A Glimpse of the Past in Halifax

An old family story holds that my maternal grandfather, whose mother put him on a ship from England to Canada in 1914 when he was just 11 years old, had his life saved by scarlet fever. That's because he came down with the illness and couldn't sail on the ship he was originally supposed to take. As it turned out, that ship was the ill-fated Empress of Ireland, which sank in the St. Lawrence River, killing over 1,000 people. So we always said that scarlet fever saved Grandpa's life.

This story took on new meaning today when we explored the Canadian Museum of Immigration here in Halifax. The museum has a family research room where we managed to unearth the passenger manifest that shows Grandpa arrived in Quebec in July 1914 at age 11 and was headed to his uncle's farm near Biggar, Saskatchewan. He would later get his own farm and raise his family there. He was 74 when I was born and I only remember him as old and cantankerous, but I knew he hadn't had an easy life. (Can you imagine being sent across the world alone at age 11? Yikes.)

The museum also happened to have a special exhibit on the Empress of Ireland sinking (called it “Canada's Titanic”) and plenty of info on the history of immigration in this country. I took a few photos of some of the posters offering cheap farms to anyone willing to settle in the West and start working the land; both sides of my family were homesteaders in Saskatchewan, so that was really cool to see.

We also toured the maritime museum, which had lots of info on the actual Titanic but was kind of a letdown after the immigration experience, and the Halifax Citadel, which was a really neat 19th century military fort that was unfortunately on top of a rather large hill. That was enough walking to last me for quite a while. Ouch.

To Saint John tomorrow…