THE NATIONAL SCENE

CHARGE OF THE HALIGONIANS

ALAN EDMONDS January 1 1970
THE NATIONAL SCENE

CHARGE OF THE HALIGONIANS

ALAN EDMONDS January 1 1970


In the shadow of their historic Citadel, the people of one of Canada's oldest cities are building a rich new heritage. And they're all in on it - the socialist mayor, the art nouveau students, the highrise millionaire, the crusading newsman, the Soul people, the campus innovators and 250,000 others who wouldn't quite fit into the picture above. Suddenly, Halifax, where everybody comes from, is a place to go to.

THE MOST ENGAGING evidence that there really is a new Halifax has nothing whatever to do with the highrise buildings soaring out of the ranks of grey frame houses that parade downhill to the sea. Nor is it the new boutiques and the maxicoats and Isadora scarves, nor even the massive Scotia Square mall - office-apartment-hotel complex. This new Halifax is somehow epitomized in the locals' attitude to the hippies last summer.

There weren't many hippies. Perhaps no more than 100 at any one time, They hung out at the statue of Robbie Burns opposite the venerable Lord Nelson Hotel and, with magnificent perversity, in Murray's Restaurant, Canada's culinary symbol of squaresville.

But when the locals complain to outsiders about the hippies' dirty hair and pot, the note of outrage isn’t entirely convincing. Secretly, one suspects, they’re a little proud that grey old Halifax has made the hippie circuit.

The urban explosion noticeably hit Halifax about three years ago, when Ralph Medjuck, lawyer son of an antique store owner, put up a 21-story apartment building that everyone prophesied would fall down. It didn’t. Development has boomed since and Halifax is small enough (about 250,000 in the metropolitan area) that changes are visible daily.

That’s happening in other Canadian cities, too, but in few of them is the contrast with the past so obvious. Halifax has been largely stagnant since the turn of the century and the death of sail. The young left for Boston, Toronto — anywhere. What novelist Hugh MacLennan said of Halifax in 1917 — that “it has a genius for looking old” — was true until a year or so ago.

Now the comfortable old images have gone and, until a new one is articulated, anything — or almost anything — goes.

The exodus of the young has slowed. Bright men and women — sculptors to scientists — are moving to Halifax and Dartmouth from megalopolises grown too big for people. The new Halifax is big enough to be important, and in an era in which you measure distance in jet-fare dollars, not miles, it’s close to everywhere. The environment is magnificent. Above all, Halifax — and by that we mean Halifax and Dartmouth and metropolitan area — is still small enough to provide the sense of identity that eludes the big-city dweller. As one exiled Torontonian puts it, “Halifax is learning it doesn’t have to be the biggest to do good things, even great things.” It’s a lesson all North American cities can learn.

Halifax has been taught this lesson, not by the young but by men in their middle years who retain the vision and energy to change their city, and now have the influence and money to do it. The city’s socialist mayor, Allan O’Brien, typifies them. Dressed in his robes of office and ready to lead a charge up ancient Citadel Hill for the picture above — a charge designed to symbolize that the new vigor is conquering the old apathy — Mayor O’Brien tried to explain what was happening in his hometown. “There’s an air of expectancy,” he said. “Tomorrow is exciting now.”

IT IS THE SPRING of 1968. Mary John’s restaurant, where the young Ernest Hemingway used to meet his maiden aunt, hasn’t changed much since. It is just off Bay Street in Toronto, near where everything is happening in the big city.

At a table for two in the corner of the front room Vasilka and Chris Wilcox — she patrician, brunette, hazel eyed: he tall, fair and suffering from a slight case of baldness — have just finished a small steak apiece while discussing their future; not just the next week or month or year, but the next 10 years, or maybe even a lifetime.

“Okay,” he says finally. “We go.”

Which is how Halifax got two more Torontonians — and is probably how a few thousand others made similar decisions that have turned the tide: now the young and creative are moving to Halifax, not away from it.

Chris Wilcox is a clarinetist. He had played with the Atlantic Symphony the previous winter, and thought he might again, on a seasonal basis. But that day he took Vasilka to Mary John’s the symphony had phoned long-distance. If Chris wanted the job, the union insisted he live in Halifax, at least long enough to call himself a resident.

But Toronto was heme, was where the action was; was where Vasilka’s dress designs were becoming known; was where the work for ambitious clarinetists could be found.

Yet they left it and went back to Halifax and the bassoon player rented them a cottage in Duncan’s Cove. Their neighbors were actresses and actors from Halifax’s Neptune Theatre of which Leon Major became founding director a few years back. Halifax may even be the smallest city in North America with a permanent live theatre.

At first, Chris just played in the orchestra. Then: “Halifax began exploding.”

He began teaching at Dalhousie University. He gave a recital cn the CBC of Mozart’s Quintet For Clarinet And String Quartet, which is something that wouldn’t have happened if he’d stayed home. He also helped form the Halifax Woodwind Quintet.

Vasilka designed 10 dresses and sold them to the Rag Doll Boutique, which was very new because widespread fashion - consciousness was new. Now she is more successful than she had been in Toronto, where she still retains some clients.

Vasilka says, with wonder, “I like living by the sea. I like the people. I never lock the door, or feel I should worry about being alone. Do you know, the furnace man found a dirty old dollar bill one day when we were out. He left it for us with a note.”

Chris says there is a sense of beginning in Halifax. He says that in Toronto “I would have to wait for someone to die to get the chances. Here, someone is going to have to wait for me to die.”

Chris and Vasilka are 28.

JOE SEALY, Bucky Adams, Chuck Cornish and Linda Gordon are probably the most visible symbol of the Halifax black-man’s belated awakening to pride in his own culture, history and traditions.

They are The Unusuals. Their home is a tottery old former Coca-Cola warehouse on Gerrish Street, now The Club Unusual, site of Soul music.

And though no one is very sure what Soul music is exactly, except that it is very loud, any black will tell you that mostly only black people have it and it’s their own thing and, man, they’re proud of it . . . and after Africville, it’s good to meet a Halifax black man who’s proud of himself.

There are other Soul clubs, but they import their groups. The Unusuals are locals, and their club is open between midnight and 4 a.m. each morning. Sealy, 30, is pianistarranger. Charles (Bucky) Adams plays tenor sax. Chuck Cornish, an American, plays drums and sings with The Unusuals — and is the highly respected lead French-horn player with the Atlantic Symphony. Their occasional girl vocalist is Linda Gordon, 19, willowy, quietly spoken, big-voiced.

“Halifax in 1955 was worse than the Deep South,” says Sealy, a man of considerable cultivation and charm. “There was no formal color bar, just unwritten rules. I came back to live three years ago, and now the ghetto mentality is going. Black people are beginning to go out, going to the symphony and the theatre, being part of the community.”

There is still a color problem in Halifax. “There isn’t a black ghetto, but there is a sort of poverty ghetto in central-north Halifax—-and poverty and black are too often synonym s,” says Mayor O'Brien. Of Nova Scotia’s 15,000 blacks, 9,000 live in Halifax and Dartmouth. You rarely see a black in the southern end of Halifax, but in that central-north Halifax area — slums, public housing, cheaper shops — you see lots. But now the blacks wear the natural hair style, go for Afro fashions and Soul.

Because of what they represent, it seemed fitting to photograph The Unusuals by the noon gun on Citadel Hill, symbol of white-man’s traditions. It was cold that day, and Linda Gordon, wearing a skimpy shift, froze.

Later, sipping a warming brandy and hoping the waiter wouldn’t ask for her birth certificate, she said she was part of the Afro-Canadian Liberation Movement, a small, radical and increasingly in-fluential black-power group.

"A lot of blacks feel inferior to whites because they’ve been made to feel that way by a white educational and social system. One of the things the Black United Front, a group of all-black organizations, is demanding are school books that show great blacks as well as whites. Myself, I never felt inferior because I wasn’t going to let anyone make me. That waiter — he probably thinks I am, but he doesn’t get through to me.”

Like other people involved in the battle for civic rights, she can handily catalogue the color problems of Halifax: Black people can’t get decent jobs, accommodation. A black cabbie was fired because whites didn’t like riding with him. A woman worked as a cleaner and everyone thought it was all she could do until things got easier and she got a job as a social worker, which is what she’d trained for.

And Africville? No Canadian could deny racism while Africville, the shantytown ghetto-slum, rotted away on the shores of Halifax harbor, right across from the abattoir. So three years ago Africville went and the people were rehoused in public-housing projects and in rented apartments and in homes they were helped to buy.

In Africville, Linda Gordon’s friends, the Mantleys, lived in a two-bedroom house that cost $18 a week until the landlady died and they couldn’t find out who the owner was to pay the rent. Now they live in a threestory, four - bedroom town house in Uniacke Square, an outwardly ugly but otherwise comfortable publichousing project. In Africville, George Mantley, a 69-yearold retired diesel mechanic, and his wife Althea raised eight children in their two bedrooms. Now they have four bedrooms and three children, plus two baby grandchildren, living with them, and still they say they would rather be back in Africville.

“All this is, is an apartment,” says Mrs. Mantley. “They should have given us the money they spent on this to lay in water and fix our houses up. This” — she swept an arm to include the modern kitchen, tiled bathroom, roomy living room — “this is just an apartment. Sometimes I get just homefied and I want to go back. We knew everybody and everybody knew us and I really miss the closeness we Africville people had.”

The Mantley kids aren’t so sure. Sylvia, 20. says that being in town and around so many white people was strange at first, but now she wouldn’t go back. George Mantley says the new house is too hot. The project has a common source of central heating. Tenants can’t turn it off. “It bothers Mr. Mantley, this heat,” said Mrs. Mantley. “It makes him miserable, and me too.”

The Perils of Progress-or how Scotia Square nearly wasn’t built.

SCOTIA SQUARE opened October 15 — and Halifax-Dartmouth had that now indispensable status symbol of all prideful cities north of the Virginia snow belt, an underground shopping mall as part of a downtown hotel-office-apartment complex.

More than any other single development, Scotia Square has changed Halifax because it revitalized a gloomy, decaying downtown. But it has also changed the lives of the quarter-million people in the twin cities of Dartmouth and Halifax, perhaps changed the lives of all Maritimers, because it generates an excitement about tomorrow that Canada east of Quebec hasn’t felt since the death of sail a century ago.

How it came to be built — and nearly wasn’t — is the story of Halifax in allegory.

In the late 1950s, faced with a dying city core hemmed in by spectacular slums, the city council commissioned an outside planner to tell them how the slums should be redeveloped and a new road system built.

Another outsider, British promoter J. L. Godfrey (nicknamed Alfred Hitchcock because of his girth), collected from city council $10,000 to produce “pretty pictures” of Halifax with skyscrapers and shopping malls clustered around Citadell Hill. That was 1961. For the first time local people thought of Halifax and highrise in the same sentence.

Later, another British development group put up plans for redeveloping the 20-acre site north of Barrington Street, and then backed out.

One evening, the assembled local power structure was bemoaning the situation at a cocktail party, when another outsider got into the act. The late Major-General Kenelm Appleyard of the British Army said simply, “Well, if outsiders can’t do it, why don’t you do it yourselves?” It is a measure of the collective Halifax psyche at that time that the idea hadn’t already occurred to anyone at the party.

Enter Charles MacCulloch.

MacCulloch, now 58, is an empire builder in the best Maritimes rags-to-riches tradition of Lord Beaverbrook and Sir James Dunn. A contractor’s son who put himself through a school of architecture while working as a carpenter, he has made a couple of fortunes in lumber exporting and stevedoring companies and real-estate development. MacCulloch became president of Halifax Developments Ltd.

The night before the opening ceremonies on October 15, Charles MacCulloch sat in the dining room of the Saraguay (it means “by rippling waters”) Club, planning his speech, reminiscing:

“We tried to get our financing in Canada, but couldn’t. I remember going to Upper Canada, sitting in the board room of the Sun Life in Toronto, trying to sell a group of interests on the idea. You know, they didn’t care about Halifax, and I couldn’t blame them. So we decided to try Metropolitan Life in New York.

“About then I'd been invited by Air Canada to go on a VIP inaugural flight to Moscow. I went, and on the plane sat next to Gilbert Fitzhugh, chairman of Metropolitan Life.

‘‘We paired off on the trip, but I didn't mention business until the very last day. We were in Sochi by the Black Sea, taking pictures of the workers’ hotels, and I said. ‘Gilbert. I’m coming down to hit your people for a lot of money next week. He said. ‘Okay, call me first."

