Helena Observatory,   North Alton, NS

Hall's Harbour Blog: 2015

26-Feb-2024 10:10 AST 26-Feb-2024 14:10 UTC


With the exception of my observatory stuff, we are pretty much unpacked now. We still have to find the "best" place for everything, but the boxes are long gone.

We are getting a bit of work done on the house. We had the hot tub removed and the resulting hole in the deck filled in. There's a guy here right now, installing a new gutter over the screen porch door, and he'll be putting up a clothesline shortly.

There are a few more projects still on the list: a concrete floor for the garage, and some repairs to the back of the workshop. Gradually, we are getting them all done.

Finding contractors has been a challenge. With the long, hard winter, they all got a late start on the season. Everyone who is any good is booked solid until the fall. We were lucky to get the guys we have working now.

I finally found someone local to do the trenching for my observatory, so that project is now underway.

It has not all been work. We have been taking in some cultural and recreational activities, too. We have seen three stage plays since we got here: "Leading Ladies" at the Centre Stage in Kentville, "The Tempest" at the Ross Creek Art Centre, and "I'll be Back by Midnight" at the Al Whittle Theatre in Wolfville.

We also took part in a "ghost walk" through Hall's Harbour, learning about the area's history. It is a theatrical production, with actors playing the ghosts of various local figures, and Jerome the Gravekeeper as M.C.

On Canada Day, we went hiking to Cape Split. It is the tip of a prominent peninsula that separates Minas Channel from the Minas Basin. Minas Channel is the part of the Bay of Fundy that is in front of Hall's Harbour. The hike is a pleasant walk through woods with occasional views down to the water. At the end of the trail, the forest opens up to reveal the cliffs and chasms that form the cape itself.

Yesterday, we drove to Lunenburg, on the South Shore, to play tourist for a day. The Bluenose was in port, its sailings for the day having been cancelled due to a bad bearing in the brand-new, shiny, very expensive steering gear. The Bluenose's misfortune was our good luck, because we got to go on board and look around.

We spent the rest of the day looking around the downtown area. We took a look at St. John's Anglican Church, which burned down in 2001. The building has been beautifully restored to its original condition, including the stained glass windows, which had to be completely re-made from scratch. A few of the original glass pieces were included in each window to preserve the history. They brought in an astronomer from the RASC to re-create the star vault in the chancel. The stars are gold leaf, and depict the sky on Christmas Eve of the year 1.


We survived the move and are well into the unpacking phase. We even found the box-cutter to get all those boxes open!

The house is gorgeous. It is smaller than the St. Bernard house, and, being designed by an architect, is designed for visual appeal more than for practical storage. The big bookcases are perfect for books and knick-knacks, but finding storage space for practical things like boots and winter clothes is a challenge.

We haven't yet walked the full grounds. The lot is about 25 acres, all forested, except for clearings around the house and the septic field. There are lots of trails, that we are looking forward to exploring.

One of the nicest things about being here is high-speed Internet! In St. Bernard, the only Internet option was so-called "wireless rural broadband", which promised 1.5 Mb/s speeds, but rarely delivered more than 0.8 Mb/s. I measured our download speed here at 9.8 Mb/s. Woo-hoo! Both of us can now watch You-Tube videos at the same time. We can even watch news videos in the default High Definition instead of having to downgrade them to the lowest resolution.

We have met several of our neighbours, all of whom so far have been nice. We get the sense that this is a real community.


The packing is getting close to done. Less than a week from now, we'll be in the new house, wondering which box whatever we need is in.


We are moving again. Not that we enjoy it, but life is too short to live in the wrong place.

I don't want to sound more negative about St. Bernard than necessary. The people in Clare are very nice. But we have absolutely nothing in common with them. It is a closed society, and one cannot be a full member of the community unless one's ancestors have been here for 250 years. There is no possibility of learning Acadian French, since the locals will not speak it in front of outsiders, so one remains an outsider. I enjoyed serving in the St. Bernard Fire Department, which is the best in the region, and I think I made significant contributions to it. But it is time to move on.

We have our sights set on Hall's Harbour, a small fishing village over the North Mountain from the Annapolis Valley, on the Bay of Fundy. We want to live within commuting distance of Wolfville, which is an interesting university town with all kinds of things happening. At that end of the Valley, there is shopping in New Minas (a blight on the landscape, but the shopping is good) and a good hospital and more activities in Kentville.

We have attended a community meeting and a couple of social get-togethers at Hall's Harbour, and like the mix of people we met there. There are many come-from-aways there, as well as a few people who have lived there all their lives. There are a few old hippies and several retired academics. The community shows a real sense of values, ones we can support.

We will be within walking distance of the harbour, though not right on the water. Both the community hall and the fire hall are within walking distance. Kentville is a 20 minute drive, and Wolfville is within 30 minutes. The house is on a numbered highway, meaning that it will be one of the first roads plowed in winter. It is also one of the best "mountain roads" over the North Mountain.

North Mountain, by the way, is all of 771 feet above sea level at its highest point, but it is a significant geographical feature. It is a single unbroken hill, 120 km long. The roads over it are steep and have the potential to be scary in winter.

The house is architect-designed, a simple open-plan modern house, with a detached guest house and a barn. It is set well back off the road, in a nice mixed forest. It is far enough from the water that there should be a bit less fog than here.

For astronomy, the sky is not quite as dark as here, due to the proximity of the Kentville-New Minas urban area, but, being over the mountain, it is still pretty dark: a 3 on the Bortle scale instead of a 2 here. The Bortle scale measures light pollution, and runs from 1 (the middle of nowhere) to 9 (downtown Manhattan).

I will be much closer to other astronomers. My monthly astronomy group is only 35 minutes away, instead of 2 hours. The RASC in Halifax is reachable, as is their observatory in St. Croix. The annual RASC star party is less than an hour away.