Like the rest of the world, in 1931 Halifax was reeling from the Depression. As downtown merchants were figuring out how to implement a newly minted sales tax (with surprisingly few complaints), Premier Gordon Harrington was fending off rumours of an imminent election call, and despite the foul economy, the Halifax Herald thought prosperity was just around the corner.

The Leviathan is going to bring prosperity forever, amen.

Three of the world’s largest ships — the Leviathan, the Majestic, and the Berengaria — would be calling in Halifax in coming weeks. The ships were originally built by German firms and named the Vaterland, Bismarck, and Imperator; they were were larger than the doomed Titanic. After the Great War, the ships were seized as war reparations and ultimately sold to the Cunard Line.

The ships were war spoils, the visible representation of victorious empire, and they were going to make us rich. On Thursday, June 18, the Herald commented:

Numbers of the world’s largest and finest ocean liners will visit Halifax this season on special cruises. Apart altogether from the immediate material advantage to the Province from this great influx of tourists, there will be an advantage, well-nigh incalculable, to the port itself — an immense demonstration, through these monster ships, of the unsurpassed natural character of the port and its ideal geographical location. It will be a practical demonstration  of the ability of Halifax to handle with ease and safety the greatest ships afloat, to dock them here with precision and dispatch, and generally to accommodate anything and everything that may offer in the nature of ocean shipping.

A demonstration of the kind will make history in the port of Halifax; the like of it never came before, not even in the war years when Halifax handled so many transports.

It is a feature of the plans which, one may be sure, will not be lost sight of by the port authorities, who beyond doubt will exploit the results of this demonstration in a manner calculated to place this great national port in its rightful place in the eyes of the shipping world.

Had the paper thrown in mention of the world’s best time zone, the Herald’s early 20th century boosterism would have beeen indistinguishable from the Herald’s early 21st century boosterism.

Celebrated Imperialist.

The same day, the paper reported that $1,000 had been raised towards the erection of a monument to Col. Arthur Noble in Grand-Pré by the Grand-Pré Battlefields Commission. Noble is the Massachusettsian who led the successful Louisburg Expedition, and then was killed alongside 75 other English soldiers in the Battle of Grand-Pré.

Raising memorials to the builders of empire was in vogue in 1931.

Two days later, on Saturday, June 20, 1931, the Herald urged its readers to attend the next day’s Natal Day celebration, when the statue of Edward Cornwallis would be unveiled to mark the 182nd anniversary of the founding of Halifax.

“Halifax holds a unique position amongst the provincial capitals of Canada,” explained the paper:

It alone was founded as an outpost in the forward march of Empire, and ever since, in crisis after crisis, it has proved its value as a military station and naval base. Its founding was a stroke of capital importance in the execution of British military plans and Colonial enterprise. It was an event of Imperial significance which had a far-reaching effect upon the course of subsequent history in Canada and to a considerable extent was a factor in determining the permanent sovereignty of British North America. Halifax was the first city of British origin in the Dominion, and surely, it is fitting that we should preserve for future generations, by means of an outward and visible symbol, the significance of this proud tradition. Halifax has a long and important history. It might have been a failure; it has taken rank amongst the cities of the world.

Establishing a new city on the spruce-clad shores was no easy task. It was directly against the policy of France. The Indians opposed the ominous big camp of the white men…. The first Halifax was practically a precarious armed camp in an enemy’s country.

The Herald made no mention of scalp bounties or other actions taken to conquer the “enemy’s country.”

The next day’s ceremony was a very big deal, attended by “throngs representing church, state, and city.”

The master of ceremonies was Dougland MacGillivray, Chairman of the Cornwallis Memorial Committee, president of the Canadian Club, and a bank manager who 14 years before had failed in his role as chairman of the Halifax Explosion relief committee and had to be removed.

MacGillivray read a short history of Cornwallis, and then the statue, which was draped by “the flags of Empire,” was unveiled by an honour guard led by the Chief Justice of the Nova Scotian Supreme Court, Joseph Andrew Chisholm, a former mayor of Halifax.

“Custody of the statue was then handed over to the city of Halifax on behalf of Sir Henry Thornton, President of the Canadian National Railways, on whose property the monument stands, to His Worship Mayor George E. Ritchie, who then placed a wreath at the base,” reported the Herald.

Two “Cornwallis tropies” (sic) were then presented. The first trophy went to Commodore E.A. Bell of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, who promised to award it each year to the winner of a Natal Day race between “anything that floats in Nova Scotia waters.” The second trophy went to the mayor, who said it would be presented to the winner of a Dominion Day contest between rowing clubs.

“Hail to the day when the Britons came over,” says Joe Howe.

Next, 160 school children, selected from schools from around the city and “specially trained for the occasion,” were led in song by the Princess Louise Fusiliers. The Fusiliers are a Halifax regiment named in honour of the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria; the princess was the wife of John Campbell, the 9th Duke of Argyll and Governor General of Canada.

The choir sung an ode written by Joseph Howe, “All Hail to the Day“:

All hail to the day when the Britons came over,
And planted their standard, with sea-foam still wet,
Around and above us their spirits will hover,
Rejoicing to mark how we honor it yet.

Beneath it the emblems they cherished are waving,
The Rose of Old England the roadside perfumes;
The Shamrock and Thistle the north winds are braving,
Securely the Mayflower blushes and blooms.

