Start next to the observation balcony on the waterfront boardwalk in front of the Marriot Casino Hotel. There is a big three dimensional sign saying Canada right next to the platform.
What’s the neatest creature on the waterfront? Why a wharf rat of course! People give rats a bad reputation. Rats live wherever people live, and without knowing it, we interact with them almost every day. Your mission is to become a rat, outwit those humans and survive! Rats mostly come out at night but you’re an adventurous and hungry rat. To start:
- Put on your rat costume.
- Come up with a rat sound to warn other rats of danger.
- Give your warning sound if you see a human wearing red, then hide.
To survive you need to be on the lookout for three things:
- Danger – what could harm a rat on the Halifax waterfront?
- Food – what does a rat eat and where can you get it?
- Shelter – where can you go to sleep or to escape from danger?
Wharf rats, also called Norway rats, sewer rats, brown rats or water rats, came to North America on ships with the first wave of European settlers in the late 1700s. The rats came over in the ships’ holds among the food supplies. Today there are likely as many rats as there are people in the world. People see them as pests because they eat food supplies, destroy buildings and carry diseases. Don’t chase or corner a rat as they can be very vicious when frightened.
Since rats are low to the ground, get down on your hands and knees as well.
Find as many small holes as you can where a rat could find shelter. Stay near the balcony and watch for safety near the water.
How many holes did you find? Which one would you pick? Do the rat scamper to move between stops:
- Crouch down low. Use small steps and move quickly.
- Stop every now and then to look around.
From the balcony, walk on the boardwalk around the little cove to the next wharf, passing an ice cream shop on the left and a restaurant on the right. Stand on the other side of the little cove (75 m from the last stop), across the little cove from the ice cream shop.
At the turn in the boardwalk, carefully scan the water line under the wharf for your seafood snack. Make a menu listing the things you see that a rat might eat:
Chez Rat Menu
Do You Know – Rats
Rats (‘gjiapigji’j’ in Mi’kmaw) are good jumpers and climbers and follow the same route each night for their rounds. They have poor eyesight and are colour-blind. But their other senses are excellent: taste, hearing, touch, and smell. People have bred wharf rats to create the albino laboratory rats used in scientific experiments.
Stand on the boardwalk with the red building to your right and look toward the harbor. There is a passage going off to the right at the end of the red building. On the far side of the passage is a white wooden enclosure (fence) on the corner.
Hungry again? Yup. As a rat, you can eat a third of your body weight in 24 hours. Peek through the white fence. Garbage is stored here and it’s a great place for a meal. Even though most restaurants compost their food waste, some usually ends up in the garbage. Yum, yum!
Most rats can fit through openings about as big as the width of a finger. As a rat, can you fit under the fence to get at the garbage?
Turn down the passage to the courtyard that stretches from the street to the boardwalk.
There are many sources of food around here. Count the number of garbage cans along the courtyard from the street to the boardwalk. How many are there? Is there food in any of them? Be careful, there are rat traps along the courtyard– do you see them? They are small boxes that blend in along the bottom of the buildings that people do not usually notice.
Do you think the metal cage or the concrete garbage cans are easier for a rat to get into?
Where would you hide to escape from danger? Look down for an easy escape route – near the middle of the courtyard. The sewer grate heads into the rat highway of the Halifax Underworld.
“All my relations”
The Mi’kmaq, through oral traditions, view all non-humans (including rats) as siblings and other persons. They believe that animals sacrifice themselves for food. The animal-human relationship is reciprocal in aspects of respect and honour, and this is evident in many areas of Mi’kmaw life such as traditional hunting and harvesting. The Mi’kmaw term “Msit no’komaq” means, ‘All my relations.’ This speaks to the Mi’kmaw acknowledgement that all humans and non-humans are related, which is a very significant concept among many other Indigenous groups as well.
Stay in the courtyard.
You are still hungry! Good thing that a lot of humans come down to the waterfront to eat their lunches. It takes skill to steal a human’s lunch. Try it:
- Gather near the grate. One person is the human and everyone else is a rat.
