Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Halifax, Nova Scotia

I had a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago where she asked about things to see in Nova Scotia. It got me reminiscing, so I thought I'd plot out my dream tour of Nova Scotia, if I had all the time I wanted, and money was no object. Yes, I love NS that much. Well, if money was really no object I'd probably go to Greece, but NS is pretty special!

(There are a TON of links in the post, and I think they're all pretty interesting, so take your time and go through them!)

British-flavoured NS as we know it was shaped by the Treaty of Utrecht, which referred to it (and some of some other provinces as well) as Acadia, as at that time NS was largely French. If you know ANYTHING about Canadian history, you probably know that the French and the British fought over the Atlantic coast like two siblings over the last piece of cake. This treaty-to-end-all-treaties was massive and divvied up colonial holdings all over the globe like so many Monopoly properties.
Downtown Halifax from the ferry
So, having an appropriate appreciation for the hundreds of years of European history in NS, start a grand tour by flying into Halifax, of course. You could probably spend a week in Halifax and only brush the surface of what's there. NS is OOZING with history, which must be where my love for it came from. The province has a chain of 27 museums, large and small, all over the province. Make sure you check out the pass that gets you into all of the museums, because if you're going to go to more than a couple, it can be a decent savings.
If you're wondering about when to go, spring through fall is the best time, but if you go late June/early July, you can catch the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. It's kind of hard to describe, but it's sort of like the Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show meets a Celtic-influenced circus, only a gazillion times more exciting. You can see last year's promo video to get an idea of what it's like. I just went the once when I was a kid, but watching the video now takes me right back, gives me a quiver of excitement and maybe a tear or two, and the intense desire to take up Highland dancing. :)

 Probably the biggest event in Halifax history is the Halifax Explosion. Until Hiroshima, it was the largest man-made explosion ever. It was during WWI, when a couple of ships (one of them loaded with munitions) collided in the Halifax Harbour. It was tragic, and scars of it are still everywhere. It was a powerful force in shaping Halifax to be the city it is today. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is the best place to learn about Halifax, and a must-see. Even if you're not really into museums you'll find fun things there. I recommend starting all of your touring of Halifax here, because it will change the way you view the city, and make your experience there all the more rich!
I mean, when you walk into a museum and are greeted by a dead pirate, you know you're in a quality establishment...

They have a huge Titanic exhibit, as well as lots and lots of ships - big and small. When I was a kid they had an old surveying ship permanently docked there, and they did summer camps on it where you could learn to tap out your name in Morse Code and eat weevil biscuits (gingersnaps) and drink grog (hot chocolate). It's the little things in life...

Just down the waterfront is the Canadian Museum of Immigration is at Pier 21 on the Halifax waterfront. I've never actually been there, because it opened since I moved away. But it's on my list next time I go's also a prime place to do genealogy research.

Near Pier 21 is Alexander Keith's brewery. The tour is super fun, winding up in an old pub with samples of the brew, staff in costume, and music. Even though I don't like beer at all, I quite enjoyed the tour. (Tip: the Keith's pottery/glassware is nice, but EXPENSIVE. Go to Value Village instead and look for some gently used pottery instead. Second-hand shopping in NS is da BOMB - they're big into the 3Rs there!)

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has two locations - one in Halifax, and one in Yarmouth to which I've never been. If you go on a Thursday evening, admission to the museum is free! My favourite part of the AGNS is their Maud Lewis exhibit. She was a NS folk artist who did amazing work, and after she died, they put her WHOLE HOUSE in the art gallery. It's definitely worth going on a Thursday evening just to see that.

The 'crowning glory' (haha!) of Halifax is Citadel Hill. You don't necessarily need to pay the admission and go into the fort, but you should at LEAST go up the hill and look at the view. If you go at noon, they fire the cannon everyday, which, at least as a child, was very exciting. Also check out the round clock tower, one of three significant round structures in Halifax.

