Where I Live: Herring Cove
Wreck of the Hebridean Pilot Memorial
Herring Cove has served as a pilot transfer station for the Atlantic Pilotage Authority for many years due to its proximity to Halifax, but on March 28, 1940, tragedy struck. The Hebridean pilot boat and its crew of 15 left Herring Cove to guide the Esmond, a British freighter, into the Halifax Harbour. The assigned pilot, Tupper Hayes, was about to board the Esmond and help maneuver it into the harbour when the ship collided with the smaller Hebridean, slicing it into two and sinking it. Both the Hebridean as well as the six pilots and three members of the crew who drowned were never located. The event deeply affected the Herring Cove community, and many wives became widows and approximately 35 children became fatherless. The oldest children of the sailors lost on the Hebridean often had to step up to support their families.
On October 23, 2010, the Atlantic Pilotage Authority held a ceremony in Herring Cove to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the loss of the Hebridean pilot boat and nine of its crew members. A commemorative plaque was placed by the breakwater at the head of Herring Cove, which the Atlantic Pilotage Authority maintains. The area surrounding the memorial was named “Hebridean Park” after the event.
The Story of Joe Cracker
On their way to Halifax, many ships pass by Herring Cove, which was once a fishing village and lies on the eastern shore of the Chebucto Peninsula. On November 24, 1797, while escorting a convoy to Halifax, the frigate HMS Tribune, ran aground on the Thrum Cap shoal. Tragically, it lurched over and sank near Herring Cove. Though the crew was believed to have perished, nearly 240 passengers remained in the water, clinging to the rigging. Joe Cracker, a 13-year old boy from Herring Cove saw this and went out in a small dory to rescue two passengers. He rallied the Herring Cove community to help rescue the passengers. In total, they were able to save 12 of the Tribune’s 250 passengers and crew, the only survivors of the wreck. To remember his heroism, a monument was dedicated to Cracker at Tribune Head, the location named after the sunken ship.
My Provincial Community
York Redoubt is a military fort in Ferguson’s Cove overlooking the Halifax Harbour. It was a temporary defensive fortification built hastily by the British when French battleships were reported in the Western Atlantic. York Redoubt’s two-gun battery was built just as war broke out with France. During the 19th and 20th centuries it was strengthened and improved and played a key role in the defence of Halifax and the harbour as part of the British military’s Halifax Defence Complex. York Redoubt constantly evolved to keep up with new technologies and the dynamic environment of war. Between 1795 and 1800, Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III, upgraded the fort to an eight-gun battery which was protected from land attacks by the stone Duke of York Martello Tower. York Redoubt’s high vantage point and the signal mast on the roof of the tower allowed it to communicate with the Halifax Citadel and other harbour posts.
In the early 1860s, advances in artillery design made the fort obsolete, so it was completely rearmed and reconstructed. A surrounding masonry wall with caponiers provided protection and replaced the previous wooden stockade. Caponiers jut out of the wall and have rifle ports that allowed soldiers to shoot the enemy along the wall from the outside. Eight Rifled Muzzle loading guns that fired armour-piercing shells were also added to protect the ammunition.
During the First World War, York Redoubt was used as barracks for infantry and troops waiting to go overseas. Several gun emplacements like the Sandwich Point and Connaught Batteries were established as well. These batteries were constructed near the main York Redoubt fort, as part of the Halifax Defence Complex. York Redoubt was the centre for harbour defences during the Second World War, and a Fire Command Post was built between 1940 and 1942. These new defenses included observation posts and a minefield. An anti-submarine net also ran across the harbour entrance from York Redoubt to McNabs Island, preventing enemy submarines from entering. The York Shore Battery was placed near the shoreline to protect the anti-submarine net and its rarely opened ‘gate’.
York Redoubt remained in military use until 1956 and was declared a national historic site in 1962. Its 27 buildings, structures and armaments developed over 150 years helped make Halifax one of the most heavily guarded cities in North America.
My Halifax Community
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is a historic site that commemorates Canada’s long history of immigration. Between 1928 and 1971, Pier 21's ocean liner terminal and immigration shed welcomed almost 1 million people into Canada, all of whom would come to call Canada home. Immigration plays a large role in the creation of settler Canada and this museum gives us an opportunity to reflect on the many contributions made by immigrants and refugees who first arrived at this port.
Now, this historic site is a museum dedicated to sharing the stories and experiences of those who arrived in Canada in the 20th century. Exhibits here explore the first-person stories of landed immigrants and several collections host decades of artifacts and immigration records open for public access.
This museum is a particularly meaningful place for my family and myself, as my mother, uncle and grandparents arrived at this port as refugees from post-war Europe. You can visit this museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia or explore your own family history on their website.
Africville was home to Black Nova Scotians for more than 100 years and their community was vibrant, housing a school, local shops and a beloved church. In the 1960s, it was destroyed to make way for an industrial project and these families were forcibly removed from their homes and lost the neighborhood they had lived in for more than a century.
This historic site commemorates this important chapter of Nova Scotian history. Although there are many excellent books on the story of Africville and Black history in Nova Scotia, three of my favorites are: The Nova Scotia Black Experience Through the Centuries by Bridglal Pachai; Razing Africville by Jennifer Nelson; and the children's book Africville by Shauntay Grant.
Deadman’s Island is a small peninsula in the Northwest Arm of the Halifax Harbour, formerly known as Target Hill, as the British Navy once used it for target practice. It served as a burial ground for all who died on the nearby Melville Island—a prison and hospital established by the British Admiralty. Melville Island held prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars and housed 8148 American prisoners of war during the War of 1812. Overcrowded conditions in the prison allowed outbreaks of pneumonia, smallpox, typhoid and dysentery to spread quickly. Between 1812 and 1815, about 195 imprisoned American soldiers and sailors died and were buried in unmarked graves on Deadman’s Island, hence its name. Among the prisoners of war that remained from the Napoleonic Wars, 66 French and 9 Spanish people died and were also buried on Deadman’s Island.
During the war, 2000 former enslaved people from the Chesapeake Bay region, known as Black Refugees arrived in Halifax. They were housed on Melville Island, which became an immigration facility and quarantine hospital to accommodate the influx of people. They and around 2000 others had escaped through a proclamation issued by the British which stated that Americans joining the British military could become free settlers in British colonies. About 104 Black Refugees died due to smallpox and typhus and were buried on Deadman’s Island. Eventually, the Black Refugees overcame these hardships and established settlements in areas like Preston, Hammonds Plains and Beechville.
Deadman’s Island continued to serve as a burial ground even after the War of 1812. In 1847, Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine arrived with typhus and other contagious diseases, and quarantined on Melville Island. 30 of them died while there and were buried on Deadman’s Island. Between 1803 and 1856, about 400 people were buried on Deadman’s Island, all in unmarked graves.
In the late 1990s, Deadman’s Island was slated for condominium development, but community associations fought against it, citing its sacred historical value. The city of Halifax bought the land in 2000 to protect the site, and transformed it into Deadman’s Island Park. In 2005, the US government erected a memorial plaque on Deadman’s Island to commemorate the 195 Americans buried there. Since then, an annual Memorial Day ceremony has been held at the secluded park.