Memories of Citadel Hill

One of the pages that I follow on Facebook is Vintage Halifax where they post a wide range of old pictures and postcards depicting Halifax from as far back as when photography was first invented. Their collection continues to grow and I’ve commented on a few when they bring back personal memories from over the years. Yesterday, they posted this old postcard from the 1920’s that was taken up on Citadel Hill where the original Halifax fortress was built for the British troops to watch and protect the expansive harbor that was – and still is – not only an important part of Halifax but the entire East Coast shipping routes.

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This view definitely brought back an interesting memory of our Dad and I’m sharing it here as well.

Dad was the first Chinese boy to arrive in Halifax at the age of 9 in 1916. At one point a couple of years later, his Father actually paid the Head Tax to bring his wife over, probably in an effort to keep his family together. But alas, Grandma didn’t settle in very well and soon went back home to China to await her husband’s return after making his fortune in Canada.

Having started school at a very young age back in China, Dad had already gone through several years of learning to read and write Chinese by the time he arrived in Halifax. So even though he couldn’t read or write English, it probably didn’t take him too long to learn English in what was likely a much less strict environment than he’d already experienced in school back in China. But one can only imagine the isolation this young Chinese boy endured from the daily rejection of his classmates early on for being a stranger in a strange land.

For most immigrants, learning about the popular culture of the time is one way to try to fit in. Dad told us stories about playing baseball in the streets with the other kids who eventually accepted him. (But more often than not, their parents would never let him into their homes.) My brothers and I went through much of the same process going to school in the 50’s and early 60’s. Many of our friends – like Dad before us – were children of immigrant families: Greeks, Jews, Italians but very few Chinese kids. And of course, many of their families were in the stereotypical businesses: restaurants, convenience stores and clothing shops. Most of us tried our best to fit in by doing some of the things the other kids did. And even though my brothers and I had been born in Halifax, our parents sheltered us during our early years for reasons that we’d never learned or understood. Perhaps it was Dad’s fear of the racism he had endured as a young boy. Or maybe it was simply cultural control over family. Many of our other immigrant friends shared similar experiences about growing up in those times. And I would imagine that it may not be much different for new immigrant families arriving in Canada and the States today.

For some strange reason, Dad became a lifelong New York Yankees fan. Perhaps it was Dad’s way of immersing himself in aspects of Western culture. When my brothers and I got a little older, he and two of his lifelong Jewish buddies would end up taking the bus or train to New York City and stayed at the YMCA so they could watch their Yankees play in the World Series – Yankee Stadium in the Bronx!

Long before they even broadcast the Yankees games on television, he would listen to the games crouched in front of his old RCA shortwave radio. Dad would be able to cite RBI’s and scores and averages off the top of his head even into his late 70’s. There was nothing he didn’t know about his beloved Yankees. It was his one passion in a very frugal life. In fact, that’s how we finally managed to convince him to buy a color TV set after every other family in the neighborhood had already bought one: “But Dad – you’ll be able to watch the Yankees games in color!” We had a color TV set the next week.

Anyway, some of my friends will remember that back in the 60′s and 70′s, Citadel Hill was a great place for young couples to park and neck. Well, eventually in the 80′s long after my brothers and I had moved out, Dad finally discovered that the Citadel was one of the highest points in Halifax where he could park his car and actually pick up the Yankees game on his car radio! So on summer nights, he’d drive up there by himself and listen to the Yankees for a couple of hours.

Well, one evening, a cop actually came up to his car window and tapped on the glass. “Sir, what are you doing up here?”

When Dad innocently showed him how incredible the reception was up on the Hill, the cop was both surprised and impressed. But then he cautioned Dad about why he was looking in on the cars parked up there on Citadel Hill at night in the 80′s: It had become a serious gay hookup site, complete with all the crazies and crime that went along with it!

I think that was the last time Dad went back up on Citadel Hill to listen to his ball games.

And here’s a modern day aerial view of the fortress, complete with drawbridge and moat as it still stands today overlooking the harbor in modern-day Halifax. Tradition still stands every day when the Citadel guard fire off the cannon at Noon and the clock in the tower chimes its bells. Truly one of those daily rituals that’s woven into the history and fabric of Halifax over the years.

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