25 April 2011

what's in a name?

Originally published in Gilles Robert de Vaugondy, Atlas Paratif, universel et militaire, 1748/49

There have been some exciting things happening in the Nova Scotia Provincial Archives virtual collections lately!  And much to my glee, pleasure, and delight - a lot of those archives activities are about their maps. NSARM has digitized a new set of maps ranging from 1748 (such as the beauty above) to the early 1900's, right before the Halifax explosion.  When I was originally checking out these maps, I wanted to find the Halifax Harbour, Bedford Basin, or Dartmouth so I could locate myself on the map - seeking out the 'YOU ARE HERE' moment - except with a 200 year old guidemap.  This is how we orient ourselves, by finding where we are.  Even the word orient takes its origins from late Middle English modes of understanding place in relation to the sun, the word is adapted from the Latin term oriri - 'to rise'.  

I soon found that I couldn't immediately locate myself in many of these maps because the names for the places I call home at this moment have changed drastically over the past few centuries.  In the de Vaugondy map above, the area where Halifax and Dartmouth are situated is called the Baie de Chebouctou (and is fairly misformed).  The map locations are also spelled with French tendencies - lending to a few more vowels, which makes sense given that the map is titled L'Acadie.

Map by Mr. Bellin Ingenieur du Roy et de la Marine
1745, by Thomas Jefferys, after the 1744 original by Monsr. N. Bellin

1759, Dedicated to His Excellency Edw'd Cornwallis, Esq.

In translating maps from French to English, across places and eras, the subtleties of maps change greatly, but in some cases remain the same - such as the Sincembre Bank above, featured in all three maps above from the 1700's.  In looking at the three maps above, the 1745 map by Thomas Jefferys pays tribute to Monsieur N. Bellin (Engineer to the King of France) who had mapped the Acadian region before Jefferys, but had done so in French, which wasn't of much use to Brittish explorers who were not bilingual.  And so it was trend of the time to copy maps, often drafted by hand and then reproduced by the dozens or hundreds using engraving, etching, and stone lithography techniques.  In the Victorian era, families who were wealthy enough to collect, but not necessarily able to travel, often collected maps as a form of armchair traveling, experiencing a kind of international voyeurism through the interpretation of explorers and cartographers.

1750, Cartographer: Moses Harris, printed for Thomas Jefferys in London

So how does this relate to Point Pleasant Park? -  you may ask... Well, how would you feel if Point Pleasant Park was named Sandwich Point Park?  Not quite the same enticing moniker is it?  The above detail is from a 1750 map drafted by Moses Harris in cooperation with Monsieur D'Anville (Geographer to the French King) who drafted the larger map of Nova Scotia inset in this map.  The titles of bays, places and islands in this map is truly fascinating: McNabs Island is labelled as Cornwallis Island, Halifax Harbour is named Harbour of Chebucto, the Bedford Basin is called Torrington Bay, there's even a place at the mouth of the Basin titled America Point.  While I know single trees in this style of mapping are used to describe large wooded areas, it's funny to see Point Pleasant Park depicted as home of precisely 27 trees!

1829 Map Detail of Halifax Township

1908 Map of Halifax Region, featuring granite quarries

As we enter into the 20th Century, maps of this region begin to take on familiar appearances; the Northwest Arm is no longer titled Sandwich River (as it was thought to be a large river about the width of the Thames - and as it's previous name suggests, sandwiched between Halifax mainland and the area titled Jollimore in the above map), and Point Pleasant Park is attributed with several of its historical features of the time, such at Steele Pond, Black Rock Point, and its Martello Tower.  It is also worth noting that at the time of this maps' publicationin 1908, Point Pleasant has become a park - no longer a military site or blanketed woods.

I hope you have a chance to check out the fabulous new collection of regional maps online with NSARM and have your own 'YOU ARE HERE' moment.  As I'm finessing the next set of research for my end-of-April project in the park I'll be sure to share juicy tidbits here!

13 April 2011


I am honoured and so overjoyed with the turnout for the third and final Holy Well Excursion.  Final count for the afternoon included 71 participants!! (not including furry companions).   A big thank you to everyone who joined the event, made time in their day to participate, and contributed to the success of this excursion.  I met amazing Haligonians (of ALL ages), folks from Antigonish, Newfoundland and Labrador, and made some new friends that I hope to stay in touch with during the course of this project.

Holy Well Excursion #3 at Prince of Whales Tower

Due to the size of the group, we had 12 lovely volunteers as flag bearers for the group, who also performed our Muster Count, rallying the troop and providing a cohesive, numeric shout-out during the excursion.  I'm pictured above in the obscenely large orange suit, which remains the best method of giving everyone an easy-to-locate beacon during the walk.  

We proceeded from the Gatekeeper's Lodge, down Cambridge Road, up to the Prince of Whales Tower, diverting down Spruce Walk and then joining up with Pine Road.  The Holy Well itself is located along Pine Road, and I have found that many dog walkers already know of its presence because their pups have sniffed out the cool, fresh water!

The excursion wrapped up around 3:30 pm at the Gatekeeper's Lodge, everyone who desired a little momento from the walk received a small jar of water from the holy well and printed matter related to procuring water in survival situations.  I want to thank Allison Saunders from The Coast, Louise Renault from CBC's information morning, and Elissa Barnard from the Chronicle Herald for their interest in the residency and their promotion of the project.