"Next week, he introduced me to the people in the mortgage department and they were visibly impressed that the chairman of the board was introducing me. The money market was incredibly tight then, in 1967. I remember one man saying. ‘Why in hell put all this money into . . . to, where . . . Halifax?' The Place Ville Marie represents an investment of $60 per head for the population of Montreal. Scotia Square represents $157 a head for our population. If it hadn’t been for the fact I was introduced by Gilbert Fitzhugh the answer would have been a flat: ‘No.’

“Well, we got the $16 million mortgage we wanted — on condition we 10 local directors put up another five million dollars ourselves as equity.

“Well, we did. Then we had to raise the rest with a bond issue, and the local brokerage houses wouldn't touch it, so we had to persuade people in Montreal. Toronto and Winnipeg to do it for us. Next, we needed interim financing. The Bank of Nova Scotia saved us.

"At 3 p.m. one day all the components of this deal had to be brought together in a lawyer’s office and signed. At 11 a.m. my phone went. It was one of the local investors, who said he’d have to reduce his pledge. It left me half-a-million short. So near — and it looked as though it would all go up in smoke. Well, I’ll skip the details. They’re nobody’s business really. But I went to one director and told him I thought he deserved a bigger share. 1 leveled with another one and 1 picked up a bit more myself. At 3 p.m. 1 was at the lawyer’s office to sign on the dotted line.”

There was a long silence. MacCulloch, who looks like a cross between Clark Gable and Ernie Kovacs and is given to understatement, sat looking out at Halifax.

“We -— Halifax — did it after all,” he said.


A prodigal returns; a new paper is born - and change is in the air

IT WASN’T ONLY British seamen who used to say, “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us.” A lot of people born in Halifax and Dartmouth agreed, and moved out.

But things are changing. For instance, Nick Fillmore came back.

Fillmore is 26 and almost moon-faced and dislikes neckties and is a very good journalist with a fire in his belly and an almost unbelievable tolerance for Oland’s Schooner ale, and he came back to tell Upper Canada that even if Halifax isn’t exactly Shangri-la, it isn’t as bad as the rest of Canada thinks either.

He stayed to find himself trying to convince the locals that it’s true — with a biweekly, shoestring newspaper called The 4th Estate, which, last summer, built a circulation of almost 8,000, largely by tilting at the local power structure and being what, locally anyway, is considered radical.

The way Nick tells it, he had run the gamut of small newspapers, the Canadian Press, Reuters News Agency in London’s Fleet Street, and he found himself on the CP desk in Toronto “just disgusted with the way Upper Canada thinks about my home.

“Look, I only ever seemed to read about Halifax and the Maritimes being a depressed wasteland where nothing important happens, except we mistreat blacks. Well, we do, and I’m not defending it. but there’s a hell of a lot more to Halifax than that. But if people like me keep leaving it . . . well, maybe the lousy image will come true.

“So I got all noble. I would come back here, free - lance and try to change the image.

“Then here I am back in Halifax, writing for the Toronto Star, the Hamilton Spectator, CBC Public Affairs shows, the Ottawa Citizen and United Press International, and I begin to realize that I’m telling Upper Canada things the local people don’t know, our local newspapers being what they are.

“For instance, I did a piece on the Glace Bay heavy-water plant, which said it was a governmental disaster. Now the nation acknowledges that it is. But the public here had never had it presented to them in that light.

“Anyway, in a fit of insanity I agreed to go along with five others and start a new paper, investing $50 apiece. The 4th Estate is going well, but so far I haven’t made enough out of it to keep me in socks.”

Fillmore, his father (a PR man and journalist), his mother and a clutch of underpaid contributors are all polemicists, flailing merrily — but not necessarily irresponsibly — at anything, including the Halifax Chronicle-Herald (which they call “The Old Lady of Argyle Street”), cabinet ministers with questionable drinking habits, and anyone and anything else they can lay pen to.

Not too long ago Nick was in his untidy office (“My mother keeps trying to clean it”) putting together an issue that, among other things, said that the local workmen’s compensation scheme was influenced by its reliance on industry for cash; and that also proposed legalizing pot — “which, locally, is like condemning motherhood.”

There are, Fillmore says, lots of social ills for his paper to examine. But that isn’t its most important role. “ If there’s one thing it’s doing, it is giving people faith that Halifax can change.”