St. George's Round Church is a really cool building near the foot of the Hill. In 1994, the year we left Halifax, it caught fire and was really badly damaged. I've never actually been in it, but I need to do that one of these days!

If you're near Citadel Hill, and want a place to sit down and rest, or eat a picnic lunch, the Public Gardens are the place to go. Bikes, pet, and jogging are forbidden, and there's often music in the bandstand, which gives it an othertimely air. There are also ducks, and I really like ducks. :)


I used to call the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History the Frog Museum, because of the GINORMOUS frog statue clinging to the outside of the building. I'm not sure if the frog is there or not, but the very same tortoise has been living in the lobby since at least when I was 9. The geology gallery has always been my favourite. I'm pretty sure it's to blame for all the rocks I have in my library...

An interesting bit of Halifax history that I heard of since I moved away is about Africville. I don't remember Africville from when I was a kid, but now that I'm an adult, it really intrigues me. If I had access to university archives in Halifax, I would definitely research it. I'm not sure if it's something that's not really talked about there, or if it didn't have reason to cross my pre-teen radar, but I WANT TO KNOW!

Province House is the old Provincial Legislature building and has beautiful architecture and artwork. When I went there with Mom she saw her MLA, which was sort of fun! It makes government feel very accessible, and the guards are pretty friendly if you chat with them.

Halifax is home to one of Canada's two major naval bases, and the Maritime Command Museum is worth a visit if you're a huge history geek like me. (Although at this exact moment the website doesn't seem to be working, so double-check before you try to visit it...I haven't been there in years.)

Still in Halifax proper, but further away from the downtown core is Point Pleasant Park. It's a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. It's HUGE - 77 hectares. In the summer, you can see Shakespeare by the Sea. The park is home to a Martello tower, the third round structure I mentioned. It also has a ruined fort and some other interesting features that make my inner archaeologist salivate. If you've read Anne of the Island by Lucy Maude Montgomery, you might get a little thrill out of knowing that Point Pleasant is the park that Anne walks in, and Dalhouise is her university. (And I JUST discovered that the Halifax library has a literary walking tour guide!! Ahhh!!!)

Because Halifax was a major colonial-era military power, there are a lot of old forts scattered around the city, and the province. York Redoubt is the home of well-maintained historical decay, part of the Halifax Defence Complex, and has a beautiful view of the Harbour.

Point Pleasant and York Redoubt are near-ish to each other, and so is the Sir Sandford Fleming Park (he was best remembered for spearheading worldwide standard time), and the Dingle Memorial Tower, which is a cool piece of architecture.

The Bedford Institute of Oceanography is on the Bedford Basin part of the Halifax Harbour and has a lot of interesting information on how humanity affects natural resources, a sea pavilion with a touch tank, guided tours of the research being done, and fascinating images of the bottom of the Harbour. I really love it there - and I took Trevor once, and I don't think he was totally bored... :)

The Shubenacadie Canal once linked the Halifax Harbour and the Bay of Fundy. Restoration work is under way, but parts of it are still open for canoeing or kayaking, and portions of it in and around Halifax have walking paths. If you want to get out of downtown Halifax and experience a more rural setting, following the canal will lead you to all sorts of interesting and beautiful spots.

When I was a kid Dad was stationed at the Shearwater air force base, and now my brother volunteers at the Shearwater Aviation Museum when he has time (and he worked there for a couple of summers, too!) so I'm kind of attached to it. My brother helped with the Swordfish and the T-33 that are on display, and interestingly the T-33, also known as the T-Bird, was the type of plane Dad flew in back in the day. Simon checked though, and that specific T-Bird wasn't one that Dad flew in. T-Birds have a pylon thingy on each wing tip (I'm sure there's a technical name for it...) that from on the ground when they fly over head looks like the S-foils on an X-Wing. Just FYI...

