In its day the Italianate tower was the toast of the town; an unusual request by a rich resident.
Most of the commuters who beat their way through Halifax's Armdale Roundabout twice every day barely notice it anymore. But in the days before the First World War, the incongruous Italianate tower overlooking the Northwest Arm was the toast of the town. "The Dingle," as most Haligonians call it, was the result of a gift from a great Canadian, who once called the village of Armdale home.
In the second half of the 19th century, Halifax's richest citizens - with names like Thornvale, Emscote, Belmont, Maplewood, Studley and Bloomingdale - built great estates along the Northwest Arm. It was a pastoral retreat overlooking the water; a short coach ride from the industrial congestion of the city's core. Into this milieu came Sir Sandford Fleming.
Fleming immigrated to Canada from Scotland as a teenager, and wasted no time forging a name for himself here. At the age of 24 he designed Canada's first postage stamp, creating a new Canadian icon in the process -he placed the image of a beaver on the stamp, which represented the industrious nature of the Canadian people as well as the fur trade that had created the country. Standard Time, the idea of dividing the world into 24 time zones, was another creation of Fleming's fertile mind, a concept he devised after arriving 12 hours early for a train while on vacation in Ireland.
But Fleming's greatest achievement was a series of railways that helped bring the new nation of Canada together. A surveyor and engineer by trade, Fleming served as chief engineer and surveyor both of the Intercolonial Railway between Halifax and Quebec, and the Canadian Pacific Railway. He later became a member of the board of the Canadian Pacific Company, making himself a rich man in the process.
Fleming lived in Halifax for much of the last 40 years of his life. In 1874 he bought a home on the Armdale side of the Northwest Arm. The estate was called Dingle before Fleming owned it, a name that he continued to use. No one is certain about the origin of the name - Fleming himself believed it came from the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. A more likely explanation is that it was named after Richard Dingle, who briefly operated a flour mill near the property in the early 1820s.
By the turn of the century much of the land along the Northwest Arm was being turned into private boating and social clubs. The Bloomingdale property became the Waegwoltic Club; The Jubilee Boat Club, the Saraguay Club and St. Mary's Aquatic Club were all created. Fleming, who had kept his estate open to the public, feared that soon there would be no place left for the common man, who couldn't afford a club membership to enjoy a picnic or launch a canoe along the Arm.
In 1908, seven years before his death, he gave 95 acres of his estate to the city to be used as a municipal park -with one proviso: the city had to build an ornate stone tower on it as a memorial to the 150th anniversary of representative government in Nova Scotia. The province is said to have been the first colony in the British Empire outside the United Kingdom to have such a form of government.
Halifax nearly balked at the expensive request, but in the end the Halifax branch of the Canadian Club raised much of the money privately. Andrew Cobb, of Dumaresq & Cobb, was hired to design the tower. One of Nova Scotia's greatest architects, Cobb designed buildings at Dalhousie and Acadia universities, and dozens of churches and homes.
The tower that Cobb created -formally referred to as the Fleming Tower or the Memorial Tower - is 30 feet (9.1 metres) wide at the base and stands 112 feet (34 metres) from the ground to its copper-roofed peak. The architecture is Palladian, a popular style originating in Renaissance Venice that was used in many 18th and 19th century public buildings, including the White House. The tower's base and upper part are constructed from large blocks of local granite; the lower section is native ironstone, quarried near the mouth of the Northwest Arm.
The bronze lions that guard the tower were donated in 1913 by the Royal Colonial Institute of London, patterned after the lions in Trafalgar Square.
The grand opening of Fleming Tower, in August 1912, was an auspicious event -three days of festivities culminated in a huge dedication ceremony. Prince Arthur, the governor general of Canada was the guest of honour. Fleming was there too, to see his last great idea brought to life.
Country in the City
The land that Sir Sandford Fleming bequeathed to Halifax features a number of natural habitats. Explore a mixed growth forest, a cattail marsh, a saltwater cove, a beaver pond and a heath barren - all within the borders of the city. West of Fleming Tower a trail climbs steeply to a high headland offering a spectacular view of the Northwest Arm and the west end of the city. There's a sandy beach here, too. And on the other side of the tower, behind a grassy picnic area, a boat launch still allows the public to launch their sailboats, motorboats and canoes, enjoying a leisurely jaunt on the Northwest Arm.
Among the short hiking trails is the Crossland Ice Trail, which connects to a popular local lake known as Frog Pond. The Ice Trail's name refers to the days before refrigeration, when blocks of ice were cut from the pond and slid down long sluiceways to the Arm, to be loaded onto boats. The old railway builder would be proud.