The Great Flagpole at Grand Parade
In 1947, the City of Halifax was preparing to celebrate the bicentenary of the founding of Halifax in 1749. As a symbolic gift to the city, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) arranged to have a huge Douglas Fir tree cut from the forests of British Columbia and delivered across Canada to its eastern seaport. The CPR’s gift would become the city's official flag pole outside of City Hall in Halifax.
The mammoth log was transported on three railway flat-cars to Saint John, New Brunswick, then by barge across the Bay of Fundy to Digby, Nova Scotia. It took 30 men to load it back on flat-cars for the final leg of the rail journey, departing July 2, 1947. Once at its destination, the log was fitted as a flagpole at the Halifax Shipyards. Early in the morning on September 24, 1947, the wooden spar was transported up Barrington Street to Grand Parade. A crew of 11 men from the Halifax Shipyards plus a tractor crane hoisted the pole into position. According to an article in The Halifax Mail, for 38 tense minutes, the pole "waver[ed] like a drunken sailor" before the crew managed to fix it to its base. More than 600 people gathered to watch the operation. Standing 38-metres high, Halifax's new flagpole was purported to be the tallest in the Commonwealth - a record later shown to be held by the 67-metre flagstaff in Kew, England.
By 1975, City staff noted rot in the flagpole and Council debated whether to replace it with an aluminum one. History and aesthetics prevailed over economics, and Council opted to repair the CPR’s gift. The repair cost was far more than anticipated, since as the pole was being lowered to the ground, it broke in three. Nonetheless, the pole was salvaged and stood once more.
In 2016, engineers determined the rot in the Douglas Fir was too extensive: the spar had to be replaced. When the pole was taken down, workers discovered a number of items hidden underneath: a 1940 Canada 50-cent coin, 1975 Joseph Howe Festival Commemorative Dollar, and 1975 City Hall brochure. Written on the cover was a note from Mayor Edmund Morris, indicating he placed the items in May 1976 when the flagpole was refurbished - a time capsule for future generations.
The Douglas Fir flagpole stood at Grand Parade for nearly 70 years. It was the tallest and the last pole to stand in the centre of the square, since its shorter, metal replacement was erected in the northeast corner.