AMANDA WOODHOUSE is 24, a teacher from New Zealand. She came to Halifax last September via Spain, Switzerland, France, Norway, Britain, and — if you hadn’t guessed — is on her way around the world. “I came to Halifax so I could start in the east and work my way west across Canada,” she says. “After my first look, I thought it was ghastly. A decaying, dead place. But then I began meeting people and seeing some of the more beautiful homes around The Arm, and I sensed an underlying excitement among the young people here. It’s as though something’s happening, but no one is sure what.”

Bill Shaw’s gate to the Promised Land

THE PROMISED LAND looks like a red-hrick building with a corrugated iron roof, but in fact it’s the other way about — a corrugated-iron building with a brick façade. The inner wall of black, paint-plastered corrugations is what you see when you first set foot ashore in Canada at Pier 21, Halifax — that, and a heavy wooden door painted green.

Nowadays it is usually bolted and barred. Only three liners a month dock at Halifax, shedding about 100 immigrants apiece. But between 1929. when Pier 21 was built, and the late 1950s, when the jets began sinking passenger ships, a half - million immigrants filed through that door to Canada, land of hope and . . . and . . .

“Looking back, it wasn’t a very welcoming place.” Bill Shaw, now district admissions supervisor of the Immigration Department, joined Pier 21 in 1941. “Just after the war the Act we were administering was a restrictive one. Our job was to keep people out.

"We all had this hangover image of the immigrant from the 1920s and 1930s, when you thought of immigrants as peasants with bundles over their shoulders and women in headscarves. I suppose that after the war they still looked a bit like that, and our attitude was, ‘Well, they’re only immigrants.’ But that was the spirit of the Act then.”

It was the spirit of Pier 21. The floor was asphalt. The walls were muddy-green, and brown in places. The overhead pipes no one was ever sure about, because they were coated with grime. There were, at first, ceiling - high wire cages, and immigrants were herded from one to the other. If you were an immigrant you squeezed on to one of eight tidy rows of wooden seats, and waited and waited to meet the Immigration officer while babies wailed and old people sat, quiet and resigned, and the kids littered the floor with orange peels.

“I can still smell the oranges,” says Bill Shaw.

“It was a relief when the Act changed in 1952 and we began courting immigrants. As people, we always wanted to help them but we could only do what the Act said. We didn’t do much with the assembly area, though, except paint it again. I think it was then someone put up that sign that says ‘Welcome to Canada’ in six languages. But for us it was a sort of madness. Canada was the land at the end of the rainbow for all the lost people of Europe. Sometimes there would be three liners off the immigrant run tied up alongside at a time, and I can remember the time when I’ve processed 3,000 immigrants a month myself.”

Bill Shaw’s blue-eyed, sandy-haired, clerk-moustached, anonymous face was the face of Canada to thousands. Even now he occasionally hears from someone he helped become a Canadian.

“Oh, there were problems. There was the Scottish passport racket. Europeans who escaped the Nazis by going to Britain before the war were not at first technically entitled to come as immigrants. So some bought passports off Scottish people, and you’d have a man with a heavy middle - European accent and a very non-Scottish face turn up with a passport that read: Angus McNab. And then there was the X ray racket, where a man with TB would try to get in on the strength of X rays taken of a healthy friend.

“We had to keep an eye out for subversives and other undesirables. Somehow, you developed a seventh sense about it. I remember one big fellow from Germany — for no reason I could think of I had him medically examined again and told them where to look and they found a Nazi SS number tattooed under his armpit. At the time we were rather strict on the SS and he was deported.”

Since renovations two years ago there is tile on the floor of the assembly area. Walls are gay-green, the overhead pipes are clean and there’s wire netting over the ceiling of the entrance so seagulls can’t roost there and bomb the New Canadians as they pass from ship to shed. The wire cages went long since, and now the rows of seats where you sit and wait for that precious, and readily given, stamp “Landed Immigrant” are upholstered in yellow, green and orange plastic. “Welcome” says the sign. “Bienvenu.”

Some of the people it welcomes seek political asylum from Eastern German and Polish ships, fishing boats mostly. “Eve often remarked on the scarcity of Russians,” says Bill Shaw. “I wonder whether it’s because they’re satisfied with what they’ve got, or whether they’re better supervised in port. You rarely see one ashore by himself, you know.”

Housing the high price of prosperity

DEPENDING ON your viewpoint, this is a horror story or cause for rejoicing.

