IT is pleasant to visit Nova Scotia in the month of June. Pack up your flannels and your fishing tackle, leave behind you your prejudices and your summer clothing, take your trout-pole in one hand and a copy of Haliburton in the other, and step on board a Cunarder at Boston. In thirty-six hours you are in the loyal little province, and above you floats the red flag and the cross of St. George. My word for it, you will not regret the trip.14
That the idea of visiting Nova Scotia ever struck any living person as something peculiarly pleasant and cheerful, is not within the bounds of probability. Very rude people are wont to speak of Halifax in connection with the name of a place never alluded to in polite society — except by clergymen. As for the rest of the Province, there are certain vague rumors of extensive and constant fogs, but nothing more. The land is a sort of terra incognita. Many take it to be a part of Canada, and others firmly believe it is somewhere in Newfoundland.
In justice to Nova Scotia, it is proper to state that the Province is a province by itself; that it hath its own governor and parliament, and its own proper and copper currency. How I chanced to go there was altogether a matter of destiny. It was a severe illness — a gastric disorder of the most obstinate kind, that cast me upon its balmy shores. One day, after a protracted relapse, as I was creeping feebly along Broadway, sunning myself, like a March fly on a window-pane, whom should I meet but St. Leger, my friend. “You look pale,” said St. Leger. To which I replied by giving him a full, complete, and accurate history of my ailments, after the manner of valetudinarians. “Why do you not try change of air?” he asked; and then briskly 15 added, “You could spare a couple of weeks or so, could you not, to go to the Springs?” “I could,” said I, feebly. “Then,” said St. Leger, “take the two weeks’ time, but do not go to the Springs. Spend your fortnight on the salt water — get out of sight of land — that is the thing for you.” And so, shaking my hand warmly, St. Leger passed on, and left me to my reflections.
A fortnight upon salt water? Whither? Cape Cod at once loomed up; Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. “And why not the Bermudas?” said a voice within me; “the enchanted Islands of Prospero and Ariel, and Miranda; of Shakspeare, and Raleigh, and Irving?” And echo answered, “Why not?”
It is but a day-and-a-half’s sail to Halifax; thence, by a steamer, to those neighboring isles; for the Curlew and the Merlin, British mail-boats, leave Halifax fortnightly for the Bermudas. A thousand miles of life-invigorating atmosphere — a week upon salt water, and you are amid the magnificent scenery of the Tempest! And how often had the vague desire impressed me — how often, indeed, had I visited, in imagination, those beautiful scenes, those islands which have made Shakspeare our near kinsman; which are part and parcel of the romantic history of Sir Walter Raleigh! 16 For, even if he do describe them, in his strong old Saxon, as “the Bermudas, a hellish sea for Thunder, and Lightning, and Storms,” yet there is a charm even in this description, for doubtless these very words gave a title to the great drama of William of Stratford, and suggested the idea of
“The still-vexed Bermoöthes.”
Ah, yes! and who that has read Irving’s “Three Kings of Bermuda” has not felt the influence of those Islas Encantadas — those islands of palms and coral, of orange groves and ambergris! “A fortnight?” said I, quoting St. Leger; “I will take a month for it.” And so, in less than a week from the date of his little prescription, I was bidding farewell to some dear friends, from the deck of the “Canada,” at East Boston wharf, as Captain Lang, on the top of our wheel-house, shouted out, in a very briny voice: “Let go the starboard bow chain — go slow!”
It would be presumptuous in me to speak of the Atlantic, from the limited acquaintance I had with it. The note-book of an invalid for two days at sea, with a heavy ground swell, and the wind in the most favorable quarter, can scarcely be attractive. As the breeze freshened, and the tars of old England ran aloft, to strip from the black sails the 17 wrappers of white canvas that had hid them when in port; and as these leathern, bat-like pinions spread out on each side of the funnel, there was a moment’s glimpse of the picturesque; but it was a glimpse only, and no more. One does not enjoy the rise and dip of the bow of a steamer, at first, however graceful it may be in the abstract. To be sure, there were some things else interesting. For instance, three brides aboard! And one of them lovely enough to awaken interest, on sea or land, in any body but a Halifax passenger. I hope those fair ladies will have a pleasant tour, one and all, and that the view they take of the great world, so early in life, will make them more contented with that minor world, henceforth to be within the limits of their dominion. Lullaby to the young wives! there will be rocking enough anon!
