Thursday, 15 May 2014

Corner Cannons

 Cannon at Sterns' Corner, Portland Street and Alderney Drive, Dartmouth.
This particular blog post is dedicated to my friend and former professor, Dan Conlin (formerly of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic). When I asked him for any information on the early fortifications of Halifax, he provided me with a wealth of material which included 'corner cannons' (a topic hinted to me by my good friend Mitch Owen). Growing up in Dartmouth, I was well aware of the half-buried cannon at Sterns' Corner (I'd pass it on my way to the ferry or the dentist...) but I didn't realize that there were a number of these very solid posts scattered around the harbour! Dan told me that there were six known surviving corner cannons in Halifax and Dartmouth: the one in Dartmouth, one by Government House on Barrington Street, one in Historic Properties, one in the Halifax Shipyard, one  in the Naval Dockyard and two in Historic Properties.
Interesting background information on the origins (Governor Wentworth's Preston property) of this Sterns' Corner cannon.

Corner Cannon, Bishop and Barrington, Halifax
Here's another one (at Historic Properties, Downtown Halifax).

Lots of treasure on display at Historic Properties. They need some interpretive paneling! 
Where did this one come from? It is near the above post cannon. Would love some info!
Dan Conlin suspects that more corner cannons were located throughout the landscape of early Downtown Halifax:
"At least six cannons are still visible around Halifax used as corner guards, 18th century curbstones. Many more have likely been buried as street levels were raised or they were absorbed into expanding buildings" (Dan Conlin, email).
He also added two fascinating anecdotes about the repurposing of military hardware:
"In the 1970s an old house was being demolished off Spring Garden Road and the workers were amazed at the strength of one corner of the porch. It was held up by a 6 pounder cannon. The cannon was rescued. It was a very old 18th century model and is now on display in the Army Museum on Citadel Hill. Similarly when the bank vault was demolished in the Collins Bank at historic properties, workers couldn't understand why the granite blocks would not come apart. They discovered that they were locked together with cannon balls, an appropriate choice for Enos Collins, the privateer banker!" (Ibid.)

I agree that more cannons were were out there (and maybe still in the ground under layers of dirt and development) on the street corners and I have found of their existence by looking through historical photography and checking classic Halifax history books. This is what I would call armchair archaeology and you can do it too! Just don't poke around the city with a pick and shovel searching for a buried cannon at every street corner.
Akins mentions the location of "Lawrence Hartshorne, Hardware, corner of Granville and George streets, between the market house and the parade". He goes on to note that the "old corner, so many years known as Hartshorne & Boggs' corner, had a gun at the corner of the platform which extended down the hill to the lower corner, occupied by one Hart, a Jew, afterwards known as Martin Gay Black's, and now occupied by the new building of the Merchant's Bank; this walk was the resort of the merchants in the morning, and the fashionable and idle in the afternoons"( Akins' History of Halifax City page 95).
While providing more clues on the locations of corner cannons in Halifax, Akins provides an interesting anecdote about smoking (or the lack thereof) in Halifax:
"A large ship gun did duty as a post at Hartshorne & Boggs' corner, and another at Black's, and formed a nucleus for loungers—not smokers, for smoking was strictly prohibited in the streets of Halifax at this time by the Magistrates of the town" (Akins' History of Halifax City, page 198).

"At this prominent corner stands the antique cannon mentioned at the beginning of this book. Half-buried under the sidewalk, its upper end has been visible in the same position since the early years of the 1800's. Previously this old gun is said to have been mounted at the summer estate of Sir John Wentworth in Preston where it was used to discharge salutes on special occasions. The hollow where the cannon stood, can still be seen at John W. Colley's farm on Governor Street" (page 54, Story of Dartmouth).

There is an interesting website called "Nova Scotia's Electric Scrapbook" which you can access at This site has an interesting section on cannons which features pictures of a corner cannon in Bear River, Nova Scotia: The next time I am in Bear River, I will photograph this cannon personally. I wonder what other communities in Nova Scotia have/had these fascinating corner cannons...

Please contact me if you have more information on these corner cannons. I would be particularly interested in learning of other potential locations. I need to take pictures of (and gain access to) the cannons in the Shipyard and Dockyard and I also need to show you the second upright cannon in Historic Properties. I will close this blog post with a link to a nifty web page from the UK which documents corner cannons (also referred to as bollards) in that country.

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