Norman Knapman brought his wife and five children back to Halifax last spring to be computer programmer-analyst at a local university. He expected to pay $175 rent a month. Now let him tell it:

“The first couple of places wouldn’t have kids. There was a two-bedroom place for $200, plus heating. Next morning there were three bedrooms unheated, and a three-bedroom row house in a slum for $145.

“After a week we took a two-bedroom flat, where the last tenant paid $75 a month, but it cost us $175. For five months we spent every weekend looking. Twenty-five miles out we were asked $175 for a house, plus heat. Finally, we rented a new duplex in Dartmouth for $200 a month, plus heating — and, man, we’re lucky. It only takes me 55 minutes to get to the office.

“Look -— I make more than $10,000 a year. I can’t afford Halifax.”

The Halifax - Dartmouth apartment vacancy rate is just .4 percent — lowest of all metropolitan areas in Canada. Between January and August this year there were 2,703 housing starts. To meet predicted demand it should have been 4,000.

Old houses are crammed, often three people to a room. Slumlords let old houses decay, awaiting rezoning, yet charging prodigious rents. Between 15 and 20 families wait for every unit of public housing built. Two girl teachers share a room — and the same bed — and have the use of kitchen and bathroom. They pay $185 a month, and think they’re lucky.

CORPORATION LAWYER Bill Mingo, pork-chop sideburns bristling, leaned forward for emphasis. “I don’t know of any general-cargo port that didn't grow in every other way just because it was a port,” he said. “San Francisco isn’t the Gateway to the Orient any more, but because it once was it became a great commercial centre, and it stayed that way.”

San Francisco and Halifax in the same breath?

The justification is at present a messy construction site. By July it will be a $ 12-million container - cargo pier, handling 25,000 - ton ships bearing up to 1,500 containers holding cargo that otherwise would be carried loose in ships’ holds.

Bill Mingo is chairman of the Port of Halifax Commission, set up to promote the port. “Containerization,” he said. “That’s our future.”

Except in winter, when Halifax is ice-free, Montreal and Quebec and the Seaway have long since eclipsed what the Micmac Indians called Chebucto — the great long harbor. Arbitrarily established freight rates are the same from, say, Antwerp to Montreal as from Antwerp to Halifax.

Today’s big thing in shipping is the containers, which are eight-feet-by-eight-by-20 or 40, holding somewhere between 10 and 20 tons. The manufacturer fills them; they are loaded on special ships at one end; lifted off at the other and shipped to the receiver on railway flatcars. Labor-saving apart, neither containers nor goods are likely to be damaged in handling, or stolen by wharf rats.

Halifax is in a promotional hassle with Saint John, NB, in the competition to become eastern Canada’s superport. Bill Mingo’s most compelling arguments are that Halifax can handle any ship in the world and that it is the nearest North American mainland port to Europe. From Liverpool to Halifax is 2,485 miles, compared with 2.710 to Saint John, 2,764 to Montreal and 3,121 to New York.

That means a shipping company needs three ships to mount a weekly Europe-Halifax service, and the ships can be as big as you like. Because the Montreal run takes between 36 and 60 hours longer, you’d need four ships to provide the same service to that port — and their size and speed are limited by the St. Lawrence.

From Halifax, the train can beat the ship. A fast freight takes 20 hours to Montreal. To Toronto it takes 30 hours; to Chicago, just two days — and by Seaway the Halifax - Chicago trip takes 10 days.

JUDY CAMPBELL left Halifax at 20. She went to Accra to work as a biochemistry technician and, later, beautician. She returned two years later, decided “Halifax is nowhere” and went to Nassau. Then she moved to Washington, D.C., and was working in a wig store when one day the fat owner stomped through the showroom, yelling, “Okay, you bitches, sell some hair.” And Judy Campbell, 26, thought: “What the hell, why stand this sort of crap?” and caught the plane home. Now she runs a wig boutique, says the new Halifax is “unrecognizable” — and loves it.

A TALE OF TWO mayors — and their cities.

Allan O’Brien, 47, is the rich-man's son who is the socialist mayor of Conservative Halifax. Roland Thornhill, 36, mayor of Dartmouth, is the son of a fishing-boat skipper. He is a Progressive Conservative.

