The Point Pleasant Park of my youth was a magical place, an oasis from the world outside. I can’t remember the first time my father took me to the park but during the late 1930s and ’40s, it was a wonderful aspect of my life.
My father usually led our frequent family safaris to the park. He was a waiter at a hotel in Halifax; his work schedule was demanding but he made a personal commitment to take us there as often as he could during summer.
Those trips to the park were always adventures, Sometimes we paused for a moment to gaze wistfully at ships with their intriguing names and flags from exotic places that we could only dream of ever visiting.
When we were particularly brave, my older sister and I would wave to the crews. If we were lucky, they would return our greetings and occasionally come down to regale our family with amazing stores of their long ocean journeys.
As we approached a fortress-like fish plant that then thrived on the waterfront, we would hold our noses as the strong smell assailed our nostrils. We giggled as we passed the fish plant workers: men and women who often wore caps and hairnets, white aprons and large rubber boots, apparently oblivious to the pungent odour that hung like smoke around them. Fishing boats tied to grimy piers added to the scene. We watched with fascination as their crews were constantly hectored by raucous seagulls, swooping down to the sdecks to scavenge fish scraps.
Just past a large pond that local legend described as mysteriously “bottomless,” Point Pleasant Park greeted us. Our excitement heightened as we realized that we would soon be at Black Rock Beach, our favourite summertime spot.
To satisfy our hunger, we had a large hamper containing sandwiches (usually bologna), a kettle to make tea, and a few cookies always came with us. But a dip in the ocean always took priority over our appetites. With no place to change, we followed an established ritual: under a large woolen blanket, we struggled into our bathing suits while praying that our acrobatic skills would prevent spontaneous exposure.
A minefield of small rocks on the beach made a trip to the water an uncomfortable challenge. Nevertheless, like exuberant seals, we couldn’t resist the urge to submerge ourselves in the chilly Atlantic.
After an exhilarating swim and a snack, we would search for tidal pools in the hollows carved into the huge rock that dominated the beach, Other children would pull periwinkles out of the pools and boil their catch in a tin can. Using straightened hairpins to remove the gooey morsels from the shells, these young gourmets would advise finicky observers that the periwinkles tasted “really good.”
On cool days, father led us deeper into the park, often stopping to share captivating stores of armadas of tall ships that once visited Halifax Harbour. He also told us about the Scottish solders who camped in sheltered areas of the park decades earlier.
He captured our imaginations when he shared the belief that heather seeds from the straw mattresses the soldiers brought with them to the New World had been left behind on the ground where the men slept. The story was likely apocryphal but we didn’t care. We lived on the third floor of a building that faced a dismal asphalt street. For us, all that mattered were the glorious purple flowers that grew in great abandon around our feet.
Sometimes we would find treasures, like fragments of crab shells and sun-dried starfish. We collected pieces of colourful sea glass, burnished by the tumultuous Atlantic. Squirrels cavorting in the trees above us constantly chattered their annoyance as we trespassed on their playgrounds.
With a lighthouse blinking methodically in the distance, a carpet of pine needles cushioning our feet and the reassuring rhythm of the waves echoing in our ears, we were convinced that we had found our own paradise.
Point Pleasant Park was then a tranquil and virtuous place where nature, in its most benign persona, displayed its finery. It was a peaceful and almost a spiritual refuge where huge trees grew with superb majesty and where it was possible to believe that nothing had the power to destroy its countless wonders.