Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who is that Guy?

This is an example of a post which started out in one direction and ended up going someplace else entirely. Originally, I had planned to write something about the history of Clifton House on St George Street in Annapolis Royal. This large building with the gambrel roof once stood on the water side of the road at the spot where St George Street makes a turn at the corner of Victoria Street. I was planning to look at the architecture of the building and probably try to make some sort of lyrical statement about the interesting front door. When I write this sort of post I usually enlarge elements of the photograph to get a close look before I start writing. This allows me to get a feel for a building which, in this case, burned in 1930. While I was going through the process of looking for interesting elements of the photograph I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. With my mouth somewhat agape I uttered the statement "Who is that guy?"

To make things a bit more clear, I have enlarged the section of the photograph featuring the "guy" in question. There he stands leaning on his walking stick and wearing a fairly stylish suit. He seems to be in his 40s and, as would be common at the time, has an impressive set of sideburns and a large mustache. But wait, what is that on his head? Is he wearing a top hat or a bowler like most of his Annapolis Royal contemporaries? No, he is wearing a pith helmet. Now, I realize that this photograph was probably taken around the time of the Boer War (1899-1902) when the pith helmet was at its stylistic peak in various British colonies but, it was still not something I was expecting to see on the streets of Annapolis Royal. Perhaps I would expect this attire on an explorer in jungles of Africa, on a bureaucrat working in India or in a trendy London club but not really on the streets of Annapolis Royal. I can't even claim that he was a member of the British military since the garrison at Fort Anne had left in 1854. I suppose plausible explanation is that this was a local citizen or a visitor who was trying to play the role of the colonial gentleman.

The pith helmet itself originates in India. Helmets were made from the pith of a swamp plant known as the sola and later from cork. The idea of the helmet was to have a lightweight and breathable garment which would help the wearer control their body temperature. Even in the warmer parts of the British Empire a gentleman did not want to sweat. The pith helmet was first used by the military but was quickly adopted by overheated civilians. Could the man at the Clifton House in the dark suit simply be overheated?

All for now,
RGS

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