|The Changing Face of Halifax|
Have you ever returned to the place where you were born and discovered that 'it just ain't the same' as you remembered it?
I moved back to Halifax last fall, after a 25 year absence. A quarter of a century is about one third of an average lifespan, give or take. To a city celebrating its 250th anniversary, it's a heartbeat in the progression of time. But history has always been evident in Halifax. Looking out on Halifax Harbour in l749, Halifax was known as the 'Warden of the North'. Today, the city's old fort on Citadel Hill still booms the noon hour cannon out to sea to remind us of our past.
The '12:00 gun' as it's called, was my touchstone when I returned. I'd left a small port city in the 70's, content with its acceptable share of tourism, shipping and fishing revenues. Back then, friendly residents had a quaint manner of greeting folks with "How's she goin', Cap?" whether you were a captain or not. Downtown Halifax, on the waterfront, was a sad-looking collection of old quarry stone government buildings, a few apartments above stores and turn of the century warehouses, not without their resident wharf rats.
Over the stretch of two decades, Halifax has become a very busy city indeed. Glass-walled skyscrapers shadow the newly renovated dockside warehouses. The city's two suspension bridges that span Halifax Harbour, are under constant construction; a new off ramp here, a new bridge lane there. The 'mom and pop' retail stores have been replaced by linked shopping promenades, towering bank buildings, clubs and upscale seafood restaurants. The decrepit buildings at harbourfront have become "Historic Properties", another place to eat, shop, or kick off on a harbour cruise. New attractions like the Maritime Museum's Titanic or Pier 21 blend history with modern day tourist appeal.
Today, in Halifax, the greeting is 'Good afternoon, how may I help you?" or in tourism circles, "Welcome to Nova Scotia!". Yet, a 36% increase in tourism this year is only one indicator of change. With its "Smart City - Smart Move", slogan that brags of its highly educated work force, Halifax has definitely opened its doors for business -- and it's paying off. While the city's recent bid to win the Maersk Shipping Superport was unsuccessful, Halifax has attracted many of the newer high tech industries like biotechnology, global communications and I.T. innovation.The Sable Offshore Energy Project and its spin-offs underscore the new found positivism in Halifax.
Halifax has long been known for its musical talent, but a whole new crop of Celtic singers and fiddle players has emerged from local 'kitchen parties' to sing and play for the world. Small roadside arts and craft shops on the province's scenic byways, are now members of large craft alliances that wear the new banner of global marketing. Aunt Elsie's quilt, priced at around $50 not so many years ago, will now be displayed at a large Hanover trade show in the $1000 dollar range.
in the film industry is pronounced. Back in the 70's, there was little production,
although a few releases were done on the cheap. A rare example, 'Goin'
Down the Road' (1970) was a simple backyard film about a Nova Scotian who
went to Toronto to seek his fortune. This classic was archived in Ottawa this
year with great ceremony, and is now being touted for its 'sophistication' in
directing. The Atlantic Film Festival
(Sept.17-25), however, attracted record participation and attendance, which
included the producers of "The
Blair Witch Project". Enhanced by support from The
Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation productions in or near the city
in the last few years include multi-million dollar ventures like "Titanic",
"The Scarlet Letter", "Dolores Claiborne" and "Two If By Sea".
Before the recent election of a new Conservative government, which may change things a bit, government support was a magnet for international corporate investment. With its five universities and several visionary colleges like NSCAD, Halifax offers its business community a young, aggressive workforce, cost-effective real estate, 21st century infrastructures, and access to one of the best shipping ports in the world. For visitors, Halifax suffers no shortage of events and festivals, pubs, clubs, unique seafood restaurants, and of course visits to the past at its many historic locations. Highlighted by its close proximity to miles of breath-taking coastline, Halifax has become a mecca for globe-trotting 'Doers and Dreamers'.
Has all this increased activity had an effect on the famous 'down home' friendliness of Haligonians? With the exception of current issues that effect the livelihood of the 'traditional' industries like fishing or forestry, residents remain pretty much unaffected. They still say 'good morning' whether they know you or not and they still stop to help you if you have a flat tire. If you're lucky, you might get an invitation in for tea, a bowl of clam chowder or a local 'ceilidh' just because you're a stranger. Some things never change.
"The best time
to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now".
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