All things Halifax fascinated me – its rituals, its farmers’ market, its tree-lined and generous sidewalks and walkable streets, its well-preserved wooden homes and Victorian buildings, its abundant seafood, and its pleasantly genteel people. I would soon proclaim myself a Haligonian. The 25th Anniversary celebration for the Marine Affairs Program (MAP) brought me home.
Learning Marine Affairs
At Dalhousie University, beloved for “inspiring minds,” we MAPers dared to dream. We trained to become “marine managers” that pursue sustainability of the world’s coasts and oceans. Like Halifax, the MAP community continues to stride with a sense of purpose, recognizing that much work remains to be done.
As a professional and interdisciplinary degree program, the Marine Affairs Program demands full academic engagement. However, it abounds with opportunities for intellectually stimulating social interactions among the students through group projects, late night study sessions, and memorable potlucks.
Through funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, students from various developing countries were able to participate in the program from 1992 to 2005. CIDA support enabled capacity building in developing countries towards implementing the commitments their respective states made at the 1982 United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea and the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development.
Budgetary constraints and change in priorities at CIDA have made recent MAP classes relatively less diverse than those in the previous years. However, MAP’s research initiatives remain noteworthy for their interdisciplinary, transboundary, and international perspectives. Its Piracy Project, for example takes a look into the “impacts and costs of piracy on seafarers, coastal states, and communities where piracy has become a major industry, ” says Lucia Fanning, the current Program Director.
MAP’s study on piracy issues brings to mind the privateering industry which, as local historians would have it, was a significant aspect of the history of Halifax and the rest of Nova Scotia. However, where piracy was/is illegal, privateering consisted of pirates doing legitimate business – essentially a public-private partnership, where governments outsourced their naval pursuits. Whether or not the privateering industry enhanced the sociocultural development of Halifax is a question that may be worth pursuing.
The Halifax of today with about 300,000 people may be more crowded and hectic, compared to the city that captivated me years ago. However, it has retained much of its charm and character.
My visit to the St. Mary’s Cathedral on Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road did not disappoint. The Basilica, a grand neo-Gothic style structure that the Irish Catholics built in 1820 with the help of the Mi’kmaq people, devoted its 10:30 A.M. mass that day in remembrance of peace officers all over Canada who died in line of duty. How many Sunday masses do you attend in your lifetime that start with a bagpipe concert performed by men in full kilt regalia?
Walking further up Barrington Street and towards George Street, I found myself in the midst of the globalizing “Occupy” movement. The “Occupy Nova Scotia” participants were on their second day of their occupation at the historic Grand Parade Square.
Then it was time for lunch. On Argyle Street I found Pipa, a nice, homey restaurant offering Brazilian and Portuguese cuisine. My meal of grilled sardines was fresh and just as nourishing as I expected. Finishing off with the warm, chewy cassava and cheese rolls (Pao de Queijo), and a bottle of Stutz, a Nova Scotia hard cider, I would soon declare myself satiated. It was a meal made more memorable by the warm attention from the amiable lady owner, and by the touches of quaint art pieces and architectural details in the décor.
The hilly walk towards the Halifax Harbour switched on my sugar craving. Beaver tails had to be it, a Canadian fried pastry that used to return me to Halifax wherever I’d savor it. This time, however, this piece of nostalgia cost me three Loonies more than what it used to cost me during my student days. I promised to just make these pastries at home next time.
On my walk back to the hotel, after the sun had set, I decided to cap my day with a lobster dinner. The one I had at the MAP Anniversary dinner the previous night was juicy and as ocean-y as I wanted it to be. I thought I could use another lobster meal before I would head back to the Rocky Mountains the next day. The one I had at Bluenoose II was rather dry and disappointing.
I must also warn that looking for a decent breakfast on a Sunday morning in downtown Halifax is a futile exercise. Most restaurants do not open until 4:00 P.M., and those that do will have a long queue. Brunch at the Lord Nelson Hotel’s Victory Arms Restaurant may fill you up with a good dose of old world charm, but the pork crepe I had was unremarkable. Don’t get me wrong, though. I always enjoy my stay at the Lord Nelson.
One of my missions on this Halifax trip was to get 10 kilograms of pickled mackerel. I like this mackerel fried, and savored with steamed rice. This meal never fails to take me back to my coastal roots. Unfortunately, the only store selling it did not have the pickled mackerel in stock. I had to settle for a few packages of smoked mackerel that I found at Sobeys.
At 15%, the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in Nova Scotia takes the fun out of shopping. Items on sale could give a shopper sticker shock. I limited my retail therapy at the Dalhousie Student Union for a beer mug, and at the Seaport Farmers’ Market for a print of the Brewery Farmers’ Market painting by artist Jin Chen. I didn’t have a chance to visit this old farmers market, which is the longest-running farmers’ market in North America, now on its 261st year of operation.
Touring on Foot
Walking around Halifax is always a joy. The sidewalks are wide, the places I want to go to are not more than 30 minutes apart, and when my feet get tired, taxi rides are just a call away. Taxi drivers are very pleasant; they would tell you their stories without much prodding. And when you lose your way, trust a true Haligonian to put you back on track.