But we coasted along pleasantly enough the next day, within sight of the bold headlands of Maine; the sky and sea clear of vapor, except the long reek from the steamer’s pipe. And then came nightfall and the northern stars; and, later at night, a new luminary on the edge of the horizon — Sambro’ light; and then a sudden quenching of stars, and horizon, lighthouse, ropes, spars, and smoke stack; the sounds of hoarse voices of command in the obscurity; a trampling of men; and then down 18 went the anchor in the ooze, and the Canada was fog-bound in the old harbor of Chebucto for the night, within a few miles of the city.
But with the early dawn, we awoke to hear the welcome sounds of the engines in motion, and when we reached the deck, the mist was drifted with sunlight, and rose and fell in luminous billows on water and shore, and then lifted, lingered, and vanished!
“And this is Halifax?” said I, as that quaint, mouldy old town poked its wooden gables through the fog of the second morning. “This is Halifax? This the capital of Nova Scotia? This the city that harbored those loyal heroes of the Revolution, who gallantly and gayly fought, and bled, and ran for their king? Ah! you brave old Tories; you staunch upholders of the crown; cavaliers without ringlets or feathers, russet boots or steeple-crown hats, it seems as if you were still hovering over this venerable tabernacle of seven hundred gables, and wreathing each particular ridge-pole, pigeon-hole, and shingle with a halo of fog.
The plank was laid, and the passengers left the steamer. There were a few vehicles on the wharf for the accommodation of strangers; square, black, funereal-like, wheeled sarcophagi, eminently suggestive of burials and crape. Of course I did not 19 ride in one, on account of unpleasant associations; but, placing my trunk in charge of a cart-boy with a long-tailed dray, and a diminutive pony, I walked through the silent streets towards “The Waverley.”
It was an inspiring morning, that which I met upon the well-docked shores of Halifax, and although the side-walks of the city were neither bricked nor paved with flags, and the middle street was in its original and aboriginal clay, yet there was novelty in making its acquaintance. Everybody was asleep in that early fog; and when everybody woke up, it was done so quietly that the change was scarcely apparent.
But the “Merlin,” British mailer, is to sail at noon for the Shakspeare Island, and breakfast must be discussed, and then once more I am with you, my anti-bilious ocean. It chanced, however, I heard at breakfast, that the “Curlew,” the mate of the “Merlin,” had been lost a short time before at sea, and as there was but one, and not two steamers on the route, so that I would be detained longer with Prospero and Miranda than might be comfortable in the approaching hot weather, it came to pass that I had reluctantly to forego the projected voyage, and anchor my trunk of tropical clothing in room Number Twenty, Hotel Waverley. It was a great disappointment, to be sure, after such brilliant 20 anticipations — but what is life without philosophy? When we cannot get what we wish, let us take what we may. Let the “Merlin” sail! I will visit, instead of those Islas Encantadas, “The Acadian land on the shore of the Basin of Minas.” Let the “Merlin” sail! I will see the ruined walls of Louisburgh, and the harbors that once sheltered the Venetian sailor, Cabot. “Let her sail!” said I, and when the morn passed I saw her slender thread of smoke far off on the glassy ocean, without a sigh of regret, and resolutely turned my face from the promised palms to welcome the sturdy pines of the province.
The city hill of Halifax rises proudly from its wharves and shipping in a multitude of mouse-colored wooden houses, until it is crowned by the citadel. As it is a garrison town, as well as a naval station, you meet in the streets red-coats and blue-jackets without number; yonder, with a brilliant staff, rides the Governor, Sir John Gaspard le Marchant, and there, in a carriage, is Admiral Fanshawe, C.B., of the “Boscawen” Flag-ship. Every thing is suggestive of impending hostilities; war, in burnished trappings, encounters you at the street corners, and the air vibrates from time to time with bugles, fifes, and drums. But oh! what a slow place it is! Even two Crimean regiments with 21 medals and decorations could not wake it up. The little old houses seem to look with wondrous apathy as these pass by, as though they had given each other a quiet nudge with their quaint old gables, and whispered: “Keep still!”
I wandered up and down those old streets in search of something picturesque, but in vain; there was scarcely any thing remarkable to arrest or interest a stranger. Such, too, might have been the appearance of other places I wot of, if those staunch old loyalists had had their way in the days gone by!
