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- Three Centuries of Public ART

Historic Halifax Regional Municiplity

edited by francis Mitchell
photographs by Barbara DeLory; Gary Castle & Andrea Johnson
illustrated by Janet Soley
guest editor Virginia Houston
foreword by Sandra Alfoldy

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list price: $25.00
category: Art
published: 2011
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Three Centuries of Public Art: Historic Halifax Regional Municipality. Each of the 114 pieces of public art would fall into place and sketch out for me our history of HRM: our wars, our sorrows, our joy, our immigrant faces, and our growth as a municipal city. Now it seems I can join in many more conversations adding something informative from what the public art has whispered in our ears. 270 coloured photos of the Halifax Region's public art, 9 maps, 6 walking tours. 114 stories including its famous sea disasters, Swiss Air FL111 and a tribute to the Royal Canadian Navy's 100th Anniversary.

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Three Centuries of Public ART Then look across the square to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, the oldest public building in Halifax (andoldest Protestant church in Canada), founded in 1750, although the steeple was added in 1812 and the side wings in 1868; the Fallen Peace Officer’s Memorial, dedicated in 2010 and described in greater detail inthis essay; the massive flagpole standing in front of City Hall for over 60 years. It was a gift of the CPR to his worship, Mayor ‘Gee’ Ahern, in September, 1947; it is used on many ceremonial occasions, but always flies the red maple leaf of Canada; and finally the ‘electrical box’ paintings, two of which are found here (The Poetry Box and Downtown Dusk Walk ) and described near the end of this chapter on Halifax Centre.It also contains many benches on which to sit or picnic in this serene setting just beyond the bustle of Barrington Street at noon.

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Contributor notes

Barbara DeLory Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Barbara DeLory is married to Cullen and has raised four children. She received her MLS from Dalhousie University in 1985 and was employed as a librarian at Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources for ten years, retiring in 1998. Old Halifax is a walking city, as is downtown Dartmouth. So much is accessible on foot: the parks, the city sidewalks are filled with interesting pieces of public art. But there seemed to be little documentation of this art, apart from wonderful stories by Lou Collins on old Halifax through his newspapers articles… he became the lamp lighter. With proper research she thought perhaps she could write a book about this public art, expanding it to include the gems that are found in the towns, suburbs and rural villages in the larger municipality. After many hours (and years) of interviewing, searching, questioning, and taking advice from “the keepers” of the institutions that house all this literature the quest was accomplished: Three Centuries of Public Art: historic Halifax Regional Municipality came to fruition.

She has dreamt of residences in Paris or Venice, but has traveled to those far away places for visits only, always returning to the city she has called home for a lifetime.

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Editorial Review

Public art takes many forms and, in most cities, encompasses monuments, memorials, plaques, sculptures and statues. Some of the objects d’art are commemorative pieces celebrating past notables or significant events; others are artistic creations reflecting radically changing public tastes. Some public art, like Henry Moore’s The Archer in Toronto, either arouse fierce passions or leave observers stone cold. Today, it’s become fashionable to describe public art as "contested terrain" full of symbolic representations of public memory, imagined communities, or "place marketing."

Haligonian Barbara DeLory’s Three Centuries of Public Art manages to catalogue and depict very accurately the local inventory of some 114 varied pieces of public art in Halifax Regional Municipality. The coffee table-sized volume reconstructs the inventory in minute detail, accompanied by many sharp colour photographs and very finely crafted walking tour maps. It is a most welcome contribution to local heritage preservation. At the same time, the book offers both considerably more and somewhat less than might be expected on such a potentially contentious subject.

The book is mostly descriptive and encyclopedic, reflecting the author’s obvious passion for the subject. It’s the outgrowth of her earlier and dedicated work documenting public art in the "old Halifax" before 1996 amalgamation. Within the book’s 216 pages, DeLory packs in a much detailed description along with profusion of photos and maps. The volume is mostly organized by HRM geographic district rather than time period, giving it a tourist guide feel.

A later chapter on The Tragedies provides more substantive analysis of the memorials to RMS Titanic, the SS Atlantic, the Halifax Explosion, and Swissair Flight 111. The short theme essays are more in-depth, drawing on the expertise of local authorities such as Alan Ruffman, Janet Kitz, Bob Chalk and Lorne Clarke.

HRM’s Cenotaphs and War Memorials, on the other hand, receive rather perfunctory treatment. A concluding essay on commemorative legacy of the Canadian Navy’s 100th Anniversary provides a useful summary, albeit one that draws heavily upon John Boileau’s 2010 book and the Canadian War Museum’s travelling exhibit.

As a trained professional librarian, DeLory writes in an encyclopedic style and carefully documents all her sources, including books, magazines, newspapers, exhibitions and websites. Her fastidious attention to detail ensures that the book will quickly become a handy reference source.

Providing such a wealth of detail means that the book’s pages are often packed with text to such an extent that the photos seem crowded off the page. Perhaps it’s a simple matter of editorial formatting or the result of cramming too much onto too few pages.

DeLory’s Three Centuries is, for all its strengths, essentially a popular work compiled by a keen and enthusiastic amateur historian. She simply loves monuments, statues, and plaques — and enjoys revealing little-known but fascinating facts.

For all the wonderful detail, the reader will look in vain for much in the way of broader context or discussion of critical issues in the interpretation of public history. DeLory is content to reconstruct the HRM inventory of public art and remarkably careful to provide descriptions that do not ruffle any feathers. Two examples are her passages on the contentious statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis and her treatment of Seaview Park, now resurrected as Africville.

DeLory’s book makes no mention whatsoever of one of Halifax’s infamous controversies over public art, the July 2002 "Halifax Begs Your Pardon!" arts collective action. That dramatic episode, spearheaded by a rebel band of local artists, produced a list of "Halifax’s 12 most embarrassing cultural sites." Through a walking tour, colour brochures, pirate radio broadcasts, and "Sorry" protest banners, the Tactical Art Coalition effectively lampooned some of the city’s less impressive landmarks, including the Cornwallis the "Indian Scalper" statue, the Dalhousie Arts Centre’s pornographic looking sculpture, and Cogswell Interchange to nowhere.

The author tiptoes carefully through the potential minefield, studiously avoiding much mention of the contested nature of public commemoration or intriguing spats over sculptures.

Describing the refurbishment of the Public Gardens Bandstand takes precedence over such tawdry episodes. The closest she comes to being judgmental is when describing Robert Hendrick’s marble marvel, Marine Venus: "As with many good things, it is an acquired taste."

DeLory’s Three Centuries of Public Art does capture the good, the bad, and the mundane cultural markers in HRM, mostly in loving detail. As a coffee table book, it is a heavy read and leaves a little to be desired. It will, however, be quickly recognized as an indispensible source for those exploring the peculiarities of our local urban landscape.

Public historians will also enthusiastically welcome this book. It’s a very handy, reliable guidebook all but removing the need to strain the eyes reading almost indecipherable commemorative plaques or marble inscriptions. My only real wish: If only it was small enough to fit in your pocket!

Paul W. Bennett is founding director, Schoolhouse Consulting, Halifax, and the author of Vanishing Schools, Threatened Communities: The Contested Schoolhouse in Maritime Canada, 1850-2010.

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