The Noon Gun


The Citadel, an eight-cornered star, double-walled fortress guards Halifax harbor and the city against the menace of invaders. It now appears as it did between 1869 and 1871 when the 78th Highland Regiment Afoot and the 3rd Brigade, Royal Artillery defended her.

Since the military personnel, for the most part lacked watches, cannon fire marked the noon hour, a tradition maintained every day since 1856, with the exception of Christmas day. An evening volley summoned the soldiers back to the Citadel from the various drinking establishments down the hill. Pipes and drums announced the other hours of the day.

A private in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces earned 13 pence a day. Of these, 12 pence were returned to the paymaster to cover charges for clothing, room and board, leaving one penny to spend. A penny in those days bought 3 pints of ale. I see you’re wondering about inflation right now, but you can also understand why the ale houses flourished in the neighborhood of the Citadel.

Married soldiers brought their wives and children into the barracks. The married couple occupied the same space as a single soldier. With the couple at close quarters on the bed, the children slept under it. This practice stopped with the advent of the camera. When photos of cramped quarters reached potential recruits, enlistments fell off. Consequently, married soldiers’ barracks came to occupy Barrack Street, not far from the entrance to the Citadel.

Neatness: spit and polish to be exact, were the rule. To their credit, the re-enactors maintain this tradition. This became clear to me after a visit to the tailor shop. A seamstress gave me a private tour of the premises. In particular she explained the fabrication of the red doublet worn by the infantry. The outer shell had been sewn together in England and then custom finished at the Citadel as a heavy woolen jacket. The chevrons, insignia and buttons indicated regiment, rank, years of service and specialty. However, the new buttons had not been polished. The seamstress fitted the re-enactor with his or her doublet and then it was up to the re-enactor to shine the buttons, and shine they did, in order to match the brilliance of these excellent university students working for the spring and summer at the Citadel.

The seamstress, an actual skilled tailor knew her business and had a few stories to tell. It seems that Queen Elizabeth II visited Halifax a few years back. The Prime Minister also attended the event. Needless to say, the entire Citadel contingent, with pipes, drums, rifles, sabers, dirks, kilts and doublets turned out for the march down to the harbor.

Unfortunately, it rained to the point that, as the seamstress told me, “The animals began to line up two-by-two. We expected Noah and his Ark to dock at the terminal.”

As the re-enactors stood in the downpour, listening to the speeches, their woolen uniforms soaked up the deluge. Then the soggy warriors turned, about face and marched back up the hill. Imagine the smell of wet wool drying out in the locker rooms at the Citadel.

If you visit Halifax, be sure to march on the Citadel.

Thanks to the tour guide, the exhibits and the brochure  as well as the seamstress and other re-enactors for the information provided in this blog.

2 thoughts on “The Noon Gun

  1. But from what I understand, those soggy woolen uniforms were probably about the warmest thing anyone had on at the moment! Fascinating insights, Don!


  2. Do you think the wet wool would act like a scuba diver’s wet suit once the body heat warms the water closest to it?

    The care the re-enactors take of their very expensive duds shows their dedication to the Citadel, Nova Scotia, Canada, their traditions and the Queen. There are sites on line that give the price of doublets, kilts, bagpipes and all the accessories. It’s not unusual for a groom to wear the traditional attire of his family for the wedding. It may exceed the cost of the bridal gown.

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