27 January 2011

splice the mainbrace!


So the weather is pretty awful right now... but I'm looking on the bright side of park life, and finding joy in the (snow+rain+sleet = sneat) downfall.  There are a lot of great tactics to staying warm in these damp and chilly bouts of severe weather; the woolies and wellies combo, the quadruplicate layer system (longs johns, wicking layer, fleece layer, shell) which I often observe at the park, the hyrdroplane: sliding as quickly as possible downhill to your destination over slightly frozen rain -  this tactic is courtesy of my friend Jen who braves the steep Cogswell Street hill everyday on foot.  And my personal favourite: the whisky nip.  

Now don't get me wrong, I am not advocating public consumption of spirits, but in my park research, I have learned a fantastic phrase reserved for navy seamen, "SPLICE THE MAINBRACE!" which means an extra rum ration for you, the crew.

Point Pleasant Park, as pictured above with cannons posed, has an involved military history, and battalions were built on the park's perimeter to function as look-outs and armaments against possible invading ships.  The Royal Navy (which later became the Canadian Navy) originally issued the command to "splice" when a brace, a ship's line, was shot or burned through by a gunner's shot (see posts below for my revelation about 12 and 24 pounders!).  The brace carried a great deal of tension and weight, so a simple knot or short splice would not repair the line.  A long splice is a difficult task and required skilled seamen to weave the line quickly, especially if the ship was under fire.  The reward for a successful mainbrace splice was an extra ration of rum for the dextrous sailors, hence "SPLICE THE MAINBRACE" became a call to celebration.

Jacob Whitaker photostream

According to wikipedia, "Permission to issue the order to splice the mainbrace is heavily restricted - the Royal Navy allows only the Queen or a member of the Royal Family or the Admiralty Board to do so; the Canadian Navy permits the Queen, the Governor General of Canada or the Chief of the Defence Staff to issue it."  

After the queen's visit to Halifax and the Harbourfront this past June, she issued the following statement:

So fellow park wanderers and appreciators, let us celebrate Point Pleasant Park's military history and (once you have returned to the safe confines of your home and prevailed over the sneat) raise your glass and warm your belly in these cold and dreary days.  Cheers.

21 January 2011

it could've been the "burbs"

By far, one of the most enticing aspects of my park research has been pouring over historical and contemporary MAPS!  (You might recognize the above map from my blog header).  Not only are maps a great point of comparison between the changes over centuries in the park's features and landscape, but examining a map's juicy graphic detail is like a little secret shared across time.  I came across a great archaeological report written after Hurricane Juan ravaged the park compiled by Dr. Frederick A. Schwarz for Black Spruce Heritage Services in 2005.  This report shared beautiful map details... 

Fenwick, 1803

Like this gorgeous close-up (above) from an 1803 map of the park.  The details shows the Prince of Whales tower - also know as the Martello Tower - and surrounding topography (arrangement of natural and artificial features in an area).  What I love about this map, rendered by a person only referenced in the report as "Fenwick", is the quality of drawing about it and the full range of tonal values.  It definitely is a stylized drawing, but a person can sense the physical depth of this area in Point Pleasant Park by simply looking at a 2D drawing.

The most SHOCKING part of this report was discovering a map of Point Pleasant Park divided into parcels of land.  It is also interesting to note that most of the parcel owners' last names are now common street names in Halifax and Dartmouth.  This rendering references plots of land from the 19th century: 

"It was anticipated that features relating to early military activities might be encountered, but the real surprise was the amount of evidence bearing on early civilian settlement. Point Pleasant Park includes some of the most exciting, unique and extensive remains of early British suburban settlement still surviving on the Halifax peninsula. Areas of inferred early settlement include the Green Field area, the woods south and west of the Lodge, and possibly the slopes behind North West Arm Battery."

The map above shows some of the larger areas mentioned in the report excerpt.  To give you a point of reference, the red star located the Gatekeeper's Lodge.  Maybe part of the reason I feel so awestruck walking through the park is due to the fact that it could have so easily become an expensive part of the burbs!

17 January 2011

putting the 'gate' in gatekeeper

Entry Gates, 1890

Stereograph of Gates, 1899

I've been voraciously reading Janet Kitz and Gary Castle's Point Pleasant Park, An Illustrated History, to beef up on my park knowledge and to help infuse my installations and performances with more sensitivity to the park's past.  The first 40 pages have already divulged gun duels at the Martello Tower (for real!) and I finally figured out that the historic terms 12-pounder and 24-pounder refer to guns, not food or fancy boxing tricks.

Above and beyond all that flashy drama, I was struck by the process and diligence dedicated to the placement of the park gates.  In occupying the gatekeeper's lodge-a gothic Victorian structure, I feel a strong sympathy for the gates, as they echo a kind of ornamentation that simply has not survived contemporary design and architecture trend.  

When His Lordship, Chief Justice Sir William Young was elected chairman of the park in 1873, the placement of "handsome and substantial" wrought-iron gates were one of his primary contribution goals.  Designs for the gates were submitted from international competitors, but the design by Edward Elliott for the Starr Manufacturing Company of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was ultimately selected.  The gates, installed August 21 1886, were a point of transition for the park as it had previously been identified primarily as a military armament.  The ornamental gates served to mark the official public entrance to Point Pleasant Park until the 1940's, when Young avenue (namesake to Sir William) was paved at the North side of the park, in front of which the gates still stand.

Postcard, 1912

Postcard, 1912

I couldn't resist including this postcard image, part lodge-part gates... and adorned with the original Canadian flag (called the Red Ensign) before it was our lovely, timeless red white and leaf.  Sometimes change is really better.

14 January 2011

park archives

Nova Scotia Museum photo #79.134.9

Welcome to the Gatekeeper's Lodge in Halifax, Nova Scotia!  From January to May 2011, I'll be activating Point Pleasant Park, and the Gatekeeper's Lodge, with performances and installations as part of an artist's residency with the Halifax Regional Municipality.  In preparation for this adventure, I've been doing a lot of research from the Nova Scotia Museum and the Provincial Archives websites - this image is of the Lodge itself, taken in 1910.
My residency is thematically focused on notions of survival; it is amazing to look over the history of the park as it has changed and survived for over a century.  While the park holds strong ties to its British history, I was surprised to find that the Lodge itself is a sister building to and twin of the Gatehouse at Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK.

As I do more research, spend time in the park, and my works on site develop, I will post regularly to share my findings with you.