Reunions of Past and Present

August 17, 2017

Our latest destinations in Nova Scotia were Halifax and the South Shore. Those of you familiar with Massachusetts will notice the similar terminology of the capital city's having a "south shore." What you may not know, however, is that to get to Halifax from Cape Breton Island, we had to go past Truro, Brookfield, and Fall River. It was eerily like home, especially when we passed an exit for a road that headed to Amherst!

 

Not wanting to overload our senses with the sounds and pace of the city after having spent so much time in the outdoors, we decided to camp in Laurie Provincial Park on the shores of Grand Lake before going into Halifax. The lake is large, calm, warm, and inviting. The park's accommodations lacked electrical hookups, but since our van uses solar power for the appliances, that was not a concern for us. This was honestly a place where we wished we had stayed longer because it was so peaceful and beautiful, but we had already made reservations at another campground for the next two nights, so we had to check out in the morning.

 

Laurie Provincial Park was a gem!

Some other campers chatted with us about going into Halifax as we were packing up to leave our campsite. They suggested that we drive to Dartmouth, park there, and then take the ferry over to Halifax due to construction in the provincial capital. This was invaluable advice! We snagged a covered parking spot right at the ferry terminal in Dartmouth, which was just a two-minute walk to the ferry. The trip across Halifax Harbour was a quick 15 minutes, but because we had extended our stay at the provincial park as long as possible, by the time we set foot in Halifax, we were ready for lunch.

 

Halifax skyline from the harbor

 

OK, we're here, now let's eat!

 

The folks on our kayaking trip who were familiar with the city all highly recommended a restaurant right on the Harbourwalk called The Bicycle Thief. Their recommendation proved to be spot on, as we both enjoyed a lovely meal while watching all the people who walked past our table.

 

Yummy lunch!

Campari, salmon, and people-watching--perfect! 

After lunch, we trotted down the Harbourwalk to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Bruce has never been to the Ellis Island National Park in New York, so I suggested that we visit the museum in Halifax. I am still impressed by my experience at the one in New York some twenty years ago and I imagined that the one in Halifax would be similar. The Canadian Museum highlighted the country's humanitarian efforts and the benevolence it extended to foreigners who came to their land for political or economic reasons. There is one haunting installation at the museum, though, which is dedicated to the hundreds of people escaping the Holocaust aboard the MS St. Louis who died or suffered after their pleas for entry into Cuba, then the USA, and then finally Canada were denied and their ship was returned to Europe. The stunning work of art named Wheel of Conscience shows the process of factors the lead to the decision to deny the immigrants' entry and serves as a reminder to behave differently when faced with similar pleas.

 

Wheel of Conscience shows the interacting "gears" of antisemitism, xenophobia, racism and hatred.

 

The museum also includes the Scotiabank Family History Centre, where helpful researchers assist visitors with looking for their family's immigration history. If the researcher uncovers information, visitors can pay a small fee to receive copies of all pertinent documents. Because many people immigrated to Canada through ports in the United States, the Centre also researches the US databases. My family has always wondered about the specifics of my grandfather's immigration to the US in the early twentieth century, so with the scant details I could remember, I gave the research a shot. 

Unexpected tears flowed as the researcher (seated) found my grandfather in the database.

I could not believe how easily and quickly the very nice young woman found the information about my Italian ancestors. She even made sure that I could read all the details on the copies of the handwritten documents she created. I was unexpectedly overwhelmed with the emotions from seeing my grandfather's name on the ship's manifest, as well as the handwritten census data from 1920 that included the members of my father's entire family. I was somewhat embarrassed by my tears, but the young woman told me that many people cry as they find their ancestors, so she always has tissues at the ready. Indeed, I shared the box I needed with a French-speaking woman who had also gotten weepy at the desk next to mine when the researcher helping her found something for her. 

 

As Bruce and I strolled back to the ferry terminal, I noticed how many other people carried similar manila folders, and wondered if their virtual reunions had been as emotional as mine had been. In a matter of minutes, I had the answer to a question that had been circulating in our family for decades, and I felt really blessed to have had a small part in the discovery.

As unbelievable as that experience had been, I had no idea that another reunion was in store for me just up the road. Many people, workers, tourists and locals alike, walk along the Halifax Harbourwalk. Bruce and I passed literally hundreds of people throughout the day, some speaking English, some speaking French, and others speaking languages that I couldn't recognize. There were people of different races and ages, old and young, and everyone in between. But someone I passed in front of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic caught my eye and I stopped for another look. I called out to Bruce to wait for a second so I wouldn't lose him in the crowd while I tried to confirm my suspicions. I told Bruce, "I think I used to work with him in Columbus!" but I wasn't completely positive. Bruce encouraged me to say something anyway, so I did, and sure enough! It was Rob, from the company where I worked before I retired. So we stood and chatted for a bit while recovering from the shock of it all. And then, I nearly cried again when I received a tap on my shoulder, and turned to see Alan, who had provided invaluable guidance during my last few months with the company. I was extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to thank him once again in person for his assistance. And even now as I write this, I am moved to tears.

 

My reunion first with Rob and then with Alan on the Halifax Harbourwalk

I couldn't believe that this day had resulted in a virtual reunion with my grandfather, and a real one with people from the place that had been my home for the past six-and-a-half years. What a remarkable day in a remarkable city!

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