CHAPTER II. An inhospitable reception - Halifax and the Blue Noses - The heat - Disappointed expectations - The great departed - What the Blue Noses might be - What the coach was not - Nova Scotia and its capabilities - The roads and their annoyances - A
The Cunard steamers are powerful, punctual, and safe, their cuisine excellent, their arrangements admirable, till they reach Halifax, which is usually the destination of many of the passengers. I will suppose that the voyage has been propitious, and our guns have thundered forth the announcement that the news of the Old World has reached the New; that the stewards have been fee'd and the captain complimented; and that we have parted on the best possible terms with the Company, the ship, and our fellow-passengers. The steamer generally remains for two or three hours at Halifax to coal, and unship a portion of her cargo, and there is a very natural desire on the part of the passengers to leave what to many is at best a floating prison, and set foot on firm ground, even for an hour. Those who, like ourselves, land at Halifax for the interior, are anxious to obtain rooms at the hotel, and all who have nothing else to do hurry to the ice-shop, where the luxury of a tumbler of raspberry-cream ice can be obtained for threepence. Besides the hurried rush of those who with these varied objects in view leave the steamer, there are crowds of incomers in the shape of porters, visitors, and coalheavers, and passengers for the States, who prefer the comfort and known punctuality of the Royal Mail steamers to the delay, danger, and uncertainty of the intercolonial route, though the expense of the former is nearly double. There are the friends of the passengers, and numbers of persons who seem particularly well acquainted with the purser, who bring fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, and lobsters.
From this description it may be imagined that there is a motley and considerable crowd; but it will scarcely be imagined that there is only one regulation, which is, that no persons may enter or depart till the mail-bags have been landed. The wharf is small and at night unlighted, and the scene which ensued on our landing about eight o'clock in the evening reminded me, not by contrast, but resemblance, of descriptions which travellers give of the disembarkation at Alexandria. Directly that the board was laid from the Canada to the wharf a rush both in and out took place, in which I was separated from my relations, and should have fallen had not a friend, used to the scene of disorder, come to my assistance.
The wharf was dirty, unlighted, and under repair, covered with heaps and full of holes. My friend was carrying three parcels, when three or four men made a rush at us, seized them from him, and were only compelled to relinquish them by some sharp physical arguments. A large gateway, lighted by one feeble oil-lamp at the head of the wharf, was then opened, and the crowd pent up behind it came pouring down the sloping road. There was a simultaneous rush of trucks, hand-carts, waggons, and cars, their horses at full trot or canter, two of them rushing against the gravel-heap on which I was standing, where they were upset. Struggling, shouting, beating, and scuffling, the drivers all forced their way upon the wharf, regardless of cries from the ladies and threats from the gentlemen, for all the passengers had landed and were fighting their way to an ice-shop. Porters were scuffling with each other for the possession of portmanteaus, wheels were locked, and drivers were vehemently expostulating in the rich brogue of Erin; people were jostling each other in their haste, or diving into the dimly-lighted custom-house, and it must have been fully half an hour before we had extricated ourselves from this chaos of mismanagement and disorder, by scrambling over gravel-heaps and piles of timber, into the dirty, unlighted streets of Halifax.
Dirty they were then, though the weather was very dry, for oyster-shells, fish heads and bones, potato-skins, and cabbage-stalks littered the roads; but dirty was a word which does not give the faintest description of the almost impassable state in which I found them, when I waded through them ankle-deep in mud some months afterwards.
We took apartments for two days at the Waverley House, a most comfortless place, yet the best inn at Halifax. Three hours after we landed, the Canada fired her guns, and steamed off to Boston; and as I saw her coloured lights disappear round the heads of the harbour, I did not feel the slightest regret at having taken leave of her for ever. We remained for two days at Halifax, and saw the little which was worth seeing in the Nova-Scotian capital. I was disappointed to find the description of the lassitude and want of enterprise of the Nova-Scotians, given by Judge Halliburton, so painfully correct. Halifax possesses one of the deepest and most commodious harbours in the world, and is so safe that ships need no other guide into it than their charts. There are several small fortified islands at its mouth, which assist in its defence without impeding the navigation. These formidable forts protect the entrance, and defend the largest naval depot which we possess in North America. The town itself, which contains about 25,000 people, is on a small peninsula, and stands on a slope rising from the water's edge to the citadel, which is heavily armed, and amply sufficient for every purpose of defence. There are very great natural advantages in the neighbourhood, lime, coal, slate, and minerals being abundant, added to which Halifax is the nearest port to Europe.