But the Province House, which is built of a sort of yellow sand-stone, with pillars in front, and trees around it, is a well-proportioned building, with an air of great solidity and respectability. There are in it very fine full-lengths of King George II. and Queen Caroline, and two full-lengths of King George III. and Queen Charlotte; a full-length of Chief-Justice Haliburton, and another full-length by Benjamin West, of another chief-justice, in a red robe and a formidable wig. Of these portraits, the two first-named are the most attractive; there is something so gay and festive in the appearance of King George II. and Queen Caroline, so courtly and sprightly, so graceful and amiable, that one is tempted to exclaim: “Bless the painter! what a genius he had!”22
And now, after taking a look at Dalhousie College with the parade in front, and the square town-clock, built by his graceless Highness the Duke of Kent, let us climb Citadel Hill, and see the formidable protector of town and harbor. Lively enough it is, this great stone fortress, with its soldiers, swarming in and out like bees, and the glimpses of country and harbor are surpassingly beautiful; but just at the margin of this slope below us, is the street, and that dark fringe of tenements skirting the edge of this green glacis is, I fear me, filled with vicious inmates. Yonder, where the blackened ruins of three houses are visible, a sailor was killed and thrown out of a window not long since, and his shipmates burned the houses down in consequence; there is something strikingly suggestive in looking upon this picture and on that.
But if you cast your eyes over yonder magnificent bay, where vessels bearing flags of all nations are at anchor, and then let your vision sweep past and over the islands to the outlets beyond, where the quiet ocean lies, bordered with fog-banks that loom ominously at the boundary-line of the horizon, you will see a picture of marvellous beauty; for the coast scenery here transcends our own sea-shores, both in color and outline. And behind us again stretch large green plains, dotted 23 with cottages, and bounded with undulating hills, with now and then glimpses of blue water; and as we walk down Citadel Hill, we feel half-reconciled to Halifax, its queer little streets, its quaint, mouldy old gables, its soldiers and sailors, its fogs, cabs, penny and half-penny tokens, and all its little, odd, outlandish peculiarities. Peace be with it! after all, it has a quiet charm for an invalid!
The inhabitants of Halifax exhibit no trifling degree of freedom in language for a loyal people; they call themselves “Halligonians.” This title, however, is sometimes pronounced “’Alligonians,” by the more rigid, as a mark of respect to the old country. But innovation has been at work even here, for the majority of Her Majesty’s subjects aspirate the letter H. Alas for innovation! who knows to what results this trifling error may lead? When Mirabeau went to the French court without buckles in his shoes, the barriers of etiquette were broken down, and the Swiss Guards fought in vain.
There is one virtue in humanity peculiarly grateful to an invalid; to him most valuable, by him most appreciated, namely, hospitality. And that the ’Alligonians are a kind and good people, abundant in hospitality, let me attest. One can scarcely visit a city occupied by those whose grandsires 24 would have hung your rebel grandfathers (if they had caught them), without some misgivings. But I found the old Tory blood of three Halifax generations, yet warm and vital, happy to accept again a rebellious kinsman, a real live Yankee, in spite of Sam Slick and the Revolution.
Let us take a stroll through these quiet streets. This is the Province House with its Ionic porch, and within it are the halls of Parliament, and offices of government. You see there is a red-coat with his sentry-box at either corner. Behind the house again are two other sentries on duty, all glittering with polished brass, and belted, gloved, and bayoneted, in splendid style. Of what use are these satellites, except to watch the building and keep it from running away? On the street behind the Province House is Fuller’s American Book-store, which we will step into, and now among these books, fresh from the teeming presses of the States, we feel once more at home. Fuller preserves his equanimity in spite of the blandishments of royalty, and once a year, on the Fourth of July, hoists the “stars and stripes,” and bravely takes dinner with the United States Consul, in the midst of lions and unicorns. Many pleasant hours I passed with Fuller, both in town and country. Near by, on the next corner, is the print-store of our old friends the Wetmores, 25 and here one can see costly engravings of Landseer’s fine pictures, and indeed whole portfolios of English art. But of all the pictures there was one, the most touching, the most suggestive! The presiding genius of the place, the unsceptred Queen of this little realm was before me — Faed’s Evangeline! And this reminded me that I was in the Acadian land! This reminded me of Longfellow’s beautiful pastoral, a poem that has spread a glory over Nova Scotia, a romantic interest, which our own land has not yet inspired! I knew that I was in Acadia; the historic scroll unrolled and stretched its long perspective to earlier days; it recalled De Monts, and the la Tours; Vice Admiral Destournelle, who ran upon his own sword, hard by, at Bedford Basin; and the brave Baron Castine.
