By John Mathews, Journalism Lecturer
Liverpool, Nova Scotia
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Rocking all over the world...
Standing proud on the banks of the Mersey, Liverpool has had plenty to celebrate lately, not least a big birthday party to commemorate its unique cultural heritage... but it's not us this time.
July 2009 marked the 250th anniversary of the founding of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and even a rainy day on the east coast of Canada cannot disguise the charms of the town, especially to a Scouser on tour who is more than willing to make a long diversion to see how it compares to The Real Thing.
Sir Paul McCartney was rumoured to have done just that on a trip to Canada some years ago, when locals claim he sailed down from the nearby provincial capital, Halifax, anchored his private yacht in Liverpool Bay, and ventured up the Mersey on his jet-ski to check it out... though presumably not in the rain.
Did he stay long enough to discover that historians disagree about whether this particular Liverpool was named after our fine city, or in honour of Lord Liverpool, who surveyed the land which allowed the 'Port of the Privateers' to be established back in 1759?
Er, no. As it turns out, Sir Paul has recently denied the jet-ski escapade story. Speaking ahead of a huge concert in Halifax this summer, he told local radio station Q104: “Those rumours do proliferate, all around the world. Everywhere I go I hear things like, 'In Moscow, did Beatles come and play secret gig? Very big rumour!’ So no, I never had a yacht in Halifax harbour. I’d have liked to.”
How disappointing. He doesn't know what he missed.
Many other Liverpudlians have made a detour down Highway 103 while visiting Nova Scotia. Although there are barely any similarities between the namesakes - their Mersey has a bridge over it linking the town to Brooklyn, for example - anyone from 'The' Liverpool would surely find the trip irresistible if they happened to be in the region.
Liverpools are scattered all across the globe, most of them in the United States, and the Nova Scotia version is well worthy of exploration... as history has proved. Originally known as 'Ogomkigeak' (dry sandy place) and 'Ogukegeok' (place of departure) by the First Nations of Canada who used to gather there, the harbour was named 'Port Rossignol' following the arrival of French settlers. Midway through the 18th Century, the British seized control of the region and the 'New England Planters' moved north from America to the re-branded 'Liverpool' on the promise of 250 acres of free land. The offer has since expired, sadly.
The port's principle function has changed in recent centuries, from being a base for 'privateers' (government-sanctioned piracy), to industries as varied as fishing, fur-trading, shipping, and rum-running during the 1920s Prohibition years in the USA. Relations with the United States had clearly improved from the days of the American Revolution, when Liverpool's citizens are said to have switched their allegiances during the struggle for independence after American privateers attacked local shipping and the town itself.
Modern-day Liverpool is a much more sedate location. It has a population of just 3,295, and a paper mill over the river in Brooklyn (no, not the New York one) has a dominant influence on the local economy these days. Fort Point lighthouse and a scenic drive from Halifax to Yarmouth brings tourists down the rugged Atlantic coast through Liverpool, and those who stop overnight are rewarded with pleasant memories.
Liverpool, NS might not be blessed with the grand-scale architecture of Liverpool, UK, but the Queens County town has its own historic buildings that sit comfortably alongside newer commercial outlets. Walking the Trestle Trail and the Waterfront Trail will uncover the best of the surrounding area. The Mersey is at the heart of Liverpool's appeal, with a semi-rural, picturesque setting that provides a glimpse of how our own riverbanks might have looked hundreds of years ago. It's pretty unlikely you would ever be asked to, but if you had to swim across the Mersey, you'd definitely choose the Canadian one.
The best option by far is to stay on dry land, Brooklyn side, admire the view of small-town Liverpool and smile to yourself at just how different two places with the same name can be. North America, where familiar-sounding UK locations abound, is filled with such contrasts.
There's no place like home, however... and Liverpool, Nova Scotia is no exception, but if you ever fancied visiting somewhere with nothing in common whatsoever beyond the name, you could have fun starting with dog-sledging in Liverpool Land, Greenland.