- The human sits in the centre of a circle of rats that are about three giant steps away.
- Spread the crumpled paper around and near the human. The human puts on the vision blocker.
- Everyone is silent while one at a time, a rat tries to sneak up and steal a ball of paper.
- If the human hears the rat before the rat sits back down, the human points in that direction.
- The rat becomes the human if it is caught.
Rats must have good balance. Test your skills. As you walk to the next stop, try only stepping on the heads of nails hammered into the wooden boardwalk. Can you do it?
Do You Know – Composting
Now that people are getting better at composting, less food is being thrown out in the regular garbage. This makes it harder for a rat to get a decent meal. To find out more about composting, see the Halifax web site.
To make matters worse, some people put out poison to kill rats and mice. So humans provide food through garbage, but also pose a danger to rats. Are rats the only creatures that might end up eating this poison?
Walk towards the water and turn right along the boardwalk. Walk 220 m, following the boardwalk along the water around a large outside eating area. Keep following the boardwalk closest to the water until the ferry terminal. Stop just before the terminal across from the grass.
Look out on the ferry dock. This is a popular hangout for pigeons and seagulls that compete with rats for food. Count the number of pigeons and seagulls that you see.
Boats are good sources of food for rats. In fact, that is how rats came to North America. Use your scope to look at all the different ships in the harbour. Find the ship you would want to live on if you were a rat. Draw it in your Adventure Journal if you want.
Continue around the back of the ferry terminal through the passageway. Look for a weathervane on top of the naval clock. Figure out which way the wind is blowing so you know where the food smells are coming from. Rats have a very good sense of smell.
Part of the Ecosystem
Rats are useful in the waterfront ecosystem as they help to control the numbers of pigeons. But there are many things that could eat a rat too, such as mink, hawks and house cats.
From the weathervane, walk parallel to the water and through the passageway in the building ahead of you. Once through the passage, take the few steps down to your left to the water’s edge. Be careful as it could be slippery.
Touch the water… burrrr… Check out the underwater creatures. What do you see?
How Clean is the Harbour?
Cleaner than it was. The harbour had been a foul cesspool facilitated by the daily dumping of 180 million litres of raw sewage into it up until 2008. Millions of dollars were then invested in a sewage treatment system and testing shows fecal coliform levels have fallen by 97% relative to pre-treatment. More diverse underwater life has returned. Regular monitoring indicates that the harbour meets swimming guidelines most of the year (but check first) and indeed people are swimming in it! Of course stuff still goes in the harbour, but the combination of the sewage treatment system and that the harbour naturally flushes well to the ocean supports good water quality. However, there are centuries of chemicals and ship discharges that are heavier and have sunk to the bottom. There has been previous discussion of dredging it to clean it up further but assessments suggest that the polluted bottom sludge in particular locales is stable and not likely to move or affect water quality above it. This means doing nothing is likely the best policy.
From the steps, continue through the second passageway in the building ahead of you and turn down the wharf to your left in front of the large docked ship, the C.S.S. Acadia.
Is the Acadia a good ship for a home? Ships sometimes have cats on board to hunt down rats. If it is open, go on board and ask the tour guides if they have a cat. If they do, find out its name. (It costs a bit to get on the Acadia.) Ask if they think the Acadia would make a good home for a rat. Why or why not?
Walk to the play gym in the shape of a submarine located next to the Maritime Museum. Where would a rat hide on this ship? Sneak about and find the three best hiding places.
Check out the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic behind the stone wave to learn about the interesting history of seafaring in Nova Scotia. For more information, contact them at 902-424-7490. For an inexpensive and scenic boat trip, take the ferry to Dartmouth and back.
Walk 75 m down the boardwalk and turn left as the boardwalk heads toward the harbour again. Walk out onto the wharf at the corner past a statue honouring Lebanese immigrants on it.
You might be fast, but are you agile and clever moving through a small space? Often rats play games when they are all on the wharf at night and no one is around just to practice their skills. Try this game.
