The Tall Ships are here! The sailing ships that are participating in the Tall Ships Challenge races will be in Nova Scotia for a couple of weeks, but this weekend is the only time that they will all be together in the same port. Since I have to work the weekend, I headed over to Halifax today to see the ships. This year’s challenge is being held on the Atlantic Coast so the ships and their crews can participate in activities commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 in both the United States and Canada.
The Halifax waterfront was buzzing with people and activities ~ food vendors, musicians, ferry rides around the harbor and, of course, the ships and their crews. The wharf was patrolled by various “militia” ~ crews of re-enactors from around Canada, dressed in uniforms from the period, performing precision drills and occasionally firing a cannon off the end of the wharf. Unfortunately, not all of the ships had reached port when I was there but there was a good selection. Among my favorites were the Unicorn ~ the only Tall Ship with an all-female crew ~ and the Pride of Baltimore with her U.S. and Maryland State flags flying high.
After several hours of walking the wharf, I treated my toes to a rickshaw ride back to my starting point to retrieve my car and head up to The Citadel National Historic Site. Because of the deep harbor that extends 16 miles inland, Halifax was one of the first English settlements in Canada and has served as a key military post since being established in 1749. The Citadel is perched at the top of a steep hill overlooking downtown Halifax and the harbor. It was the principal fortification, with several smaller forts built around the harbor and inland to prevent a French invasion by land. The current fort is the 4th one to be constructed on this site and was completed in 1856. Realizing that wooden forts were too easy to burn, the British wanted a more secure fortification for this key post. The result is a massive, star-shaped masonry structure surrounded by earthen bunkers and a moat around its perimeter. It has one of the oldest continuous noon guns in the world. Some of the other interesting features are vaulted rooms, underground munitions storage rooms and a “secret” passageway that allowed soldiers to defend the moat area if necessary. The ramparts provide lofty views of the town and harbor area, including the Old Town Clock. The clock was commissioned in 1800 by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Halifax’s Commander-in-Chief, to discourage tardiness. Completed in 1803, it sits on Citadel Hill and has a four-sided design so it can be seen from anywhere in town. The clock tower is no longer open to the public but the clock still operates.
The Citadel was always protected by the 78th Highlanders division of the 2nd Artillery Regiment. Today it is guarded by re-enactors dressed in the uniforms of that group, complete with bagpipers who perform periodically throughout the day. The “soldiers” also perform military drills, including firing the noon gun and guarding the drawbridge entry to the fort. The gate guards are as stoic as the famed Buckingham Palace Guards and I was impressed with how these young men maintained their composure as some visitors taunted them in an attempt to get them to flinch or smile. They stand perfectly still for 2 hours at a time until they are relieved in a “Sentry Change” ritual that I was fortunate to witness.
I left the fort surrounded by a “regiment” from Ontario that I had seen on the wharf earlier in the day. They had returned to the fort to disarm and sign out for the day. Now it was time for dinner and the long drive home.
To view more pictures from this excursion, visit my on-line web album