Tomorrow, we visit the place of my birth, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia which as I’ve mentioned before was not where my parents lived. They lived on the base in Cornwallis just down the road. I might have been 12 or 18 months old when my father, who was in the Navy, was transferred to Halifax, but I’m not sure. I remember pictures of he and my sister and I out front of our house; another picture was us with my mother. I lived in nine different places by the time I was fourteen when we were transferred to Toronto. My father retired from the forces two years later and its still my home. I’ve lived in 21 different places since I was fourteen, but that’s another story 🙂
Moving around had its drawbacks when I was a kid, especially when it was during the school year. Some of my Air Force military brat friends recall four-year rotations; ours were often 18 months and never longer than 3 years. Still, by the time I was fourteen I’d lived on both coasts and had driven across the country a couple of times. I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. My favourite places were Shannon Park in Dartmouth, NS, Petawawa, ON and Victoria, BC.
Yesterday we drove to Shannon Park to walk down the jetty where the ferry used to take us to McNab’s Island. The apartments we lived in were closed down years ago. We thought the buildings would be gone but they were still there. The pastel pink, green, yellow and blue concrete structures with balconies painted in offset colours had been re-clad in brick and corrugated steel. The Girl Guide and Brownie shack was gone and the parking lot and garages gone. Fencing ran around the perimeter with perilous signs warning us away. The sea shore was overgrown and mostly blocked off, as was the jetty and the woods beside the path. We couldn’t get near the heart and soul of the place that I remember so fondly.
Our apartment was the second one from the top on the right. The building was pastel green with pink balconies at the time. It was a three bedroom apartment, bigger than it looks here. The two doors into the apartment were side by side; the one into the living room was from the front stairwell; the one into the kitchen from the back, that led us to the back yard of all the buildings which was full of playground equipment, rusted today, but still standing.
Shannon Park School is also still standing, with new playground equipment. It’s likely still being used by the people who live in the nearby townhouses that used to be called Wallace Heights. I remember that school well. We moved there in March or April of my Grade 2 year, and because we’d come from Ontario they didn’t bother asking what grade I was in but instead asked me to read the page of a book. I was good at reading, so they put me in a Grade 3 class for the last two or three months of the school year. I struggled. I could read my face off but I’d never seen division and my mother would spend hours with me nightly helping me do my homework. By Grade 4 I was put in a ‘slow’ class. When I made it to Grade 5 I won a spelling bee because I could spell Saskatchewan. My father told me the teacher said I was at the top of my class. Like so many things that had to remain a secret, he told me not to tell anyone. I didn’t tell anyone but I never believed him either.
The view from the seashore where we used to climb the rocks and stab at jellyfish with sticks (guilt!). There used to be only one plant stack on the horizon but now there are three. The tide washed up all kinds of things. Styrofoam garbage that we used to set fire to and stand around and breath toxic fumes that will probably kill us one day (like running after the DDT trucks in Petawawa – what fun!). We used to jump on the heads of the giant kelp that would lace the shore, and get splashed by the fishy water that would burst out.
It was the same shore where we found a human leg in a plastic green garbage bag. We ran home and my father called the police. When they came he was interviewed by a newspaper reporter and quoted as saying that he believed that the leg was an amputation because the bone was sawn clean off. He was a chef, you see, and he would have known about these things. Turns out that the leg had somehow made its way into the harbour from one of the nearby hospitals. I envisioned it walking there and jumping off a pier or something, but then I was 9 years old, and that’s what you do. Later on that day I remember throwing up in the hallway while trying to make it to the bathroom (not because of the leg). I had come down with a flu and my sister was so grossed out that she locked herself out on the balcony.
The rec centre where we saw Mary Poppins seven days in a row. We could also buy penny candy there and Old Dutch potato chips. I remember stealing a Globe and Mail newspaper from a stack that was left unclaimed outside. I brought it home to my dad, who told me I should never steal. Then he read the paper.
These are the train tracks that crossed Nootka Avenue. We would run up to them when the train was coming and put pennies on the tracks to get squished. Coal used to fall out of the open coal cars and line the side of the tracks. When we laid down to wait for the train we would get coal dust on our clothes. We would lie on the bank too close to the train, and tell ourselves that it was dangerous because you could get sucked right under the train because of the wind. Yesterday my 10 year old said that he was told in school by a police officer that if you’re stupid enough to put a penny on the tracks, it could shoot out with the same velocity as a 50 calibre bullet. Who knew?
I can’t believe this place is still there. It’s probably called something different than it was so many years ago but I know it well. We could see it from the balcony of our apartment. We watched and waited for my father to come home. He spent many a Saturday afternoon there while we sat at home with our towels and bathing suits, waiting for him to take us to the beach. He never once came home in time.
Finally, the A. Murray MacKay bridge, opened July 10, 1970. We were there when it opened. A proud moment, to be sure, for Halifax and Dartmouth. I remember my parents telling us to invite my friend, Tracy Jones. I did but she declined. When my father asked why, I said that she told me she had seen so many bridges opening that she didn’t need to see another. He laughed out loud. Pretty funny when I think about it. What’s not funny is that since then I found out that Halifax expropriated Africville residents on the Halifax side to make way for the new bridge.
And we were there!
I’m surprised at how emotional this little journey was. I was truly choked up, even moreso when I saw a rat run by me near the shore. I didn’t mention the rats but the seashore used to be full of them and in order to have fun we had to dodge them occasionally. Well, as much as everything else has changed, the rats are still there. Somehow comforting.