The largest settlement of the Acadians is in the neighborhood of Halifax. In the early mornings, you sometimes see a few of these people in the streets, or at the market, selling a dozen or so of fresh eggs, or a pair or two of woolen socks, almost the only articles of their simple commerce. But you must needs be early to see them; after eight o’clock, they will have all vanished. Chezzetcook, or, as it is pronounced by the ’Alligonians, “Chizzencook,” is twenty-two miles from Halifax, and as 26 the Acadian peasant has neither horse nor mule, he or she must be off betimes to reach home before mid-day nuncheon. A score of miles on foot is no trifle, in all weathers, but Gabriel and Evangeline perform it cheerfully; and when the knitting-needle and the poultry shall have replenished their slender stock, off again they will start on their midnight pilgrimage, that they may reach the great city of Halifax before day-break.
We must see Chezzetcook anon, gentle reader.
Let us visit the market-place. Here is Masaniello, with his fish in great profusion. Codfish, three-pence or four-pence each; lobsters, a penny; and salmon of immense size at six-pence a pound (currency), equal to a dime of our money. If you prefer trout, you must buy them of these Micmac squaws in traditional blankets, a shilling a bunch; and you may also buy baskets of rainbow tints from these copper ladies for a mere trifle; and as every race has a separate vocation here, only of the negroes can you purchase berries. “This is a busy town,” one would say, drawing his conclusion from the market-place; for the shifting crowd, in all costumes and in all colors, Indians, negroes, soldiers, sailors, civilians, and Chizzincookers, make up a pageant of no little theatrical effect and bustle. Again: if you are still strong in limb, and ready 27 for a longer walk, which I, leaning upon my staff, am not, we will visit the encampment of Point Pleasant. The Seventy-sixth Regiment has pitched its tents here among the evergreens. Yonder you see the soldiers, looking like masses of red fruit amidst the spicy verdure of the spruces. Row upon row of tents, and file upon file of men standing at ease, each one before his knapsack, his little leather household, with its shoes, socks, shirts, brushes, razors, and other furniture open for inspection. And there is Sir John Gaspard le Marchant, with a brilliant staff, engaged in the pleasant duty of picking a personal quarrel with each medal-decorated hero, and marking down every hole in his socks, and every gap in his comb, for the honor of the service. And this Point Pleasant is a lovely place, too, with a broad look-out in front, for yonder lies the blue harbor and the ocean deeps. Just back of the tents is the cookery of the camp, huge mounds of loose stones, with grooves at the top, very like the architecture of a cranberry-pie; and if the simile be an homely one, it is the best that comes to mind to convey an idea of those regimental stoves, with their seams and channels of fire, over which potatoes bubble, and roast and boiled send forth a savory odor. And here and there, wistfully regarding this active scene, amid the green shrubbery, 28 stands a sentinel before his sentry-box, built of spruce boughs, wrought into a mimic military temple, and fanciful enough, too, for a garden of roses. And look you now! If here be not Die Vernon, with “habit, hat, and feather,” cantering gayly down the road between the tents, and behind her a stately groom in gold-lace band, top-boots, and buck-skins. A word in your ear — that pleasant half-English face is the face of the Governor’s daughter.
The road to Point Pleasant is a favorite promenade in the long Acadian twilights. Mid-way between the city and the Point lies “Kissing Bridge,” which the Halifax maidens sometimes pass over. Who gathers toll nobody knows, but I thought there was a mischievous glance in the blue eyes of those passing damsels that said plainly they could tell, “an’ they would.” I love to look upon those happy, healthy English faces; those ruddy cheeks, flushed with exercise, and those well-developed forms, not less attractive because of the sober-colored dresses and brown flat hats, in which, o’ summer evenings, they glide towards the mysterious precincts of “The Bridge.” What a tale those old arches could tell? ¿Quien sabe? Who knows?