- Form partners where one person is a mother or father rat and the other one is a kid rat.
- Set boundaries which are the width of the wharf and about the same distance of length on the wharf (a small square).
- The parent rat must catch the kid rat by tagging them, but both of them can only move with small rat steps. This means you must shuffle along the wharf (no running).
- To start, the parent rat spins three times while the kid rat tries to get away.
- Once the kid rat gets tagged, the kid rat spins three times, turns into the parent rat and chases the new kid rat.
- Hint: if you have more than one pair of rats, use each other as barriers.
Continue down the boardwalk 75 m past the colourful chairs to the next wharf that heads out into the harbour.
Face the harbour with your back to the land and check out the wharf in front of you. This is a rat’s racetrack. Test your speed on it.
- Stand at the beginning of the wharf, where the boardwalk meets the wharf.
- On “go”, race to the end of the wharf, and race back.
- Touch every light pole on the way.
- Make sure you don’t run into someone.
Humans are connected with rats whether we like it or not. Rats are also connected with pigeons, seagulls and mink. Rats compete for food with these creatures or are food sources for them. Even humans and mink are connected through rats, though they rarely see each other on the waterfront. There are many
between these creatures.
Return to the boardwalk and continue 40 m, then turn left and head out on the long walkway which then turns twice to the right before it returns to land. Pass some hammocks and come to a few block type structures on the far part of the outer section of the walkway.
It is rumoured that mink (a creature similar to a weasel) live around this wharf. They come out at night and eat rats if they can catch them. Where could a rat hide out here?
- One adult is the mink and closes their eyes
- Every kid is a rat and finds the best place to hide nearby.
Do You Know? Africville
On the southern edge of the Bedford Basin, not far from here, is the site of Africville, a Black settlement established in 1848, which continued to exist for nearly 125 years as a thriving and close-knit community. But over time the City of Halifax refused to provide basic services that others benefited from such as clean water and garbage disposal while simultaneously locating an infectious disease hospital, prison and dump in and around Africville. In 1964, rather than provide services, the City relocated the residents without consultation to make way for industrial development which ultimately became the Fairview Cove container Pier. The spirit of Africville still lives to this day in the Africville Museum, which is housed in a replica of the community’s original Baptist church. Visit the museum to learn more.
Continue on the walkway back to land. At that point look down for on painted movement instructions on the pavement. Stop here.
There were not many places to hide from the mink out on the walkway so you are going to need to be quick and coordinated to escape. Here is a chance to practice your skills by joining the rat olympics. The pavement in front of you gives instructions for how you are to move across the next 50 metres down the path, changing your step pattern as you go. See how fast you can go without making any mistakes. Then return to the start and see if you can improve. Only the quickest will survive.
Stay in this area.
You are now tired after all of the running and jumping and you need a safe spot to hole up and rest where people or dogs will not bother you. Search around this area and find the coolest hole you could sneak in for a rest. Take a picture of it and upload it to the website.
Now see if you can find the plaque in the area with the mystery creature on it. Make a rubbing of it with the side of your pencil in your Adventure Journal!
(Hint: From the finish of the Rat Olympics marking on the pavement, look at the picture above. In the left side of the picture, not too far away, is the plaque, but you cannot see it in this photo).
The plaque symbol is:
Add ideas or a box for where rats live.
Congratulations, you have survived as a rat on the Halifax Waterfront! Take a well-deserved rest!
Here are some ways you can help prevent water pollution and save water:
- Replace chemical household cleaners with natural, biodegradable alternatives.
- Never pour paint or toxic chemicals down the drain. Instead, take them to the Household Hazardous Waste Depot.
- Check for leaky faucets. If a faucet leaks one cup in ten minutes, it would leak 12,000 litres in a year!
- Check for tiny leaks in toilets. Put a small bit of food colouring in the tank and wait for 15 minutes to see if it turns up in the toilet bowl.
- Put an object such as a filled 2-litre pop bottle in your toilet to save water each flush.