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July 02, 2009

George's Island: so close yet so far

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This is a view of the harbor that few, in this century at least, have been allowed to see.

On June 13, The Sweetness and I boarded an HRM ferry normally bound for Woodside. But we were bearing tickets for an experiment of sorts, a pilot project for Parks Canada to allow visitors to George's Island. The island has been off-limits for decades, which is an odd situation for a National Historic Site to be in. Reasons for this state of affairs are plentiful: ever-present funding gaps, the logistics of shuttling visitors back-and-forth on anything approaching a convenient schedule... but I imagine the biggest long-term hurdle was the presence of an indeterminate amount of unexploded ordnance. That is a factor most parks do not have to contend with.

You see, George's Island was in a state of war with the world for most of its habitation. It was fortified early in the history of Halifax, predating by many years the construction of the Citadel. The harbor, not to mention the inhabitants of the fledgling garrison city, depended on the troops on George's to keep a direct attack on the harbor a rather inadvisable course of action for any enemies. As military technology "improved", the island's weaponry was upgraded to the best available (it even had a minefield during WWII). Eventually, the island's position became untenable as a primary point of defense, and it was decommissioned in the 1960's.

But the cannons remain. Cannons so big they couldn't even reliably salvage the iron from them. How'd you like to face off with one of these?
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Probably the most interesting part of our island tour was in the underground passages, boasting many dug-in cannon emplacements, ordnance storage rooms, and interconnecting tracks. The pictures didn't really come out too well as we had to be guided through, but hopefully this one provides a sense of the dank conditions for anyone stationed there:
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I hope Parks Canada can do the site justice when they open it for good. It has been forbidden for too long.

Posted by The Greatness at 08:23 PM | Comments (2)