I’ve written briefly about the recent Writers’ Union Conference, but I’ve jumped over the main attraction…… its Halifax setting. Every day I slipped away from the indoor Conference sessions to stroll around the city, which I love.

Every area reminded me of early, happy times with Halifax authors. The ancient St. Paul’s Church (prefabricated in Boston, then shipped north to be erected in Halifax when the city was founded in 1749 as a sort of northern New England outpost ) reminded me of Charles Ritchie. My friend Charles was the diplomat and diarist (The Siren Years) whose Almon great-grandfather , a distinguished Halifax doctor, is warmly remembered in a plaque in the very old Church at the heart of the old city. And Charles, despite his globe-trotting career, remained a Halifax-based Anglican all of his life.

Opposite the Public Gardens, I saw again the site of the house where Hugh MacLennan had lived at the time of the 1917 Explosion. I had joined the noble but failed lobbying attempt to preserve Hugh’s house as a historic writing centre. And of course it was in his first novel, Barometer Rising, that Hugh described the explosion with great power. As I recently told Michael Enright on CBC radio, in that novel Hugh also made the setting of the sun over Halifax an excuse to scan our country, like a satellite, from coast to coast, deliberately creating a national literature.

And the Citadel, which I always associate with the famous photograph of Hugh (the Dalhousie student who won a Rhodes Scholarship) looking out to sea, is still there, dominating the city.

My usual visit on the waterfront to tour the corvette Sackville (I proudly published Jim Lamb’s classic memoir, The Corvette Navy) was not possible this year, with the famous ship in dry dock, disappointing thousands of potential visitors. But I toured the waterfront very thoroughly, including a visit to Pier 21, which always impresses me, as another lucky Canadian immigrant.

I took a brief trip to see The Lord Nelson Hotel .There my author Don Harron, teetering on high heels in the lobby, preparing for  a day touring as “Valerie Rosedale”, was once gruffly moved on by a suspicious house detective. I dropped in to see the excellent local bookstore, just across Spring Garden Road, then walked  through the dramatic Dalhousie campus. It was the perfect day for it…….Graduation Day! The streets were full of proud graduates in red gowns, floating alongside beaming parents…. and shuffling younger siblings, pleased , but uncertain of their role.

It was a great day at a great university.

Which brings me to another university. This weekend the Guardian  newspaper published its annual survey of Britain’s best universities. Traditionally , the top two universities in that eagerly-read survey are Oxford and Cambridge.

This year, however, the ranking of the universities, with everything from academic standards to student enjoyment carefully calibrated, was :—

1 Cambridge

2 St. Andrews

3 Oxford

Those of us who went to St. Andrews were not surprised. Since it was founded in 1413, in its mediaeval city jutting east into the North Sea, Scotland’s oldest university has become used to providing students with an interesting and enjoyable education. In fact, every year, in the Guardian listing St. Andrews tops the British list for “Student enjoyment.”

No surprises there for me, a proud graduate of the class of 1966.




  1. Houston, Stuart says:

    Doug, your posts are highlights and always appreciated. Thanks.
    Mary Houston, 94 years old, had a tragic fall and has since had over five weeks of Physiotherapy in Saskatoon City Hospital. I get over to visit her daily. She is now awaiting a bed to become emptied in one of the Saskatoon Special Care Hospitals – we hope in the Family Care Home attached to the marvellous 22-floor Luther Tower where I still live. IN theory, but not always in practice, high preference should be given because Mary and I have been living in Luther Tower for 2 ½ years, and they try to keep couples intact. Five or six in the tower currently have a spouse in the Family Care Home. Meanwhile we wait, dealing with uncertainty.
    Mark Abley, Rhodes scholar from Saskatoon, lifelong writer and birder, with his controversial biography of his father THE ORGANIST (University of Regina Press) had good sales Sunday at BOOK ON THE STREET, HELD THIS YEAR ON BROADWAY.

    Stuart Houston

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      I’m very sorry to hear about Mary. I greatly hope that the desired bed comes open for her at the Family Care Home attached to the Luther Tower.
      My fingers are crossed.for both of you.
      It’s very good to be reminded of happy times spent at Book On The Street in Saskatoon. And of course I follow your fine work on the birds of Saskatchewan. As for our mutual friend Mark Abley, he’s doing excellent work,with his own books, but also as an editor at McGill Queen’s. For example the book he edited by Roy MacLaren, Mackenzie King in the Age of the Dictators, is superb. But you’re a little busy right now. My thoughts are with you and Mary. Doug

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