Fisherman's Cove, just across the harbour from Halifax and near Shearwater, is a beautiful little fishing village with a boardwalk, and it's the best place EVER to get fish and chips. The community is called Eastern Passage, because it's on the eastern side of Lawlor Island. It has some neat wartime and pre-war history, as well as some connections to the Halifax Explosion (see the Hydrostone neighbourhood in Halifax, which has some cute shops, including one that has steampunk jewellery that I'm dying to check out). And of course now that I've implied that the Hydrostones were built out of Eastern Passage sand, I can't actually find proof of that anywhere. Sadly, it must have been childhood lore.
Fishing boats in Eastern Passage
photo by Chris Rehmann

In Fisherman's Cove, the tourist info place can hook you up with a guy with a boat who will ship you out to McNab's Island, drop you off at one end, and come back later to pick you up at the other end. Given that's the only way on and off the island, the beachcombing is prime, and the 'urban' decay is amazing.

Old Fort McNab

It's a beautiful walk, and although Halifax Harbour is a busy seaport, you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. It's an amazing place!
George's Island
George's Island is easily visible from the ferry between Halifax and Dartmouth, and I'd love to go there, although access is limited. Another island of note in the Halifax Harbour is Devil's Island, which has a fascinating history. I have a thing for islands. :) There's a guided tour of Gorge's Island coming up this summer, put on by the Halifax Citadel, and I'd give my eyeteeth to go on it! Unfortunately, no one wants my eyeteeth badly enough to pay for airfare to NS, which is the great drawback to living in a country that's so spread out. :P
If you're looking for a place to stay in the Halifax area, I recommend The Inn at Fisherman's Cove. I haven't stayed there myself, but Dad has. It's right on the harbour in Eastern Passage, and is perfectly located for easy access to downtown Halifax via the passenger ferry. (Can you imagine having to take a BOAT as part of your everyday commute? I would so be all over that!)
If you don't find a souvenir in the artists' co-op in Fisherman's Cove, going over to Bedford to visit Clayworks is worth the trip if you like local pottery. I have a few of her pieces that I love. Her hours seem sporadic, so call first!
For food, I recommend the donair pizza at Pizza Delight - there are a few of them around the city. It's an Eastern Canadian chain that I miss! Stayner's Wharf is right by the passenger ferry in Halifax, and has great atmosphere, and I'm told they have great chowder, although I haven't tried it myself. The Lower Deck is a very popular pub with a good reputation, although I haven't eaten there, I don't think. I've only been to the Old Triangle once, but the music was memorable. And speaking of music, the Mellotones definitely worth tracking down wherever they're playing, and so are Sons of Maxwell.

And last but not least, what's a trip to the coast without BEACHES?! I haven't been to Crystal Crescent since I was a very little kid, but I remember the beautiful white sand. Apparently there's a family section of the beach, and a nudist section of the beach, so be warned! :P Rainbow Haven is the one I go to most often, because it's not far from where Mom lives, and it's very beautiful, although there's not much in the way of beachcombing because it's protected by reefs far out. Lawrencetown Beach is a bit further away, but the drive is lovely and the people watching is great - it's a prime spot for crazy surfers. There's also a cute tea room, the MacDonald House, up on the hill and it's got an art gallery and an antique store.
I've never really been a fan of lake beaches, but I just found one called Chocolate Lake, so I'm adding that to my list of things to see next time I'm there...
I hope this has given you a taste of my love for Halifax, the variety of things to see and do, an idea of the enormous range of history, and the burning urge to go experience it all for yourself. :) And now that I look at all of this, I have no idea how I thought I could get all of NS into one blog post...yeesh!
And I really hope you're still reading...that's a lot of links...I couldn't even include all the tags I wanted to because I hit the character limit...
I leave you with this video of a band performing 'Barrett's Privateers', which is set in Halifax, originally written by the late and great Stan Rogers, who wrote this in the mid 1970s, but managed to make it sound much, much older. This is a really fun bouncy version - enjoy! :)

Edited Feb 1, 2017 to add:

