Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nova Scotia

N.B. This is the first of several posts about my short trip to Nova Scotia for a friend's wedding. Feel free to browse using the navigation links.
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Time was at a premium, so I checked in to my hotel, changed clothes, and started up the hill to the Citadel. I liked this hanging sign:

(There was actually an armored car parked right next to the sign, with uniformed personnel entering as I walked by, so I tried to make it unmistakably obvious that I was only taking a picture of the sign.)

A look back on the way up to the Citadel - none of that "pillar of salt" business this time:

Must have had some really high tides here, to maroon a ship or two on the hilltop:

I decided to buy a ticket to go inside the Citadel, since it was rated 2 stars in my guidebook. The good news is that I got a "SuperSaver" discount ticket for this and the other two things I was planning to do. The bad news is that the inside is not really worth 2 stars.

If you pay to go inside the Citadel, it soon becomes clear that the masts are just for decoration:

Cannon at the ready - I love the swivel:

You also get to see some guys in uniforms marching around and getting yelled at, for those who are into that sort of thing. They do know how to count off up to at least 17, however, and do so repeatedly, so the experience will be wholesome and educational for young children.

And when the uniforms involve kilts, I'm willing to cut them some slack.
These doors are marked "No 9 GUN ROOM 10 MEN" and "No 10 GUN ROOM 10 MEN":

Huddling for more instructions:

Standing in formation:

The views from the ramparts of the Citadel were not as good as I'd hoped, which was nice in a way because I felt like I got the gist of the experience in about 10 minutes, leaving me free to go to the must-see tourist attraction of Halifax: the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

At the museum, I had to make some tough choices. I chose the Halifax Explosion exhibit over the Titanic exhibit. Great choice; it was really powerful. The testimonies in photographs and items that managed to survive the ordeal, audio recordings of survivors, and all the explanatory notes. Lives taken and spared in the same home, the happenstance of standing in the doorway rather than sitting at the piano. The first round of legal proceedings found the ship that got rammed into (the munitions/explosives ship) to be liable for the accident. The appellate courts decided the blame should be split. The good folks of Massachusetts opened their wallets and hearts, sending much-needed relief supplies and workers.

The one non-explosion exhibit that really caught my eye was an exhibit in the Naval Gallery involving William Hall, the first person of African descent to win the Victoria Cross, and also the first Nova Scotian. He was in the Navy, of course:

Included is a very special object -the Victoria Cross awarded to William Hall, who was the first Black person, the first Nova Scotian, and first Canadian sailor to receive the Victoria Cross. The V.C. is the highest award for bravery in the British Empire, and one of the world’s rarest military medals
Here's what the award was for:

William Hall volunteered to replace a missing man in the crew of a twentyfour- pounder. ... The enemy concentrated its fire on these gun crews until one was totally annihilated. Of the Shannon crew, only Hall and one officer, Lieutenant Thomas Young, were left standing.

Young was badly injured, but he and Hall continued working the gun, firing, reloading, and firing again until they finally triggered the charge that opened the walls.

In a word: Wow. But after receiving this high honor, he eventually returned home and lived the rest of his life out of the public eye. For whatever reason, he was originally buried in an unmarked grave, without military honors.

The museum display does not offer any reason for this slight, leaving me (and others) to wonder whether it was due to race-based discrimination, and/or other factors. In a vacuum, endless possibilities abound. Was it inadvertence or mistake on the part of the relevant authorities, or deliberate humiliation? Did Mr. Hall die alone and in poverty and get buried in a pauper's grave? Was he shunned and forced out of public life due to race? Was he stripped of his military honors due to some sort of improper conduct on his part? Did Mr. Hall's surviving relatives deliberately decide not to inform the authorities of his death, perhaps as conscientious objectors, or for fear that his grave might be desecrated by bigots if it were publicly known?

On its website, the Museum offers a more detailed biography of William Hall which at least suggests that he may have died in obscurity because he did not crave the spotlight ... and certainly he was far from Ireland where he actually received his Victoria Cross. And yet, Mr. Hall had been publicly recognized in Canada by the future king, just three years before Mr. Hall's death, so his entitlement to honors could hardly have been unknown (or even questioned):

Hall received his Victoria Cross aboard HMS Donegal in Queenstown Harbour, Ireland, on October 28, 1859. His naval career continued aboard many ships ... until he retired in 1876 as Quartermaster.

Hall moved back to Nova Scotia to live with his sisters.... A modest man, he lived and farmed without recognition until 1901, when HRH the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) visited Nova Scotia. A parade of British veterans was held, and Hall wore his Victoria Cross and three other service medals. The Duke inquired about the medals and drew attention to Hall’s service.

Three years later, William Hall died at home, of paralysis, and was buried without military honours in an unmarked grave. In 1937, a local campaign was launched to have Hall’s valour recognized by the Canadian Legion, but it was eight more years before his body was reburied in the grounds of the Hantsport Baptist Church.
I wish they would explain what led to the initial slight of Mr. Hall, and who led the campaign for local recognition, and how they ultimately prevailed. It looks like he was 77 years old when he died; I'm not sure how old his sisters were at the time, or if they were still living.

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