Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Pan and a Pedal

July 5, 2010

Halifax and St. Margaret's Bay

The Pan

It had to happen eventually—today we visited the first museum of the trip that we truly didn't like. It was Pier 21—Canada's Immigration Museum. Some of the things we didn't like about it included: it lacked an apparent system of organization or chronology, there were very few artifacts, and its main event-–billed as a "4D multi-media presentation"—was fictional.

Pier 21 is Canada's Ellis Island. Over 1.5 million immigrants passed through its doors between 1928 and 1971. The most interesting story the museum told was about the Canadian War Brides of World War II. Nearly a tenth of the 500,000 Canadian servicemen who went to Europe during the war married there. The Canadian government shipped 48,000 war brides and 22,000 children from Europe--primarily England--to Canada, and they all arrived at Pier 21.

We were astounded that a tenth of Canada's soldiers somehow found the time to make love, not war, while they were stationed overseas. We couldn't wait to do a little internet research to see how the United States measured up in the war bride tally. There were a lot more United States servicemen—somewhere around sixteen million. To equal Canada's per capita war brides, the US soldiers would have had to marry over a million women. Our research was a little rushed, and our internet sources did not all agree, but estimates ranged from 150,000 to 200,000 European brides and 50,000-100,000 Far East brides. The number of war brides that the US Government and Red Cross officially brought back in the fashion of the Canadian bridal boat lift was just 65,000. Any way you look at it, the Canadians outdid the United States in overseas speed dating.

A touring exhibit from the Montreal Science Center also captivated us. Entitled "Hungry Planet—What the World Eats," it simply featured very large photographs of about two dozen families from around the world, each posed with all the food they ate in a week arranged around them. A small label beside each picture told the country and the value in US dollars of the food. The values ranged from a couple dollars for the meager grain rations of a family living in a refugee camp in Darfur to somewhere around four hundred dollars for a very obese Australian family's mostly meat diet and over five hundred dollars for the German family's meals. (Could it be just a coincidence that the Canadian team putting together the exhibit chose to feature a Canadian family that followed a very healthy vegetarian diet, so unlike the typical food we have found in restaurants on our travels through this fair country?)

We were struck by how little it takes to survive, and how much more than the minimum we eat; by how many more prepared foods people in developed nations eat; by how little meat most people in the world eat in a week; by how much grain many people the world over consume. After being pretty critical of the diets of some of the folks pictured, I was somewhat appalled to imagine how many prepared and packaged foods would be in our weekly arrangement, and how few fresh fruits and vegetables. What would your family portrait would look like with a week's worth of your food?

While walking to the museum we read interpretive signs along the waterfront promenade that told us more of the Acadian story. As we have learned previously, in 1755 during the Great Upheaval, England deported nearly ten thousand Acadians from Canada, fearing that their French heritage would undermine their loyalty. From today's signs we learned that over the next ten years about half of the Acadians were lost at sea or died or disease or famine. In 1765, there were just 1,600 Acadians left in Nova Scotia. Georges Island in Halifax Bay was used as a prison for Acadians, and its first prisoners were the deputies that pleaded their case before the Council that decided to enact the Great Upheavel. The policy ended in 1764, but the government made sure that the resettling Acadians were in scattered communities to minimize the threat of upheaval. We had been wondering why we keep seeing tiny Acadian communities all across the island, and this policy explains it.

The Pedal

Our afternoon delight was a twenty mile pedal on the St. Margaret's Bay Area Rail Trail, built on an abandoned rail line that served the logging and mill towns and the waterfront resorts along St. Margaret's Bay, just half an hour's drive from Halifax.

The trail starts at the French Village rail station, so named because of the area's French history. In this case, the French were not Acadians, but rather Protestant French recruited by the British in 1750-52 to serve as a sort of antidote to the Catholic Acadians.

The trail was well groomed and packed small gravel, wide enough for us to ride side-by-side and enjoy the great scenery together. It took us through evergreen woods and summer home enclaves. Signs along the way tell the history of logging activity and saw mills that are long gone (although a huge pile of sawdust that is over eighty years old is still visible on one island). A long section of the trail is high above the bay, with panoramic views in a few spots, and tantalizing peeks of the water through the trees in others. Where the trees are thinner the trailside wildflowers are thicker.

After our ride, we rewarded ourselves with a lobster feast, and considered the day well saved from its disappointing start.


  1. No lobster this week, but I had guacamole (I wonder if they would picture it together or in the ingredients?) A useful (but not always effective) diet mantra I've used is, "there is always tomorrow to eat more!"
    Interesting about the marriageability of Canadian servicemen in WWII. There could be all sorts of statistical comparisons there.
    Wish I could do that pedal, I'm pedaling Ardsley though, really nice!

  2. While your statistics on Canadian marriages versus American are undoubtedly accurate, I think there are three facts that mean a straight comparison is misleading.

    1. The Canadians entered the war in September 10, 1939, over two years before Pearl Harbor got the US involved.

    2. Most of the Canadian troops spent considerable time in England before the various invasions of Europe (Italy and France). This included the so-called "Phony War" after Dunkirk during which time a fair amount of fraternization between civilians and soldiers occurred before Germany started bombing Great Britain. Many Americans spent very little time in England before heading to mainland Europe and had little opportunity to meet potential mates (many of whom the Canadians had already "locked up."

    3. Canadians spell most words the same way as the British giving them a leg up in the love-letter department. :)

    It was great to run into you two at the Hopewell Rocks. Hope the rest of your trip home is fun, interesting and safe.

    ~ Jim