Friday 8 March 2013

Happy Valentines Day! (1859) Halifax Harbour Freezes Over

MMA, M2006.2.1Photographed by Roger Lloyd, Nova Scotia Museum

A Moment Frozen in Time: Samuel Cunard's steamship RMS America arrives in Halifax, Valentines Day, 1859

This rare painting shows one of the Cunard Line's first generations of steamers challenging Halifax's ice-filled harbour. The winter of 1859 was one of the few occasions when Halifax's normally ice-free harbour froze. America made a big impression when she successfully smashed her way through the ice, demonstrating the power and reliability of Cunard's new steam technology. The artist has depicted a cross-section of Nova Scotians gathered on ice skates to witness this memorable event. America can be seen firing a gun in salute to the Lieutenant Governor's Residence and the group on the left is believed to be the Governor himself along with his family and aide-de-camp. Paintings of Samuel Cunard's steamships in Halifax while he was still alive are almost unknown, making this a  rare glimpse of these revolutionary steamships in Halifax's Golden Age.

One mystery about the painting is the artist. It is signed "Avery" but there are no records of an artist named Avery in Halifax during this time. We have speculated that the dapper man with a cane on the far right looking out at us may be a self  portrait of Avery. If you recognize a long-lost relative - let us know!