Monthly Archives: November 2014

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Prisons of Halifax’s past

These days, if you’re convicted of a crime around here, you’re likely put in the paddy wagon and sent off to the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside, or Truro’s Nova Institution for Women — but what was the one-stop shop for criminals decades, or even hundreds of years ago in Halifax?

Well, given our city’s rich history and lengthy timeline, there were, in fact, three main prisons that opened and closed over the years.

The most recently-closed down was Rockhead Prison, which  opened in 1854 and shut its doors over a century later. It was built near the corner of Leeds and Novalea (then Gottingen) in North End Halifax.

The old Rockhead Prison, which sat at the far side of the city's north end. (Photo: Stephen Archibald)

The old Rockhead Prison, which sat at the far side of the city’s north end. (Photo: Stephen Archibald)

The Northwest Arm Penitentiary (or, the Nova Scotia Penitentiary) was built in 1844, right outside of Point Pleasant Park in the city’s far south end, and operated for 36 years when it was replaced by Dorchester Penitentiary (New Brunswick) in 1880. After that, the building served several different purposes, but was later demolished in 1948.

Rumour has it,  rock and rubble from this prison was used to build parts of Saint Mary’s University, just around the corner.

The Northwest Arm Penitentiary, right on the edge of Point Pleasant Park. (Photo: Nova Scotia Museum)

The Northwest Arm Penitentiary, right on the edge of Point Pleasant Park. (Photo: Nova Scotia Museum)

And thirdly, Melville Island Prison – which is now the Armdale Yacht Club – has a captive history of POWs dating back to the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s as well as the War of 1812. This site also held refugees escaping slavery in the US, as well as quarantined patients and various other prisoners over the years.

Directly across from the prison (er – yacht club), is the aptly-named, “Deadman’s Island,” where hundreds of soldiers and prisoners’ bodies now lie in unmarked graves.

A before and after shot of Melville Island Prison, which is now Armdale Yacht Club

A before and after shot of Melville Island Prison, which is now Armdale Yacht Club.

 


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Brian Ahern: The Man Behind the Music

Many Haligonians would recognize the names and faces of Johnny Cash, Keith Richards, or Roy Orbison — but would you recognize Halifax’s own Brian Ahern if you bumped into him on Argyle Street? The Haligonian has been a producer for all three previously named music legends, and many more.

Brian Ahern and Keith Richards

Brian Ahern and Keith Richards

Born and raised in Halifax, Brian began playing guitar at a very young age. He attended St. Mary’s University and played varsity football while regularly performing his music. He eventually moved to Toronto where he began working with legendary artists such Ronnie Hawkins and Gordon Lightfoot.

Ahern produced the single “Home From the Forest” for Lightfoot which hit #1 on the Canadian charts.

While in Toronto, Ahern began mailing letters to Anne Murray, trying to convince her to come to Toronto. She eventually left her job as a Physical Education Teacher in New Brunswick and made the move to record her first record.

Ten albums and countless awards later, Anne Murray inducted Brian Ahern into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Perhaps the most unique factor in Brian Ahern’s success was his mobile recording brainchild: the Enactron Truck. It was a 42-foot long semi-trailer truck turned into a recording studio. This was the machine that allowed Ahern to produce music for countless music legends from George Jones to Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), on top of everyone previously mentioned. Here is a full list of the artists he’s worked with.

Ahern with Mark Knoplfer of the Dire Straits outside of the Enactron Truck

Ahern with Mark Knoplfer of the Dire Straits outside of the Enactron Truck

Oh, and by the way — in 1977 he married country legend Emmylou Harris at his home in Halifax. They later divorced after having a daughter together.

Ahern with his then wife Emmylou Harris, a country music legend who has won 13 Grammys

Ahern with his then wife Emmylou Harris, a country music legend who has won 13 Grammys

It’s no secret that Haligonians take pride in their musical culture, and the musicians we claim as our own — but let’s not forget that our musical roots are well rounded, and we’ve got plenty to be proud of behind the scenes as well.


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Halifax’s old, mysterious network of underground tunnels

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Just when we hear there’s an underground river hidden beneath the streets of downtown Dartmouth, the same week it’s reported that mysterious century-old bundles of clothes have been found in one of Halifax’s oldest and most historic homes — our city does, in fact, continue to surprise us.

Check this out:

Not much is known about it, but there is a secret network of tunnels that runs below the streets of downtown Halifax.

tunnels

It’s said that they link the harbour to Citadel Hill, with a known opening in the floorboards of the Halifax Club on Hollis Street.

Caption reads: "Halifax journalist Barbara Hinds is shown exploring the tunnel under Prince Street on September 13, 1976. Photo courtesy: Lee Wamboldt"

Caption reads: “Halifax journalist Barbara Hinds is shown exploring the tunnel under Prince Street on September 13, 1976. Photo courtesy: Lee Wamboldt”

It remains pretty mysterious as to what the tunnels were (or are) used for, or how many of them truly still exist, but many think they served a militaristic purpose.

Take a look at this YouTube video (courtesy of the Halifax Commoner) to get a better idea.

 


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Sable Island: The Graveyard of the Atlantic

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Though barely any Haligonians ever get to visit the sandy, windy shores of Sable Island, the small 34 kilometre-long sandbar is, in fact, part of HRM, falling under District 13 of the municipality.

The narrow, crescent-shaped, curious and very historic island sits about 175 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia, and is home to about five people year-round.

What makes this teeny, seemingly-insignificant island so fascinating is both its shipwreck history and its natural wildlife.

Sable

For hundreds of years, hundreds of ships have crashed into the sandbars surrounding the small island, leaving behind a haunting network of watery graves.

Take a look at this map showing some of the island’s recorded wrecks:

Some pretty somber statistics.

Some pretty somber statistics.

 

And, remnants of the Andrea Gail – the vessel that tragically fell victim to the elements in the 1991 “Perfect Storm”  — have been found on the shores of Sable, including an empty life boat and an emergency radio beacon, nine days after the crew was last heard from.