My province is Nova Scotia. Looking to a map, one will see we are almost an island, in fact a peninsula of unique shape. Our history is rich with sailing ships. Our first European ancestors came in sailing ships; for hundreds of years, it is how our ancestors made their way from place to place. Nova Scotians, it was said were iron men who sailed wooden ships. Iron men, who, faced with unpredictable seas and rock strewn coasts, if they were to see their familys once again, must shape their course and their canvas as their fathers and uncles did; must act with certainty and immediacy.
In all of its little coves, as are found along her encompassing sea coast, will be found, bobbing at their moorings, small sailing boats, owned by lovers of the wind and the sea. Sailboats for many true Nova Scotians are an avocation: no more do people make their living by them. The largest sailboat Nova Scotia now has, it seems, certainly its most famous, is the "Bluenose," 143' schooner which alternatively is berthed at Lunenburg and at Halifax. She is admired by native and tourist alike. But Nova Scotia, as steeped as she was in the ways of the sea, is but one small part of the world which owed its development to the sailing vessel. England, a small island nation, owed its great wealth to the sailing vessels of the 18th and 19th century; so too did the other great marine nations: Holland, Italy, United States -- to name but a few. There are people of these other nations which have as great a love of history and the sailing vessel as we do here in Nova Scotia. Most all maritime nations have, in part, preserved their history by keeping a full rigged sailing ship, or two. To see one or two of them together is a grand site.
"ABOARD, at a ship’s helm,
A young steersman, steering with care.
A bell through fog on a sea-coast dolefully ringing,
An ocean-bell -- O a warning bell, rock’d by the waves.
O you give good notice indeed, you bell by the sea-reefs ringing,
Ringing, ringing, to warn the ship from its wreck-place.
For, as on the alert, O steersman, you mind the bell’s admonition,
The bows turn, -- the freighted ship, tacking, speeds away under her gray sails,
The beautiful and noble ship, with all her precious wealth, speeds away gaily and safe.
But O the ship, the immortal ship! O ship aboard the ship!
O ship of the body -- ship of the soul -- voyaging, voyaging, voyaging."2
During July of 2000, Nova Scotia will have a fleet of large sailing ships like she has not seen for many, many years. Halifax is an Official Canadian Race Port for the Tall Ships 2000® series.5 Halifax is but one stop of a number during a four-month voyage which crosses the Atlantic Ocean, both ways. At Halifax, by July 20th, there will be gathered a great fleet of these magnificent sailing machines. They will be setting out from Boston and start arriving at Halifax, as early as Tuesday, July 18.
LO! the unbounded sea!
On its breast a Ship starting, spreading all her sails -- an ample Ship, carrying even her moonsails;
The pennant is flying aloft, as she speeds, she speeds so stately -- below, emulous waves press forward,
They surround the Ship, with shining curving motions, and foam.3
AFTER the Sea-Ship -- after the whistling winds;
After the white-gray sails, taut to their spars and ropes,
Below, a myriad, myriad waves, hastening, lifting up their necks,
Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship:
Waves of the ocean, bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,
Waves, undulating waves -- liquid, uneven, emulous waves,
Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,
Where the great Vessel, sailing and tacking, displaced the surface;
Larger and smaller waves, in the spread of the ocean, yearnfully flowing;
The wake of the Sea-Ship, after she passes -- flashing and frolicsome, under the sun,
A motley procession, with many a fleck of foam, and many fragments,
Following the stately and rapid Ship -- tin the wake following.4
Halifax will be full, as she was in years past, with "Topgallant sails and royals, topmast, topgallant, and lower studding sails." Halifax harbour will have a hundred "sail of ships." They will all fit in so splendidly; the walls and cannon of old Halifax, the "Warden of the North,"6 will greet the sailing ships, as she greeted them in the past, especially in times of war. Halifax awaits with her Victorian gardens and her 19th century buildings and wharves, all, perfectly restored and kept. But, above all, come July 20th, Halifax will be, in fact, as she was in the past and as she will always be, at heart -- "A City of Ships!"
CITY of ships!
(O the black ships! O the fierce ships!
O the beautiful, sharp-bow’d steam-ships and sail-ships!)
City of the world! (for all races are here;
All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides!
City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out, with eddies and foam!
City of wharves and stores! city of tall façades of marble and iron!
Proud and passionate city! mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!
Spring up, O city! not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself, warlike!
Fear not! submit to no models but your own, O city!
Behold me! incarnate me, as I have incarnated you!
I have rejected nothing you offer’d me -- whom you adopted, I have adopted;
Good or bad, I never question you -- I love all -- I do not condemn anything;
I chant and celebrate all that is yours -- yet peace no more;
In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine;
War, red war, is my song through your streets, O city!7
1 I have decided to give this "Weekly Commentary" a bit of a rest, or more to the point, to give myself a bit of rest. I'll go weekly, come September. In the meantime, there is a lot in the archives which you may wish to peruse.
2 Walt Whitman's "Aboard at a Ship’s Helm"
3 Whitman's "The Ship Starting."
4 Whitman's "After the Sea-Ship."
5 The Trans-Atlantic tallship races occur about every eight years.
6 It was Rudyard Kipling who first described Halifax as the "Warden of the North"; the expression was picked up by Raddall in his most readable history, Halifax, Warden of the North.
7 Whitman's "City of Ships."
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July, 2000 (2019)