From Heritage to Heritage
As I have learned, people in China usually have heard about British Columbia and Ontario more than Nova Scotia. Halifax, too, is far less popular to most Chinese people than Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa. I had been one of those Chinese who knew nothing about Nova Scotia until one day in 2004, my feet touched the land, and I was thoroughly embraced with the waters, the woods and the fields, the colour, the sound and the smell. I was especially attracted by the stories related to its history – the unique treasure in Canada.
Without knowing its history, I would have no feelings to the word “Acadian”; I probably would never stop with intention on Barrington Street in Halifax and look up to the north face of the City Hall Clock which was permanently stopped to 9:05 a.m.; I would never think about the significance behind the beauty of the New Ross Farm, the charm of St. Margaret’s Bay, the well-preserved properties of the Annapolis Royal, “The Island of Seven Cities”- Mr. Paul Chiasson’s discovery of the remains of a possible ancient Chinese settlement on Cape Breton Island, and the scenic waterfront of Halifax Harbour……which are our heritages in Nova Scotia.
What I have seen and felt in Nova Scotia reminds me of the ancient City Wall and Gates in Beijing, which were built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). Sixteen city gates connected the city wall with Inner City and Outer City of Beijing. Most gates were demolished in the 1960s-1970s because the government wanted to develop or rebuild the old city, starting with an underground railway system right beneath the Wall and Gates of the Inner City. I fortunately still remember the Wall and the Gates, since I was born in Beijing in 1950s. My sister, six years younger than I, has very dim impression about them. My daughter never had any opportunity to view their majesty and magnificence. Not only the City Wall and Gates, but also other historical buildings, such as Si-he Yard (the unique style of houses/yards in Beijing, and most of Hu-tong (the system of Beijing city streets) have been replaced by huge concrete apartment or commercial buildings.
Perhaps the impression about Beijing as a well-developed and quite modern city, as shown during the Beijing Olympics in August 2008, is still remaining. However, there is little left for people in the world to feel and enjoy its ancient rhythm, the heritage identities, and the taste of real Beijing. The demolition of historical structures was one of unforgivable human mistakes, and a huge tragedy to the history of Beijing, China, and the world.
I worry about less and less heritages left for our future generations, no matter where heritage is wiped out amidst the conflict between development and the protection of historical properties. Without the concern and worry, I would not be easily brought to a halt by some pictures, books, and a talk between walkers and two members of Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, which happened just outside of the entrance of the Halifax Farmers Market on one of the busy and beautiful Saturday mornings in October, 2008. The members of the Heritage Trust were worried because the Armour Group had applied to completely demolish two buildings in the central block of Historic Properties: the wooden Peter Martin Building at 1870 Upper Water Street and the Imperial Oil Building at 1860 Upper Water Street. In addition, almost all but the facades of other heritage buildings, the Fishwick Express Building at 1861 Hollis Street, the Harrington Building at Hollis Street, would be demolished in Halifax……After having listened for awhile, I joined the talk and told them the stories of City Wall and Gates in Beijing. I also voluntarily signed their petition and promised them I would write to Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly and Members of Regional Council.
Halfway through this essay, my writing was stopped by a terrible cold. When I had energy to go back to the essay, I discovered the news on Page 1 of the Metro, October 22, 2008, that Regional Council had rejected demolition of a block of heritage buildings on the Halifax waterfront. I was extremely glad to hear that and believed the two members of Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, whom I met on that Saturday, must have a big relief while learning the good news.
Could we have a break? Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia president Philip Pacey said he was “absolutely delighted ” by council’s decision, but there was still work to do because Armour owns the buildings and had applied for a demolition permit for one building and holds a permit to demolish another. It seems there is no break for Heritage Trust of Nova Stotia, for Mayor Peter Kelly, and Members of Regional Council, nor for people like me.
Therefore, I keep writing, starting this essay with the story of broken Heritages in Beijing, China and closing it with the unfinished story of other Heritages in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
－October 25, 2008, Halifax, Nova Scotia