Hail to the day when the Britons came over,
And planted their standard with sea-foam still wet,
Around and above us their spirits will hover,
Rejoicing to mark how we honor it yet.
We’ll honor it yet, we’ll honor it yet,
The flag of Old England! we’ll honor it yet!

The ceremony ended with the crowd singing the national anthem, followed by a cannon salute from Citadel Hill.

Afterward, the assembled dignitaries were treated to lunch at the railroad’s hotel across the street. The luncheon, reported the Herald, “was a decided success. The the (sic: like the over-the-top boosterism, the Herald’s copyediting mistakes also have a long history) overflowing table formed in a massive horseshoe with the two Cornwallis tropies (sic) displayed in the centre, and furnished a striking setting.”

Assembled at the horseshoe table were MacGillivray; Ivan Rand, a Moncton politician and lawyer representing the railroad who in 1947 would help establish the state of Israel; Premier Harrington; Joseph Conroy, the traffic commissioner of Boston, who was representing that city’s mayor; Leonard Percy de Wolfe Tilley, another New Brunswick politician (and future premier) who represented the premier of that province; Dr. John Webster, an obstetrician who was also a Trustee of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia; Massey Rhind, the sculptor; the Chief Justice Chisholm; Obediah Goucher, the minister of Agriculture who gets mentioned here only because every collection of mucky mucks must include an Obediah; Percy Black, the minister of Highways (“Good trunk roads in place of railroads” was his cure for transportation woes); numerous other Nova Scotian cabinet ministers; a failed Inverness politician named Angus Macdonald who set up a Halifax law firm completely unaware that 85 years later cyclists would be cursing his name; Mayor Ritchie, the deputy mayor, and all the aldermen; the administrator at Province House; and Clarendon Worrell, the Anglican Archbishop of Halifax.

In short, everyone who mattered was invited to the lunch, which evidently excluded women and Indigenous people.

“Toasts were proposed to His Majesty the King, President Hoover of the United States, and one proposed by the Chief Justice to the Canadian National Railways,” reported the Herald.

Massey Rhind, the sculptor, told the now-tipsy dignitaries that “the Cornwallis Statue was the most interesting work he had ever done,” reported the Herald:

It presented great opportunities, with the costume of the period, the high boots and spurs. The element of decoration was prominent in the statue. In a modest unassuming manner, characteristic of himself, Mr. Rhind told of “his Cornwallis.” The task of putting action into the large statue had been a difficult one, he said. He had endeavored to give the statue the appearance of Cornwallis stepping away just after giving a command.

Rhind, a Scot, was from a family of sculptors, and had received further training in Paris. He moved to New York in 1889 and then “soon became highly successful, responsible for a number of public monuments and much architectural sculpture“:

He was responsible for the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC (1909), a statue of George Washington in Newark, New Jersey (1914), four statues of Generals on the Gettysburg Battlefield (1915-22), the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial in Niles, Ohio (1917), the marble statue of anesthetics pioneer Dr. Crawford W. Long of Georgia in National Statuary Hall Collection within the United States Capitol (1926). He also sculpted statues of Robert Burns in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) and Barre (Vermont)…

“After the First World War, Rhind leased a home in Chester, NS known as the Quarter Deck,” explains the Chester Art Centre. Regularly visiting Nova Scotia, in 1929 he designed the war memorial/cenotaph in Grand Parade. He also built statues to Highland soldiers in Chester and New Glasgow.

There’s not much in the way of artistic criticism of early 20th century American public statuary, and even less of its Canadian counterpart, but I see Rhind as a confusing mess of inspiration and execution. I now realize I’ve walked by a half dozen of his statues (the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial in Washington; “Victory” and “Peace” at Grant’s Tomb in New York; the two in Halifax; and the Highlander in New Glasgow) without having taken particular note of them; that’s not because of my inattention, but rather because they’re just so boring.

This man may have creeped out your great-grandmother.

Another speaker at the lunch, the obstetrician/historian Dr. Webster, told the group that “we Canadians must stand on guard for Canada and watch and guard jealously against anything which may cause disintegration or social unrest which may come about.”

As the global economy was collapsing into the deepest days of the Depression, “social unrest” and revolution were a real threat. In the minds of the wealthy and powerful assembled at the Natal Day luncheon, the best way to guard against “social unrest” was to “preserve for future generations … an outward and visible symbol” of empire — the statue of Cornwallis.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Reading the odes to Empire Tim has provided, it had never occurred to me how much the U.S.American trope of the Frontier and America’s Manifest Destiny to tame and colonise it bore strong intellectual links to the Imperial ideal.

    It was at a time, and a place, and we should see their historical relationships. How many signatories to the Declaration of Independence owned slaves?

  2. I get uncomfortable with the practise of toppling previous regimes’ statues….leave it in place and add a whacking big plaque outlining his actions. Let THAT stand for all to see and read and remember.

  3. A note about Ivan Rand – he became a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, founding dean of the University of Western Ontario law school, and invented the “Rand Formula” that allows opting-out from labour unions.

    1. I will add — just because I think it clarifies — that the Rand Formula allows you to opt out of a labour union but you will continue to be covered by the collective agreement and you must continue paying union dues.

  4. Very interesting info – lots of stuff I didn’t know. Always good to learn on a Saturday morn. Thanks.