Accidental Heritage at the Halifax Citadel

Monday was a holiday in Nova Scotia, a relatively new one called Heritage Day. It is, according to the provincial government’s website, ” … an annual reminder of our storied past and an opportunity to honour the remarkable people, places and events that have contributed to this province‚Äôs unique heritage.” It’s a nice idea, much better than the Family Day most of the other provinces have adopted – as an abuse survivor, I have strong opinions about creating a whole day in honour of something that’s painful for many – but it never seems to be executed particularly well. There’s an official honoree every year, but outside of Viola Desmond in its first year, I couldn’t tell you who any of them have been.

So outside of being a day off work, Heritage Day has never been of great significance for me, until this year. And funnily enough, the reason why is connected to family.

The story begins way back in 1983, when my parents and I took a road trip from Ottawa to visit a couple of my brothers, who were in Halifax for the summer. As a special treat, I was given one roll of film and my mother’s old camera to use, on which I took a grand total of 11 photos.

Two of those photos are of the firing of the noon cannon at the Halifax Citadel, a fort dating from the mid-1700s that overlooks the harbour.

I fell in love with Halifax and, at the tender age of twelve, decided that one day I would live there. I’m not sure anyone in my family ever took me seriously, but 17 years later, I did, indeed, move to Halifax, and have never looked back. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And while I live on the opposite side of the harbour from the Citadel, I can hear the noon cannon fire.

I’ve been in Halifax 22 years at this point, and yet I’d never been back to the Citadel. But Monday was a beautiful day and, with traffic being light because of the holiday, I packed up some camera gear and headed downtown to take photos. I intended to concentrate on the waterfont area, but the first available parking spot I could find was right next to Citadel Hill, and I decided I’d climb it to take some photos overlooking the downtown core.

And then I realized it was 11:30, almost time for the noon cannon, and the Citadel was right there, and it was a perfect opportunity to recreate the photos I took nearly 40 years ago. It was a clever plan, hampered only by the fact that the viewing platforms atop the walls are closed during the winter months.

This meant I had to watch from ground level inside the Citadel, and to be honest, there wasn’t much to see. Undeterred – and also an age away from the days of my mother’s old camera being my only option – I put away my regular cameras and pulled out my phone to record things, instead. There might not be much to see, I reasoned, but there was definitely something to hear.

While it wasn’t a perfect recreation, it was a satisfying boom and a puff of smoke.

Rather less satisfying was what happened a few minutes later, as I continued to explore the Citadel grounds. I went to the barracks, a large, multi-story building with a balcony that runs the length of one side of it.

I like to photograph this style of balcony, as they often provide repeating elements that draw the viewer’s eye to the distance, an effect I love. When I topped the stairs to the second level to check it out, I was happy to see that it was, indeed, structured in a way that would provide this look.

However, there was a man sitting on a bench about 3/4 of the way along the balcony. I don’t like having people in my photos, plus I tend to be careful of others’ privacy, both of which things meant that the photo wouldn’t work if I took it while standing at the top of the stairs. So I walked towards the opposite end of the building, stopping a short distance before the man and turning around to take my photos looking back the way I had come.

The instant I lifted the camera, the man started shouting at me, telling me not to take his picture and dropping f-bombs galore. I calmly explained to him that I wasn’t taking his picture and was, indeed, facing in the opposite direction. He continued to swear and shout, repeating not to take his picture over and over again. I kept my calm, told him that I’d moved to where I was specifically so he wouldn’t be in the shot out of respect for him, and asked why he couldn’t show me a little respect in return.

His answer was to shout, “Get the fuckin’ camera away from me!” Now, I’m generally a polite person, but de-escalation and I only have a nodding acquaintance, and I’d reached the limit of my patience, so I barked back, “What’s your fucking problem?”

He threatened to break my “fucking camera.”

At this point I left – not because of him, but because I’d gotten the photo I wanted. (I did report him to security, though.)

It’s kind of interesting, the impact both my visits to the Citadel have had. In a way, they’re a fair representation of my own personal heritage in microcosm: Sometimes my dreams come true. More often things explode. And when that happens, I do my damndest to make the best of it.

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