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!

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