Day 47 – July 23 – Halifax, NS

The A. Murray Mackay bridge between Halifax and Dartmouth. It is a toll bridge ($1.25), built in 1970. 52,000 vehicles cross it every day. It is the only harbour bridge that allows semi-trailers and large trucks. Pedestrians and bicycles are not allowed.

We left for Pier 21 after breakfast. Pier 21 opened in 1928 and witnessed the arrivial of approximately one million immigrants. It served as one of Canada’s principal reception centers until it closed in 1971. The staff of Pier 21 handled large volumes of immigrants rapidly, checking their citizenship, medical records and providing quarantine, detention, customs or social services.

We have been here twice before, in 2014 on our first cross-Canada trip, and again in 2015 when the ship docked in Halifax on the return to Boston at the end of the Voyage of the Vikings cruise. Each time we have visited the Bank of Nova Scotia Family Center at the Immigration Museum at Pier 21. The very helpful staff will search for passenger lists of ancestors that have immigrated to Canada via Halifax, Quebec City, or Montreal.

There was only one of my family members who had arrived in Canada that I did not have the information about and that was my grandmother Mina (Charlotta Vilhelmina) Anderson who came to be a nanny to a family in Revelstoke when she was 21. I learned she arrived from Sweden via Liverpool in 1912. I had also brought along information on John’s maternal grandparents who came from England in 1913 (Grandfather) and 1914 (Grandmother and three children).

The other thing I was hoping they could find for me was the ship’s manifest for the return trip to Scotland made by my mother and her three older sisters in 1937 after their parents had both died. Aunty Anne was 16 at the time and my mom, the youngest, was 7. I did not hold out much hope that they could get the information because the girls were not immigrating; they were going back to Scotland. But Lara located the ship registry very quickly and she was also able to print me a copy of the Duchess of York passenger list that my mom was on as a 9-year old returning to Canada again on her own to live in Winnepeg with the couple who fostered her after her mom and dad died.

The only information I was unable to get was the arrival date for John’s Great-Grandfather. He came from Ulster, Northern Ireland in the 1840’s and Pier 21 immigration archives only go back to the 1860’s. But I was very happy to get everything else.

My mother’s two eldest sisters came back to Canada as war brides.

We had heard a sad tale about a community called Africville that was destroyed by the city of Halifax in 1964 to make way for industrialization along the shore of Bedford Bay. It wasn’t too far from the Immigration Center so we went to check it out.

Africville was originally 500 acres of privately owned houses and land and a very tight-knit community. The black residents paid taxes like everyone else in Halifax but never got the services – like clean water after their water was contaminated by the encroaching industrial businesses, or proper sanitation, or electricity. Finally in the early 1960’s the City decided to re-locate all the residents in the interest of urban development and for their own ‘betterment.’ Despite their best efforts and pleas the 400 remaining resident’s land was expropriated, they were moved mostly to low-cost housing, and their homes, church, school, and businesses were bulldozed.

The City of Halifax, after lawsuits and protests, officially aologized in 1988 and returned 2.5 acres to the Africville Society for a park along with $3 million dollars in reparation. The park is maintained by the Society and they have built a replica of the church which is open as a museum to tell their story.

We drove next to the National Historic Site of the York Redoubt that guarded Halifax harbour from 1798 to 1956.

A map of the historic site as it is today.

The Redoubt was first fortified in 1793 when war broke out between Britain and France. The defences were improved between 1794 and 1800, and again in 1873


By 1867, when Canada was born, technology was changing rapidly. Warships were now built of iron, rather than wood, and protected by thick armour which cannon could not penetrate. New guns firing heavier, pointed shells were built to pierce armour plate. York Redoubt was rebuilt and expanded to mount the new guns.

In 1900 new weapons were again available. Breech-loading guns, loaded from the rear, gave much greater range and accuracy. Once again the Redoubt was re-fortified and re-armed.

The final changes came when Canada declared war on Germany. By 1942 the York Redoubt was overhauled. The Fire Command Post was built on Position Hill, the highest point in the fort. Below the fort, in the main shipping channel, a heavy wire net prevented submarines from slipping into the harbour. The net was protected by York Shore Battery, with its six-pounder guns and three searchlights.

These guns were first built in the 1860s. They fired 256 pound, pointed shells that had to be lifted by a crane into the gun. They could smash through nine inches of wrought-iron on an enemy ironclad warship. It took nine men to operate. A good rate of fire was one shot every 1 minute 45 seconds.

The Artillery Store and Canteen was built in the 1870s to hold equipment needed to maintain and operatate the guns.

The Cookhouse was built in 1873 to serve a variety of needs. All the lamps were stored in one room, the blacksmith’s forge was in another, one was actually the cookhouse that prepared meals, two other rooms were a bathhouse where the soldiers washed and a bread and meat store where rations were kept.

This building is a Caponier. It is a protected position which projects from a fortified wall. It allowes defenders to shoot at attackers trying to climb the wall, without exposing themselves to fire.

The view from the top of the wall was pretty spectactular and verified why the Redoubt was built here. The following three images show a majority of the sightline from left to right, which pretty much covers the entire harbour.

A short drive took us back across the bridge to Dartmouth and our hotel.

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