O’Brien is the most improbable mayor Halifax could have. In 1967 he led an anti-Vietnam-war peace march. At a student dinner he said, “Some of our traditions have gone sour. The toast to the Queen is one. It’s just a signal to smoke.”

A former national vice president of the New Democratic Party, O’Brien says having a business — farm produce wholesalers — with a two-million-dollar-or-more annual turnover provides him with political independence; he can do what he thinks is right without worrying about his meal ticket.

“Anyway, I think the best business-management methods are useful tools in pursuit of the social ends of the NDP,” he said over lobster and a good bottle of Niersteiner one day. And then, to help Maclean’s produce a picture that would be symbolic of “the change that’s coming over my town,” Mayor O'Brien donned the 23-year-old muskrat-trimmed mayoral robes and led a mixed bag of lawyers, civilrights workers, students, university presidents and students in a symbolic charge up old Citadel Hill. Then he did it again and again and yet again, until Maclean’s Director of Photography Horst Ehricht was satisfied.

A few hours earlier O’Brien had not known the robes existed. His secretary tracked them down in a local fur-storage warehouse.

Mayor Roland Thornhill, on the other hand, preferred to be photographed midway across harbor bridge — with Dartmouth (pop: 68.000) in the background.

Thornhill is a bright, energetic stockbroker who refuses to spend all his time at the mayor’s office “because we’ve got a city manager, and if I were there it would be a bit like two women in one kitchen.” Which, he seems to suggest, is the way it is with Mayor O’Brien and his city manager.

Dartmouth, said Thornhill, is a young city. Dartmouth can grow, and is growing, at bewildering speed; its population has tripled in 10 years. Most newcomers to the Halifax area live in Dartmouth, where most of the new industry has located, leaving Halifax as the commercial and cultural centre.

What that means is that Dartmouth has suffered more than Halifax from the sort of strawberry-box development that blights many North American cities. And yet, with 26 lakes within its boundaries, Dartmouth could still be one of Canada’s most beautiful communities. Mayor Thornhill’s council is busily buying up as much lake and seafront as it can afford.

The inevitable proposal is that Halifax and Dartmouth amalgamate. Mayor O’Brien thinks it makes sense; Mayor Thornhill resists the idea “because I’ve never seen any evidence that bigness makes for quality.

“Dartmouth is where the action is. Amalgamation wouldn’t be the end of the world, but...”

And he graciously refused when asked if he, too, would like to storm Citadel Hill with Mayor O’Brien.

WHEN THE admirals hear, they’ll have collective apoplexy; turn the Bonaventure, Canada’s last capital ship, into a . . . a . . .

“An art school, that’s what.”

Garry Kennedy, 34, president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, presiding administrator of an artistic renaissance in the Maritimes, says the soon-tobe scrapped Bonaventure will make a great art college.

“We need more space. Since 1967, enrollment is up to 367 from 130. Instead of scrapping the Bonny, give her to us. We’re not kidding, you know. We mean it.”

A lot of the excitement of Halifax is in the ideas generated at the regions’ five university-level colleges. Typically, D a 1 h o u s i e student population has boomed from 2,883 in 1964 to 5,600 today. In six years Dalhousie has spent $30 million on new buildings — and has another $30 million in buildings under construction.

But of all the degree granting colleges, the NS College of Art and Design makes the most visible impact. At many art schools, the first year involves teaching the use of materials. In Halifax, it is designed to find out whether the students have potential. Instead of a lesson in perspective, they’re told: “Communicate alienation.” There was a 20 percent dropout rate last year.

The shows in the college gallery are typical. One consisted of a bullet hole in a wall, a nail half-hammered into the floor and a roped off patch of grease. Ian Baxter's show last fall consisted of a Telex Teletype machine that kept stuttering out messages like: “Yes, but on the other hand, No.”

The girl in our picture is student Edie Floyd. She was teacher Michael Upton’s work of art at a recent show. He laid a 16 - foot - square piece of grey rubber on the floor, dressed Edie in a grey dress and gave her grey makeup to wear and a stem of white gladiolus to hold. She sat there on her haunches, meditating, talking to spectators, smiling.

Teacher Upton, a new arrival from Britain, explained: “The piece is intended to confuse people and, therefore, involve them. Art is no longer something that hangs on a wall or stands on a pedestal. Art should be life.”

Edie Floyd said it was hard on her backside.