope as sparrows cling to the easterly pitch of a roof.”  By the time I got to the theatre, my feet hurt terribly. The skin between my first two toes were not used to the friction and every step uphill jammed my foot against the thong. I thought I should carry my little journal with me, since the girly purse held hardly anything. As I walked, a caught a glimpse of myself in a storefront window and thought I could pass for a Salvation Army lady with her bible and little girly purse! (Is this mistake number four?)

I passed a grand hotel, the Lord Nelson, a statue of Robert Burns, an old graveyard and a lovely public garden that I must check out one day when it is sunny. I passed a rehabilitation hospital and there was a woman, about my age in a wheelchair out front, smoking a cigarette. I wondered if she had been in a car accident. As I approached, we smiled at each other and she said “I just love that skirt that you are wearing!” I thanked her and we smiled again, each a little warmed by the moment, and I was glad I wore the skirt with the blazing colors.

When I (finally) got to the theatre, I bought the very last ticket. When I called earlier, the woman on the phone said there were plenty of seats. The woman selling tickets explained that there had been a huge rush for seats that just ended. She offered to sell her own ticket to the woman who entered just after me (she must have been the manager, then I thought, this being the situation any house manager loves: SRO.)

I went principally for the Brahms. Brahms has a way of bringing you to the depths of despair to the heights of ecstasy and then aurally smashing you into the rocks again that I like, especially in a chamber setting. This was no exception: opus 25 was lovely and everything it ought to be, but that was the second half. I was equally pleased with the first performances of the evening. Robert Uchida is fabulous, and Bach’s Sonata in G major was beautiful. I did grin inwardly between the movements when the audience sat perfectly silently, contrasting this with the ‘culture vultures’ at Tanglewood who applaud during each pause in the music. The Berio and Bartok were also masterful. I found the middle piece, by the McGill Percussion Ensemble, Percussion Sextet by Reich admirable for its precision and synchronization, but the timpani or vibraphone or xylophone or whatever it is isn’t my favorite instrument, and I was rather relieved when it was over. I demonstrate my ignorance of these instruments to underscore the fact that I am in no way qualified to be a music critic (but I know what I like!)

The walk home was kind of lonely. I wished I had someone to discuss the concert walking next to me. It was a beautiful night (and quieter than I expected for a city of 400k) and I ignored my aching feet to take a detour by the public gardens, rather than via the busier spring garden road (remember, I still looked like the church lady!) This is a good time to bring up how safe I felt walking alone at night in Halifax. I have a very keen ‘spidey sense’ that I keep on full alert, and I never felt any tingles.

Because I took a different way back to the pier, I wasn’t really sure where to go, but kept going downhill and saw the waterfront before long. My feet were glad to move from pavement to wooden pier. As I neared the ferry terminal, I passed a woman serenading the tall ships dockside with her trumpet. She clearly wasn’t busking, or she wouldn’t have been in such an empty area, but the acoustics were wonderful as the trumpet (or cornet) resounded back from the water and the ships. I tossed a coin into her case. I could tell by the sound it made that it was a toonie, but it was as satisfying in its own way as the concert was, and well worth the price.

At Alderney Landing, I paced back and forth on feet that felt like bloody stumps waiting for the bus for about 20 minutes. I kept looking across the street at an inviting little spot called Celtic Corner. When I saw the sign saying Strongbow Cider on tap, my mind was made up; Bus transfer be damned! I entered the bar and ordered a pint and a taxi. While I drank my pint down (it was a thirsty walk!) I made a friend. Counting the bartender, that makes five people I’ve met so far in Halifax. I suppose I could include the taxi driver as well. I realized during the ride that I might not have the fare, between tossing money to musicians, swilling cider and overtipping the bartender. He kindly stopped at gas station so Icoudl get more money. I gave him $5 ‘for security’ I said. What are you going to do, run back to Massachusetts, he laughed. Inside, I bought two Coffee Crisp bars and got cash back. When I got back to the cab I gave him another five and one of the candy bars. He laughed again, thanked me and bade me good night. When I got home, I put my feet up, ate the other candy bar and thought Halifax is pretty cool.