Scott Manor House was a happy discovery last time I was home. Tucked away at the very top of the Bedford Basin, they offered a very nice afternoon tea.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Steampunk Photoshoot - Behind the Scenes

The other week I did a photo shoot with my friend Teresa Rehmann, in my steampunk costume. You can see her professional photos on her blog, but here I give you Trevor's behind the scenes view.  I'll post more photos later, and the stories behind some of my costume pieces, but this will give you a taste of what's to come! :)
I was going to do a post about touring Nova Scotia. Then it turned into one post about Halifax and one post about the rest of NS. Then my list of important things to see in Halifax got longer, and longer, and longer...and I gave up for today. :)
Self portrait

I'm pretty sure my eyes were closed again... :)

The goggles weren't designed to be worn, because I can't see anything without my glasses, so I couldn't even tell if they were crooked or not. :)
Probably the only photo of what my costume looked like from the back!
School is always intense, and even more so during the spring semester, but hopefully I'll be able to post about Halifax next week...we'll see... :P
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Our commander comes down back to earth"

Unless you've been living on the dark side of the moon for the last few months, you've probably heard of Canadian Chris Hadfield, on his second trip off-planet, the first Canadian to be in command of the International Space Station. I'm a big fan. :)

He first crossed my radar when the news broke about his famous Twitter exchange with William Shatner, followed by tweets with a who's who list of other Star Trek actors. I was captivated by his photos of the planet from space, and highly entertained by his punny sense of humour. On Monday night I was glued to my computer, watching the NASA TV live feed of the Soyuz return, on the edge of my seat, and it was magical to see the capsule and the chute appear to touch down gently (although it was actually not really that gentle...) in a sunny field in Kazakhstan.

Hadfield's last video post before he left to come home was a cover of 'Space Oddity' by David Bowie, with the lyrics changed to be more appropriate for someone who (thankfully!) did not die in outer space. :P

If you're on Twitter and not following Hadfield yet, what are you waiting for?!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Hell on Wheels Twitter Roundup

I've been saving up a whole pile of Tweets that I've favourite, and I just have to share. We'll start with Hell on Wheels... lead Anson Mount is a regular Tweeter (his horse, Quigley, even has his own Twitter...) and has a bunch of pictures of the 'set' this year, which is really just Alberta prairie. Make sure you click on the links to see his photos. I'm not sure why some of them show up here and others don't...

More to come, eventually! I have a whole bunch of blog posts queuing up... :)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Calgary Expo 2013 - More Thoughts and Some Links

May 1, 2013, 10:20 am, edited: to add this link from a blog reporter's point of view.

Since it's blogging Wednesday, and since other then write my last final of the semester and buy a new bed (after almost 11 years of marriage we're finally getting a king-sized!) I haven't done much of interest, and I'm still thinking about Comic Expo and watching the comments roll on in their FB page, I still feel the need to write about some things, and link to a few things.

I should say that as someone who does quite a bit of conference planning (but on a smaller scale, maximum 150 people) I can't even grasp the amount of work and number of lists that go into putting this one - 1000 volunteers to manage is a dizzying number - and the expo staff do a great job. But with every conference, no matter how well it goes, there are always things you could do differently next year, and the expo people are great about taking fair suggestions of things to change. Lots of people don't make fair suggestions (where in Alberta could they possibly find a bigger venue then the stampede grounds?!) but they're good about listening to the reasonable ones.

There's a vocal minority who think that line-saving isn't fair, and to some extent it isn't, but how could they possibly police that without being overly harsh? You'd end up splitting family groups and making a large majority of people who come with other people unhappy. If mom takes kids to the bathroom while dad waits in line, and then you didn't let them in line together, and dad gets into the panel and the rest of the family doesn't, you have a bit of a disaster situation for that family. I don't know if there's a better way to do it, except...