One quick note that may help folks who are looking for the well on their own: the header of this blog is a close-up from a map of the Park, with the well identified on the map!  Have a look for yourself on the full map at the 'it could have been the burbs...' post, as that post will also be the driving force behind the next set of work that I'm undertaking in the park during the month of April.


10 April 2011

Holy Well Excursion #3

Meet me in front of the Gatekeeper's Lodge STOP
Sunday April 10 at 2:00 pm STOP
Be there or be square STOP
Wear your walking shoes 'cause we're gonna find us a Holy Well FULL STOP

06 April 2011

hydrogen hydrogen oxygen

Shoreline Point Pleasant Park, 1900, photographers Gauvin & Gentzel

Survival manuals all report that the one thing a person cannot live without is water - we can go a whole week without food, but without water the average person only lasts two days.  I once had a high school chemistry teacher - Mr. Spitzer - who claimed to be a firm atheist, but that the one occurrence capable of changing his mind was the water molecule, he felt those three little bonded atoms were borderline miraculous.

In preparation for the upcoming Holy Well Excursion this Sunday at 2:00 pm, I wanted to do a bit of research around the presence of water in and around Point Pleasant Park, the Holy Well is reported to be one of the only untreated, yet drinkable water sources in Halifax, so I was curious about the other bodies of water in the park, and what made them special in their own right: prepare to whet your whistle...  

Halifax has its own dicey history with the water molecule, and our water treatment has often been a point of debate.  The Halifax harbourfront has been criticized, condemned, cleaned up, and recently proclaimed safe for swim.  This is the very water that surrounds Point Pleasant Park, and this body of water, as well as the lakes, streams and wells within the park have an illustrious history.

Point Pleasant Park's site was originally intended as the epicentre of Halifax by European settlers, when Edward Cornwallis escorted over four thousand settlers by sea to his newly appointed colony.  After a period of dedicated forrest clearing, test digging and searches for potable water sources, Point Pleasant fell a touch short for the settlers.  Gale-force winds crept across the peninsula, the ground turned out to be solid stone, and drinkable water was scarce on the park site.  While looking to fortify the city of Halifax after its centre had been moved North, up-harbour, Point Pleasant was a chosen site for fortification.

NSARM accession no. 1979-147 no.611: Point Pleasant looking north to Citadel Hill, 1789, by Lt. Col. E. Hicks

Fort Ogilvie was first established in Point Pleasant as an earthwork in 1793, and then rebuilt in 1870 and again throughout the 20th century.  Populated by Regiments in the first world war, water was a frequent source of discussion and correspondence between officers and their superiors.  According to Janet Kitz's research about the military presence in Point Pleasant:

"Water for washing was drawn by bucket from a well that was often contaminated and lacking depth.  Its water was 'sufficient for ablution purposes but makes a poor lather'. Shaving with a cutthroat razor in cold, hard water caused many heartfelt complaints.  There existed a spring two hundred yards away that was also used by the public, but most of the drinking water had to be brought in by horse and wagon."

Now if you're not sure what an ablution is (I had to look it up), here's the scoop: ablution is the act of washing oneself; the word origins lie in chemistry and alchemy, used to reference purification of elements through liquids, so the term ablution denotes ceremonial washing or purification.  What's fascinating to me about the above text is that not only is a well referenced, but also a public spring very close by Fort Ogilvie, which is the area where our sought-after "Holy Well" could be located.

Early 1900's Point Pleasant site map used during 2004 Hurricane Juan archeological evaluation

In looking at the map above, there are two significant self-contained bodies of water within the park land itself: Steele's Pond and the Quarry Pond.  While neither Steele's nor the Quarry Pond held or hold potable water, they were and are significant bodies of water in the social fabric of the park.

The above postcard reveals an early glimpse at Steele's Pond, historically located at the North East corner of the Park, don't be surprised if you are a regular park user and can't place the location of this pond - the pond and this particular promenade was repurposed during the creation of the Ocean Terminals along the harbourside of Point Pleasant.  Steele's Pond was the site of skating and ice-hockey in the winter, pond swimming and rowing practice in the summer, and was one of the favourite strolling paths of early civilian and military Haligonians.  The pond itself was quite dangerous as it was deep, and the other side of the path was bordered by the ocean harbour.  The Park Commission noted in 1893 that a "spirited horse" may be the cause of significant and deadly incident in Steele's, and in the face of several such accidents, the pond was filled with rock in the early 1910's.

Our final body of water up for examination is the Quarry Pond, located on Lodge Road near the Gatekeeper's Lodge.  It is rumoured that stone used to build the Prince of Whales Tower in the park (also known as Martello Tower) was quarried from the location that is now Quarry Pond.  The resulting excavation site is a very deep pond that provided a similar gathering point to Steele's Pond, and in April 1959, a summary report of the park noted the winter that year offered 65 days of Quarry Pond skating.

I'll wrap up with this image of the Quarry Pond, which also offers a sneak peek of the Gatekeeper's Lodge in the distance.  If you are interested in joining the Holy Well Excursion this weekend, meet me at the Lodge this Sunday at 2:00 pm - this week's gathering promises to be well attended (I'll be the lady in the blaze orange suit!).  I will also be doing a radio interview with CBC's Information Morning this Friday at 8:15 am about the Excursion, so tune in if you want a little extra information about what the Excursion will entail.

Remember: 8 glasses a day. Hope to see you Sunday and we'll search for our own near-miraculous molecules!