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The province of Acadia had been in English possession for nearly half a century when, in 1749, the powers that were in the Mother Country decided that Annapolis, the little gamecock city of the peninsula, whose history went back to 1605, was not a fitting place for the capital of the province. Its harbor, while beautiful and secure, was not large enough for the purposes that England had in mind; moreover, it was on the western side of the peninsula, so that to get to it from Europe one must pass around Cape Sable and up the foggy Bay of Fundy. And so we find that the home authorities projected a new city, which was to be the capital of the province and whose location was to be the magnificent harbor of Chebucto on the east coast of Acadia. That they did not go astray in their anticipations of the future is proved by the present day Halifax, Nova Scotia’s principal city, the child of the plans of these Englishmen of 1749.
The value of Chebucto as a harbor had been known for many years before this time, we may assume. It had been for many years a rendezvous for British vessels in American waters. When D’Anville’s misfortuned fleet of French men-of-war was scattered by the elements, its remnants came together in Chebucto Bay. That there was some form of settlement on the shores of the bay ere this time is highly probable, but the existence of human life in any organized form here, if such existence there was, has been completely overshadowed in retrospect by the magnitude of the enterprise by which the present day Halifax was founded.
As a consequence of its last war there were in England numbers of young and able bodied men set suddenly at liberty who had been engaged in military or semi-military pursuits. Liberal inducements were offered these people to go to the projected metropolis. A free passage, maintenance for a year was promised, and grants of land varying from fifty to six hundred acres were given. The Imperial Government voted the sum of forty thousand pounds to help defray expenses. This sum was increased to four hundred thousand pounds before five years had passed. The Hon. Edward Cornwallis was appointed and the protection of British institutions and laws was promised.
The fleet on which the colony set sail entered Chebucto Bay in the month of July 1749. There were thirteen transports, conveying nearly three thousand settlers. These were men of good stock, and the vigor with which they attacked the problems before them was sufficient evidence of this fact. Streets were promptly laid out, a civil government was organized, and the entire population got to work on the practical issue of providing shelter for themselves and their families. Houses were built, and, last, but not least, in that day and generation a fort was erected on the rounded top of the hill around which they had plotted their town. This was the forerunner of the citadel of Halifax of today. Around the entire settlement was built a high palisade.
The early history of Halifax did not include sieges or sustained attacks by an enemy, but it was in the atmosphere of unrest and conflict from its first days. While the French residents of Acadia had not been molested in their possession of land in Nova Scotia, they had never taken the oath of allegiance to England. Among them were many turbulent spirits who incited the Micmac Indians of the country to outrages against English people and who took part in these outrages themselves in the disguise of savages. Moreover, the French had pressed the boundaries of Canada as close to the boundaries of Acadia as they dared, and they continually tried to foment ill feeling amidst the simple Acadian peasants against the English. The story of the days between the conquest of Acadia by the English and the final peace between France and England in the New World is one of partisan warfare, of forays and minor sieges and attacks by land and water.
All of these things went on around Halifax, and enemy vessels even slipped into her harbor in bold dashes upon rich covey or unsuspecting foe. From Halifax went forth Lawrence at the order of Governor Cornwallis to oppose the French at Beasejour, now Cumberland, where the French had built a fort on what they claimed was their own ground. Lawrence built another fort on the opposite side of the little stream of Missigouache, which the French claimed to be the boundary between the rival domains, and went back to Halifax for reinforcements. His building the fort was opposed by the French skirmish, and the blood shed in this little skirmish was the first blood to flow in combat between France and England in Old World or New since the treaty of Aix la Chapelle.
In the council rooms of the citadel at Halifax the order to deport the French peasantry, or Acadians, was debated. From the government house here went forth the orders that this act should be done. The story of the deportation of the Acadians and of their sufferings has been told many times in prose and very beautifully by Longfellow in verse.
During the American Revolution and during the War of 1812, Halifax was the centre of activity of the British naval forces, and so it has continued to this day. During the War of the Revolution and the War of 1812 merchant vessels were brought to this port to be sold as prizes. During the great European war of this time of writing merchant vessels suspected of carrying contraband and seized by the British in the American Atlantic waters have been taken to Halifax to be passed on by a prize court.
The citadel of Halifax is not one of its prime defenses today. It has become more of a public park than a strong arm for battle. From its walls magnificent views of the harbor of Halifax can be obtained, one of the most splendid harbors in the world, today as stimulating to enterprise as in the days when Chebucto Bay was cast for the part of a great port by the Lords of Trade of England.