I had never been to Halifax (or anywhere in Nova Scotia) before, so I was not upset that a scheduling blunder gave me a free day to tour around.
My arrival coincided with the arrival of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who began her 22nd Canadian visit here. It also came during the celebrations of the one hundredth anniversary of the Royal Canadian Navy. To help celebrate Halifax Harbour was hosting the Halifax International Fleet Review (www.halifaxifr.com) in which twenty-nine vessels from eight countries (Canada, USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Brazil) were on brilliant display, and were reviewed by Her Majesty.
My first order of business Tuesday morning was to see how I could get involved. I walked down to the harbour front and found a tent of sailors and Marines handing out brochures and souvenirs – nothing was on sale – to help get people in the colours. I took a selection of trinkets for my son, including frisbees, a mouse pad, a lanyard, and more. They then pointed me in the right direction.
Several companies offer boat rides on the harbour. I chose a voyage on the Harbour Queen, a Mississippi-style wheel boat that offered a 2.5 hour tour that included getting as close to many of the naval vessels as was permissible, and a great explanation by the captain of what we were seeing. It was to set off at 12:30, so I had plenty of time to walk around.
The Queen was scheduled to dedicate a plaque aboard HMCS Sackville later in the day. That ship, a World War 2 Corvette, was docked in front of the Naval Museum, and the dock was awash with preparatory activity under the watchful eye of Sub-Lieutenant Charles Watter, RCN. I had a chance to speak with the Sub-Lieutenant at length. As we looked out over the harbour he pointed to where several vessels were at anchor, although through the morning fog it was nearly impossible to make out even the silhouettes of the grand ships, including the USS Wasp, an Amphibious Assault Vehicle, and the HMS Ark Royal, an aircraft carrier with Harrier jump-jets on deck. Fortunately the winds were favourable for a clear afternoon.
Sub-Lieutenant Watters was kind enough to spend a few minutes talking to me both on- and off-camera. He told me not only what he is currently working on – the anniversary celebrations – but also what he does most of the time. On this 143rd Canada Day, I would like to extend my thanks to him and all of his colleagues for all they to do keep our nation safe. I invite you to comment after watching the video and let them know just how much support they have!
Following my tour of the harbour and basin I switched to a much smaller, amphibious craft – a Harbour Hopper craft – the LARK-5 (Lighter, Amphibious, Resupply, Cargo) is a Vietnam-era amphibious vessel that has been refit as a tour bus/boat (they got rid of the Light machine Gun that was normally mounted at the stern. they drove us up to the Citadel and explained the military history of the city, and then drove us down through the old streets around the Harbour and then did something that most tour busses don’t do… next to the Nova Scotia Casino it drove into the harbour! we got to see the HMCS Saint-Johns pull in next to the Sackville, although we didn’t get closer than the 200 metre security perimeter allowed (we came close… and a Naval Zodiac came close to us and warned us off).
We went feet-dry again and headed back for the end of the tour, in time for me to see Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Edward, along with their Canadian escorts (Prime Minister Harper, Governor-General Jean) getting ready to disembark the HMCS Saint-Johns. It was the closest I could have gotten – maybe 100m from the action, and my camera battery was dead. Oh well, I still got to see her. G-d Save the Queen!
My day nearly complete, I headed back to the hotel to change and then seek out the finest lobster in the land. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the finest, but it was pretty good 🙂
As much as I do love the Queen, I was glad to hear that she was leaving Government House for the airport just as my flight was to take off, because they would have closed down the highways and I did not want any of that. I am glad I got out of Halifax okay, and am looking forward to returning.
And for my new friend, Sub-Lieutenant Watters, I wish you fair winds and following seas, and G-d Save the Royal Canadian Navy!