I think the trick to managing line-saving (and also room-camping, as mentioned in my previous post) is to have people register for panels beforehand. This could be tricky, because the panel schedule was still changing on the Friday, but I'm sure they could think up some kind of system! This would allow them to put panels in the appropriate-sized room, and avoid the chaos and angst that comes with filling up a panel and not letting anyone else in. For instance, if they'd known that Nathan Fillion was going to be so insanely popular, maybe they could have put just that one panel in the Saddledome?!

Another problem with the panels the way they are now is that they often start 10 to 15 minutes late, and they still have to end on time to clear the room for the next one, so having more flex time between each panel might be a good idea, whether you have people sign up ahead of time or not. When you line up for an hour to only see the actor for half an hour, it can be a bit disappointing! Sometimes it can also take a bit of time for the crowd and the actor to warm up to each other, and then it's just as the panel is ending that the ice is finally broken and the good Q&A is flowing freely.

Next year it would be nice to see the con start Thursday night with a limited sneak-peek opening, and then scheduling all day Friday. For the number of people that come from far away, I think that would give them more bang for their buck.

You know what the expo REALLY needs next year? A designated area for cosplay photos. For some people seeing the costumes and collecting photos of them is a huge con pastime, but it can be a pain in the neck for people who are trying to get somewhere, but who are too polite to walk through someone else's photo. If they had a nice area with some backdrops and places for people to stand, and even approximate times of day when cosplayers from certain fandoms would be in the area, it would make everyone's lives a bit easier.

I am curious about if they had a lineup plan for bad weather - it was snowing like crazy on Monday, and I wondered what they would have done with the thousands of people lined up outside on Sunday if the weather had been like that then? And speaking of lineups, I heard about how some people went over to the Big Four building to the 'food court' (which is a grand title for what amounted to three food vendors) or the photo ops, and then had to re-join the massive entry lineup again, which seemed rather unfair, and meant that I avoided the Big Four until late Sunday afternoon, which is apparently where all the seating was...

And I know that empty space with seating doesn't pay the bills when that space could be rented to a vendor, but for the love of people's sore feet, I hope they have more next year! I miss sitting in the cushy chairs in the Palomino area and people-watching!

The system with the photo ops seems well-organized in theory - you buy your ticket and a time slot online ahead of time - and then you line up 15 minutes before the appointed time with the other people who are in that slot. I haven't done a photo op in years - since the bad experience with Shatner (if you're going to spend $80 on a photo, you should at least get eye contact) - so I don't know if it's still the same or not. I've seen a lot of great photo op moments online this year, so maybe it depends on the actor.

Anyway, I think they need to have a ticket system for the autographs. If an actor can provide their photo op rates ahead of time, why not autograph rates? Then you don't have as much problem with lines that are too long, and people who don't get an autograph after standing in line for ages. Then you can plan your budget because you know what they cost, and you'll know if they charge extra for a photo at the table. Also, if you bring something of your own to sign, it's the same price as if you buy one of their photos, which seems a bit unfair. I think the autograph system that they have right now could use some work! I wonder how other cons do it?

Here's my friend Shelli's blog post about the Calgary Expo. I thought she had a picture of me dressed up, but apparently it was too unflattering to post...eeep! :)

Here's an interesting article from the Calgary Herald, and a large portion of it is an interview with Lexa Doig, who's panel I quite liked.

This is a blog post from someone who managed to get into the Game of Thrones panel, which I didn't. :(

And here's the perspective of someone who had a VIP pass and managed to get into Fillion's panel when it seemed that all hope was lost. Jealous! But at $300/pass it's just not really an option for me. :P

It's funny - I remember my first expo, in 2010, back when it was just a small vendor hall and the Palomino rooms, and how overwhelming and fun it was. Then 2011 was bigger, the year of the Shatner and the photo op gong show, and 2012 was the year of disaster for most people (although not really for me - it was definitely my favourite year, guest-wise), and I did a blog post for each day. Each year seems to have a different 'flavour', and I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year!

This is the high point of every expo ever:

A massive Stargate or Stargate Atlantis reunion next year would be AMAZING! :)