06 June 2012

Partridge Island Gun Shelter

Just wanted to share a really short video clip (c/o Jacob) from our trip to Partridge Island last month.

15 May 2012

Keep Off The Grass

From time to time I've been sharing the odd photo that my father has taken. They're usually the ones with a little bit of comedic value. I have another!

This one, from last weekend, is from Risser's Beach Provincial Park, about ninety minutes from Halifax.

03 May 2012

Partridge Island

Early in the morning on April 30, Jacob and I left Halifax heading for Saint John, New Brunswick. It was pouring rain in Halifax, but forecasts suggested the weather be better at our destination so we decided to go for it. About thirty minutes outside of Saint John, the rain subsided. The fog, on the other hand, stuck around.

We went to Saint John to see Partridge Island, a National Historic Site of Canada. The island served as a quarantine station from 1785 until 1941. Immigrants and crew members were processed on the island, and the ill were treated at the island's first hospital, built in 1830. Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in 1847 were quarantined on Partridge Island. Of two thousand deaths in 1847, six hundred are buried in mass graves on the island.

While Partridge Island was one of the busiest quarantine stations in Canada throughout the nineteenth century, it was also Saint John's primary military fortification until the years following World War Two. Initially fortified around the time of the War of 1812, the island's defences were expanded to thwart Fenian raids throughout the mid-1800s, and even further during the First and Second World Wars.

To get to the island, we knew we'd need to navigate the nearly one kilometre long breakwater extending from Saint John harbour. Initially there was concern about the tide. We knew that it would be about mid tide upon arrival, and would be at it's highest on the return trip across. The day before we left Jacob found a photo online showing that breakwater at high tide and it appeared the tide, even at it's highest, would not be a problem. You certainly wouldn't catch me out there in high winds or high seas, however. We quickly found the most dangerous part of the breakwater to be the fall hazard. Falling between rocks was a real possibility.

Crossing the breakwater was a tough task. When we finally did land on the island we were met with a short vertical climb up a very slippery rock face. There is, and has been a rope tied above to help climbers. We certainly needed it. There is something scary about trusting an undated rope tied to an unknown object by an unknown person.

We had the luxury of a map to guide us around the island. We followed the beaten paths, and used the map's key to identify what crossed our path. The first thing you see after you climb up from the breakwater is the island's automated lighthouse. Not far from the lighthouse is the first military building we encountered, one of the two Radar Battery Observation Posts on the island. The third floor provided for a good view of what else the island had to offer. We did not remain inside this building very long. The smell became worse as we made our way to the top floor. Once there, it was obvious that the burning of insulation was to blame for the foul odour. This was the first of many examples of arson apparent around the island.

The path from the Radar Battery Observation Post lead us through some light brush to a series of gun shelters and their underground magazines. It appears as if access to the underground was, at some time, prevented. Any barriers are now gone and accessing the magazines was easy. It was very dark inside, a good flashlight was absolutely necessary. Many hazards were present on the stairs and floor.


Above the gun shelters was the second Radar Battery Observation Post and a twelve metre Celtic Cross beside it. The cross was erected in 1927 in memory of Irish immigrants who died during 1847 quarantine mentioned earlier.

This Battery Observation Post, during wartime, was decorated with the facade of a summer cottage. The facade is gone, it sits today as an empty concrete shell. Accessing the upper observation floor was difficult but not impossible. I chose to pass as the fog had turned into a very heavy mist by this point.

We circled back below the gun shelters finding the path that would take us north across the island, passing several cemeteries of various faiths, several gun mounts, searchlight emplacements, the Coast Artillery Searchlight Power Plant, and the foundations of several hospitals, quarters and other buildings. The path landed us at the island's collapsed wharf. The remains of an old power plant were visible but by now the mist had turned to rain and we made the decision to head back to the breakwater. The walk back to the cliff took us by more foundations, notably the first and second class hospitals.

Getting down the cliff was tricky in driving rain but there were no falls. 'Brutal' sums up the return trip across the breakwater. Rain and wind blowing spray from the ocean kept us moving, even though we were totally exhausted. Moving from rock to rock became difficult. It likely took us twice as long to navigate the breakwater on our return trip, maybe more. Climbing the hill once on shore was no prize.

We headed back the paths to the van and changed into what was dry, and turned the heat on. At the time, I said I wouldn't go back. I would like to go back as the trip was a little hurried by deteriorating weather. I'm going to need to work on my endurance in the mean time.

HistoricPlaces.ca: Partridge Island Quarantine Station National Historic Site of Canada
NBCC Heritage Resources: Partridge Island   
LegionMagazine.com: The Sad Story Of Partridge Island by Linda Hersey (2007)

21 April 2012

York Redoubt Walkabout

Earlier today I drove out to Ferguson's Cove, to York Redoubt, a National Historic Site of Canada. York Redoubt was established in 1793, and was built up over the next 150 years. The redoubt was essential to harbour defense throughout both world wars before it's closure in 1956.

I hadn't been to the area in well over a year. After double checking the time the gate would close, 6pm, I headed for the caponier tunnels. I anticipated the closure of the more extensive tunnel and was correct. The far tunnel remains open. The stairs crumbled away years ago, and the tunnel is still popular with big, ugly spiders.

I circled around to the exterior wall of the sealed caponier tunnel. There, I was able to reach in and take some crude shots of the interior.

My next stop was the cliff-side cave. It's still flooded but I was able to navigate my way inside wearing only sneakers.

After leaving the cave, I made my way down the path to York Shore Battery, and the three light emplacements just beyond it. York Shore Battery is closed because many parts of it are unstable. I was sure to watch my step venturing out on a rooftop for several photos.

York Shore Battery was built for World War Two. It was armed with three guns and controlled the mines at the harbour's entrance.

I climbed down the bank to the shoreline and approached the light emplacements from below due to the unstable terrain above. The light emplacements smelled of fresh spray paint.

From the light emplacements, I walked a beaten path straight up the hill. In hindsight, I would have preferred to walk back the way I came. I didn't fall until I could see the top. The path left me backtracking considerably to return to the parking lot.

View York Redoubt in a larger map

Related Links

13 April 2012

Downtown Developments

I took a short walk across the waterfront earlier this afternoon. Along the way, I stopped at several of the downtown buildings that are undergoing extensive renovations. And one that isn't.

Preparation for the nine storey Waterside Centre at Historic Properties continues. Aside from exterior structural supports, not very much progress is visible from the outside.

The site of the Chronicle Herald building, demolished in March 2010, remains a wasteland. It's quite an eyesore, with garbage piling up against the fencing and in deep holes in the foundation.

The addition of several levels at City Centre Atlantic is progressing. This photo from Birmingham Street, near Spring Garden Road.