Mural on the in-progress Roy Building on Barrington Street, downtown Halifax, featuring a quote by architect Daniel Liebskind.
Halifax is a mess. I’m not kidding. For those of us who have cars and kids in summer camps all over the place, instead of its usual peaceful summer self, Halifax is detour central. Downtown is under construction, with towers pushing out of heritage skins, and two of the five roads leading into the dreaded Armdale Rotary are closed for various reasons. This is relatively new. For years, nothing could be built downtown, it seemed, because of the need to protect views to the 18th century defensive citadel at the heart of the city. While the volume of work simultaneously underway is inconvenient, it is like a wildfire spreading after decades or centuries of fire suppression. This is Yellowstone, circa 1988. Liebskind is right (see photo). The citadel is not what Halifax is about anymore. It doesn’t meet new needs for urban densification, for instance. (It also bears mentioning, it never did meet needs; the Citadel was never attacked.)
But why stop at cities? Why is it that busses line up on cruise ship days to take thousands of visitors to Peggy’s Cove? Peggy’s Cove is a simulacra of an 18th century coastal Nova Scotia fishing village, with its Peggy’s Point Lighthouse sitting atop massive granite outcrops arguably the most photographed place in the region. Rather than relying on fishing, this place and others like it now rely on tourism that commemorates a Golden Age idea of ‘Maritimicity’ (coined by eminent Canadian historian Ian McKay in 1988). We might need rural places for new things, like renewable energy, but if we’re not careful, the ‘tourism state’ will deny such alternate visions.
Ellen Whitman identifying post-fire understory vegetation in Northern Alberta for her PhD at the University of Alberta.
Exciting to hear Ellen Whitman, MES 2013, on CBC Radio 1’s Quirks &Quarks this past weekend, talking with Bob McDonald about her summer field season on post-fire impacts in the north. She did a great job, and touched briefly on her work with Eric Rapaport and I on her Masters working on fire at the peri-urban fringe of Halifax. She is now working on her PhD in Mike Flannigan’s lab at the University of Alberta, looking at fire regimes and adaptation under short-interval fires, combining field observation and remote sensing. Exciting to hear about her progress, and rather awe-inspiring to hear her expertise, so eloquently and smoothly delivered during the 15-minute segment.
A female woodpecker at work on a dead backyard tree in Halifax, August 2016.
I’m sitting at my home desk, watching a female pileated woodpecker eviscerate a standing dead tree in my backyard greenbelt in search of a meal. If the backyard neighbour had her way it would already be pulled down, but it’s arguably on ‘our side’. Thank goodness: this is such an important tree. It used to be taller, but through various animal uses it has been structurally weakened and sections have come down in windstorms. The hole near the top of the photo was dug by a pair of northern flickers this spring, but they were forced out of it by lazy but persistent starlings, who raised two young there. A local red squirrel has a cache in the top of that side, and I see his tufted ears as he takes inventory. The woodpecker is almost through to the other side now – she can crawl right into the hole to work – and if this wind gets any stiffer I think we’ll see the tree shortened yet again. But I won’t be pulling that snag down. I’ve got front row seats to a rare display of urban nature.
She then checked all our trees for weak points, including this oak I’ve been worried about.
Later the same day: This bird is better than a professional arborist. She has visited all our trees now and judged them sound. This is a relief to me, though an annoyance for this hungry animal.