To begin this tip, I should explain that I visited Province House in Halifax in July 2014 and am writing this tip in early November of that same year. In the interim period there have been what appear to be two appalling terrorist murders of servicemen in Canada, one at the National Monument, so how this will impact on the traveller being able to visit this place I am not sure, I suspect no final decisions have been made yet. I really do hope they don't decide just to close it off as it really is a most superb place and well worth a visit.
To be honest, my friend and I were just wandering about the middle of Halifax with a vague idea to go to the citadel (see separate tip) and had not really planned to visit here at all. I spied the Boer War memorial and decided to go and have a look and my friend was looking round and asked if I wanted to go in and look inside. Well, a hugely historical Governmental building, I didn't need any second bidding and so in we went. We didn't even get past the door before the two security guards had engaged us in conversation. Not any sort of interrogation, you understand, just a friendly chat. We made it as far as the desk and the member of staff there suggested the best way of seeing the place, also suggesting that there was a video presentation starting shortly upstairs which we might enjoy. We had a brief perusal of the impressive staircase and upstairs hallway whilst waiting to go in and were treated to a very professional video presentation about the history of the building and Nova Scotia in general.
As you would expect from the Provincial seat of Government of an industrialised nation, the place is very well-maintained. It is obviously a delightfully and attractively old building but with all the modern appurtenances (TV cameras, well-equipped media room, accessible toilets and so on) but it in no way detracts from the natural charm of the place.
We made our way towards the well-signed theatre where we took our seats and were treated to an excellent professional video performance dealing partly with the building, partly about Nova Scotia in particular and partly with Canada more generally. All very well done, lasting about 20 - 25 minutes in total and well worth the time. After that we were fairly well free to explore the building at will. Obviously, there were private offices but not too many and you could more or less wander where you wanted. I found it absolutely enchanting, both architecturally and historically.
I do not wish to sound over-fulsome but I literally felt history pouring out of every knot in every wooden panel. I trust that I write tips on Virtual Tourist that are objective and not overly-coloured by a personal impression of a particular place and I hope people respect my writing in this way even if they think it is rubbish as a piece but I genuinely found this place very moving in various ways.
So what about the building itself? Well, it started in 1819 (building having started in 1811) and was originally the legiaslature building as well as being the major Court for Nova Scotia. Don't forget, this is decades before Canada became a country!
Perhaps the most famous trial in the "Court", which is now the parliamentarly library, was that against Joseph Howe, sometime politician, sometime journalist, who published an article in his newspaper accusing the polce and local authorities of theft of public monies. His speech in his own defence lasted approximately six hours and cited numerous incidents of malfeasance by those in public office.
After the trial, the jury was exhorted by the judge to find him guilty and they found him not guilty a scant ten minutes later. Apparently, in those days, honesty was no defence to the libel law, how does that work? "Joe" Howe or "Uncle Joe" as he is now affectionatley known, is credited with establishing the concept of freedom of speech in this very room. I find that worth visiting if for nothing else here.
I'll tell you how open this place was and I will include a picture here. This is not in the slightest disrespectful to a people I vaguely knew before and have come to love in the last few months. We were in what is the "chamber" where things are debated, obviously off on holiday for the summer in the way of politicians everywhere. The concept of doing a VT flag photo seemed beyond possibility but the guard told us to go ahead. For crying out loud, if I tried to do that in the Houses of Parliament in London, I'd be at least given a good kicking if not shot! This is Canada for you, end of story and I thank them for it, they were so good.
There are numerous other rooms available for viewing, many of which have huge historical significance for Canada and it is absolutely worth visiting. Obviously, by the nature of the place, it is a functioning Governmental building so you may only have limited access, especially in light of the last few weeks horrors.
I did notice, on a military note (I am an ex-soldier myself) that there was a delighttful prortrait (I beleive in oils, I am no expert) of a chap called William Hall, a very upstanding looking gentleman in civvies and with his medals on , who died in 1904 and was the first "black" man (their term not mine and undoubdetly appropriate at the time he won it.) For anyone reading this who does not understand the VC, it is the highest honour for valour you can recieve in the British Forces. It doesn't get any higher than that. Colonels will salute you first (not actually required in Queens Regs but they will), differennt from the CMH in the States where it is required.
I could bore you with a thousand things to look at in this building but I won't. It is just a complete trerasure trove of things to see and experience, it really is that good.
If you have the great good fortune to visit Nova Scotia, and I hope you do as I had a wonderful time there, the attached website is where it is run from. Go and have a look. Seriously, it is well worth it and, if you are on a tight budget, it is totally free.
Readers of my other pages will know that I have an interest in military history (all periods) and I knew a bit about the Boer / South African War which seemed to have spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I know the UK had been heavily involved and indeed suffered heavy casualties but it was only when I visited Canada for the first time recently that I realised the extent of Canadian involvement in that conflict. It seems they too suffered pretty seriously a long way from home and this memorial is dedicated to them.
I certainly don't want to get into the morality of this or, indeed, any other war. I merely post this tip as sometthing interesting which the visitor may want to have a look at. It is in the grounds of the Provincial House (see separate tip) on Hollis street in the middle of "downtown". Built to the design of Hamilton MacCarthy it is a rather grand structure, a lot grander than many of the simple obelisks erected for the fallen after the first World War which was to happen all too soon. Perhaps by then people had lost the taste for war and who can blame them?
The cornerstone was laid in 1901 by the Prince of Wales (later King Goerge V) accompanied by the Princess of Wales and was the first time they had visited Canada as a couple. There are four panels on the plinth depicting the departure from Halifax (a major seaport), the Battle of Witpoort, the Battle of Paaderburg, which was the Canadians largest engagement of the war and the Seige of Mafeking. It is worth spending a minute or two examining these panels as they really are very well executed.
Atop the whole thing is a Canadian soldier, resplendent in the dress of the time (including long puttees) and with his rifle held high above his head. Again, this main character is very well executed. It is an excellently done piece of sculpture whatever your views on warfare and, if you are visiting Provincial House (which you should if it is open) it is well worth stopping off to examine this
We were about to just walk through what we thought was a parking lot. We saw two commissionaires standing on the steps to an open door. We walked over and found out we were at the Provincial House. So we went in. They took our bags and put them through an x-ray machine to make sure there was nothing dangerous in it. Then we went off on a self tour.
There is a room dedicated to Joseph Howe. He was a journalist; and later the Premier of Nova Scotia. He was put on trial on a charge of criminal libel. The presiding judge called for Howe's conviction, but Howe's passionate speech in his own defence swayed the jury and the jurors acquitted him in what is considered a landmark case in the struggle for a free press in Canada
We were even able to walk into the legislature room, and the library.
It was a very informative visit and the staff was extremely friendly.
It's always fun to visit the Leg building when you happen to be in a provincial capital because it's a great - and free - way to learn more about the province's history and current state. Unfortunately they were doing a bit of restauration to the building during our stay in Halifax so there were a few rooms we didn't have access to, but we still enjoyed visiting Nova Scotia's Province House. Built between 1811 and 1818, it is a beautiful example of Georgian architecture and it is now a National historic site. Your tour guide will point you to several symbols that represent the province's heritage and identity - ask your tour guide about the beheaded bald eagles, that's a funny one!