Friday, 4 July 2014

Farewell to Nova Scotia

It was only when our taxi was tooling along the highway from Stansfield Airport in the direction of Dartmouth that it occurred to me that this was, in all likelihood, our last time in Nova Scotia.

I was in the front seat with the taciturn driver, gazing at the trees, still winter-beaten in mid-May. The last time I'd come this way was on a hot day in early September 2010 with my then-eighteen-year-old elder daughter about to embark on her first time living away from home, studying at the University of King's College. At the time, it seemed like the first of many visits, especially when we returned by train to spend Thanksgiving with her a month later. However, the years slipped by and here I was on only my third trip to Halifax, ready to see her receive her degree.

It wasn't a unreservedly joyous week. Elder daughter was still severely jet-lagged, having only flown in from London two days before, where she had had a month's internship with the London bureau of the CBC.  This left her homesick for London, a city she's always dreamed of calling home, and eager to leave Halifax where she has slogged and stressed over term papers, exams, and the diplomatic struggles of editing the university magazine, with little time for the social life that is associated with post-secondary education.

We learned, while sitting with the other families in the surprisingly intimate All Saints Cathedral leafing through their programmes and waiting for the graduands, that elder daughter was receiving a first class honours degree in journalism, one of three awarded in her category.  The Resident Fan Boy and I wept in quiet pride, although our eyes had plenty of time to dry during the four-hours-plus ceremony. Younger daughter made it through this trial, but melted down when we had to wait for a restaurant table after the long trek back to the university to pick up the frame for elder daughter's diploma.  On top of that, when we were finally seated, the family at the next table belonged to a former dorm mate who used to be a close friend but no longer is.

So, with four days left in our stay, I was almost as eager to leave as elder daughter.  The weekend was saved by my awareness of the finality of it all and my resulting determination to grab opportunities.

 The first of these was the Ghost Walk of Historic Halifax.  A ghost walk is painless and quick (if a wee bit creepy) way to learn a city's history.  I've taken such walks in Victoria, Ottawa, and London (the one in England).  This one was run with appropriate melodrama by an actor whose tour emphasized the events that have shaped and scarred Halifax: its ancient days as a British fort, its part in the 1812 war, the sinking of the Titanic (what bodies were recoverable were brought to Halifax to be claimed or buried), and, of course, the Halifax Explosion of 1917 which somehow isn't nearly as famous as the Great Fires of London or Chicago, or the San Francisco Earthquake, although many more people died in Halifax that day.  The tour ends at Alexander Keith's history brewery under his rather unsettling wooden statue.

Yet somehow walking out in a cool spring evening hearing spooky tales made me fond of Halifax again and sad to leave it.  I made a pilgrimage to the tiny Unitarian Church in the south end of the city. I walked through the Public Gardens in the first furls of spring, having previously seen it in the summer (after Hurricane Earl devastated it) and the autumn. And we made a hasty visit to the unexpectedly charming and thorough Museum of Natural History which was a 15-walk from elder daughter's final apartment in Halifax.  An added bonus:  I was able to manage the long walks and the relentless hills of downtown Halifax - a final sign that my knees have made a recovery.

When the time came to leave Halifax, it was not with a sense of relief, but a feeling of having said goodbye properly.  I can, with a good conscience, breathe a sigh and a wish for her.

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