But next to “Kissing Bridge,” the prominent object 29 of interest, now, to Halifax ladies, is the great steamer that lies at the Admiralty, the Oriental screw-steamer Himalaya — the transport ship of two regiments of the heroes of Balaklava, and Alma, and Inkerman, and Sebastopol. A vast specimen of naval architecture; an unusual sight in these waters; a marine vehicle to carry twenty-five hundred men! Think of this moving town; this portable village of royal belligerents covered with glory and medals, breasting the billows! Is there not something glorious in such a spectacle? And yet I was told by a brave officer, who wore the decorations of the four great battles on his breast, that of his regiment, the Sixty-third, but thirty men were now living, and of the thirty, seventeen only were able to attend drill. That regiment numbered a thousand at Alma!
No gun broke the silence of the Sabbath morning, as the giant ship moved from the Admiralty, on the day following our visit to Point Pleasant, and silently furrowed her path oceanward on her return to Gibraltar. A long line of thick bituminous smoke, above the low house-tops, was the only hint of her departure, to the citizens. It was a grand sight to see her vast bulk moving among the islands in the harbor, almost as large as they.
And now, being Sunday, after looking in at the 30 Cathedral, which does not represent the usual pomp of the Romish Church, we will visit the Garrison Chapel. A bugle-call from barracks, or Citadel Hill, salutes us as we stroll towards the chapel; otherwise, Halifax is quiet, as becomes the day. Presently we see the long scarlet lines approaching, and presently the men, with orderly step, file from the street through the porch into the gallery and pews. Then the officers of field and line, of ordnance and commissary departments, take their allotted seats below. Then the chimes cease, and the service begins. Most devoutly we prayed for the Queen, and omitted the President of the United States.
As the Crimeans ebbed from the church, and, floating off in the distance, wound slowly up Citadel Hill against the quiet clear summer sky, I could not but think of these lines from Thomas Miller’s “Summer Morning:”
Dreams how she’ll dance that tune ’mong summer’s sweetest roses
It was my fate to see next day a great celebration. It was the celebration of peace between England and Russia. Peace having been proclaimed, all Halifax was in arms! Loyalty threw out her bunting to the breeze, and fired her crackers. The civic authorities presented an address to the royal representative of Her Majesty, requesting His Excellency to transmit the same to the foot of the throne. Militia-men shot off municipal cannon; bells echoed from the belfries; the shipping fluttered with signals; and Citadel Hill telegraph, in a multitude of flags, announced that ships, brigs, schooners, and steamers, in vast quantities, “were below.” Nor was the peace alone the great feature of the holiday. The eighth of June, the natal day of Halifax, was to be celebrated also. For Halifax was founded, so says the Chronicle, on the eighth of June, 1749, by the Hon. Edward Cornwallis 32 (not our Cornwallis), and the ’Alligonians in consequence made a specialty of that fact once a year. And to add to the attraction, the Board of Works had decided to lay the corner-stone of a Lunatic Asylum in the afternoon; so there was no end to the festivities. And, to crown all, an immense fog settled upon the city.
Leaning upon my friend Robert’s arm and my staff, I went forth to see the grand review. When we arrived upon the ground, in the rear of Citadel Hill, we saw the outline of something glimmering through the fog, which Robert said were shrubs, and which I said were soldiers. A few minutes’ walking proved my position to be correct; we found ourselves in the centre of a three-sided square of three regiments, within which the civic authorities were loyally boring Sir John Gaspard le Marchant and staff, to the verge of insanity, with the Address which was to be laid at the foot of the throne. Notwithstanding the despairing air with which His Excellency essayed to reply to this formidable paper, I could not help enjoying the scene; and I also noted, when the reply was over, and the few ragamuffins near His Excellency cheered bravely, and the band struck up the national anthem, how gravely and discreetly the rest of the ’Alligonians, in the circumambient fog, echoed the 33 sentiment by a silence, that, under other circumstances, would have been disheartening. What a quiet people it is! As I said before, to make the festivities complete, in the afternoon there was a procession to lay the corner-stone of a Lunatic Asylum. But oh! how the jolly old rain poured down upon the luckless pilgrimage! There were the “Virgins” of Masonic Lodge No. — the Army Masons, in scarlet; the African Masons, in ivory and black; the Scotch-piper Mason, with his legs in enormous plaid trowsers, defiant of Shakspeare’s theory about the sensitiveness of some men, when the bag-pipe sings i’ the nose; the Clerical Mason in shovel hat; the municipal artillery; the Sons of Temperance, and the band. Away they marched, with drum and banner, key and compasses, BIBLE and sword, to Dartmouth, in great feather, for the eyes of Halifax were upon them.