Welcome to Halifax, Nova Scotia, otherwise known as “Spooney,” according to the nineteenth-century travelling American salesman Samuel Slick.
Satirist Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865) is famous for his serialized sketches of Nova Scotians in The Clockmaker (1836). The titular character is the ambitious, manipulative clock-salesman known as Samuel Slick, a character who is linked to the phrase “Uncle Sam,” which many Canadians will recognize as a reference to the United States.
In the sketch “The Clockmaker’s Opinion on Halifax,” Sam Slick compares the province to a bowl of Mock Turtle Soup that he once tasted at Boston’s Tremont House (Sam mispronounces it Tree-mount). This travelling salesman does not usually dine at such illustrious places. His typical fare is tavern grub. But one day, he is invited to join a business man for lunch at the Tremont House, where he revels in the Mock Turtle Soup (111). Sam’s memories appear accurate, as one historical menu from Tremont House lists this dish as the restaurant’s opening course. Sam mentions that he has to “drag from the bottom” of the bowl, as hidden below the thick broth are “fat pieces of turtle” and “little forced meat balls of the size of sheep’s dung” (113). According to Sam, the province of Nova Scotia “is jist like that are soup, good enough at top, but dip down and you have the riches, the coal, the iron ore, the gypsum and what not” (113).
As for the city of Halifax, Sam Slick urges its residents to start building their own economy and infrastructure. He compares Halifax to a Russian officer in Warsaw, Poland who had lost both arms in the Polish uprising in 1831. The armless veteran “was fed with spoons by his neighbours, but after a while they grew tired of it, and I guess he near about starved to death…. Now Halifax is like that are Spooney, as I used to call him; it is fed by the outports, and they begin to have enough to do to feed themselves—it must larn to live without ’em. They have no river, and no country about them; let them make a rail road to Minas Basin, and they will have arms of their own to feed themselves” (115).
Diners on the Wharf at Halifax Harbour
Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd