25 May 2011

gimme shelter

The first three tenets of survival are the procurement of:
2. FOOD and 

While water and food are pretty straight forward - shelter can be many things to many people, including the Rolling Stones.  Point Pleasant Park's history is primarily shared between Mi'kmaq, Scottish, British, and French settlers, all who have occupied the park in varying ways.  To establish their presence in the area once known as Sandwich Point to early settlers, different kinds of shelters were set up according to each group's cultural needs, norms and preferences within what we now know as Point Pleasant.

One structure built for shelter by Mi'kmaq people are wigwams, written wikuom in the Mi'kmaq language.  Wigwams can have several types of architecture, but three most prevalent are the conical, v-shape, and domed.  These structures are so resilient to weather (including wind, rain, sleet, and snow) that survival guides recommend making similar structures in an emergency (as above).

Stereograph card of North American Wigwam, circa 1880

Traditionally built from flexible branches for a domed structure (such as willow or evergreen saplings), a domed framework would be established by driving the 'poles' into the ground.  The frame would then be lashed together using soaked roots or leather as tethering material.  In the case of a conical or v-shape frame, larger sturdy branches were employed, as seen below.

Recreation of v-shape wigwam, style estimated to be in use circa 1400

Once the domed structure was stable, sides and roofing would be laid using sheets of bark, overlapped rushes or grasses and interwoven reeds.  Trappers and Voyageurs were so impressed by the portability and versatility of material that wigwams and tipis could be constructed with that many European traders abandoned canvas tenting which was heavy to portage and easily water-logged.  I was a camp counsellor in Kananaskis Alberta, and often made lean-tos from brush and support branches with my campers; those who chose to spend the night in nylon tents often woke up damp from moisture that had crept in, while the folks who slept in the lean-to would be dry as a bone in the morning.

Conical wigwams near Chester, Nova Scotia, circa 1920

It is important to note that wigwams differ from tipis and wikiups, among other structures developed by first nations who held varying degrees of nomadic lifestyles.  Mary Rowlandson, a colonial American woman born in England, used the term wigwam in her captivity account of King Philip's War in 1675, to describe First Nations dwellings.  The term has remained in common use within English language archives and libraries to present date, despite differences in structure and use of unique dwellings to each nation. 

Intaglio print by Edward Hicks, circa 1780

Among the first settlers of Halifax there were only a few millwrights and bricklayers compared to the legions of mariners and soldiers.  As Point Pleasant was deemed too windy and rocky to establish a settlement upon, the Point was established as a military stronghold and lookout when fears of a French invasion of Halifax grew in the early 1760's.  The intaglio print above, by Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hicks, depicts a scene from Point Pleasant looking North (citadel hill is the high point in the distance) through a military camp.  Given the details of the print, we can deduce that the shelters for the encampment appear to be made of wood or clapboard, and have established roofing and windows.  Troops at this time in history would have slept and ate in a type of tent called a  wedge, a simple tripod tent made from canvas or cotton duck.

British Military Tent, 18th century

Peeking through the trees below, we can see the first large earthwork fortification in Point Pleasant Park - Fort Ogilvie.  While hasty batteries had been constructed at either side of the Northwest arm, initially to hold cannons within shot of the harbour mouth and later to stretch chain across the arm in an effort to strangle ships that might attempt to enter the waterway, Fort Ogilvie was an engineering feat and a shelter faced with sod and six 24-pounder cannons.  The shelter held a guardhouse and a dedicated furnace for heating shot used in cannons and rifles.  All photos below are from Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management.

Fort Ogilvie interior, 1879, canon shells in the foreground

Fort Ogilvie exterior, 1879

Fort Ogilvie exterior, 1879
Earthwork shelters were often constructed in areas where raw material for large buildings was not abundant.  Piles of soil would be strategically massed into hills and then shaped into fortifications, to be reinforced with stone and brickwork as it became available through quarrying and brick kilnwork.  My two favourite parts of these photos documenting the fort exterior are the dark woolen military great-coats (big enough to be a shelter of their own!) and the measuring sticks to prove just how tall the fortification was.

If you visit Point Pleasant Park today, Fort Ogilvie is not open to the public as it is under Fortification Stabilization, in order to preserve the site and its structures.  I am working on the final preparations for my Suburban Shelter project this coming weekend - I will be posting again with specific details on how to find the shelter I will be occupying within the park from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm both Saturday May 28 and Sunday May 29.  If you are able to locate my shelter in the park and its petite domestic setting (don't worry - it's pretty hard to miss the emergency orange) your reward will be a hot cup of traditional English tea, served by yours truly!

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