Big Day Downtown | Pirates of Halifax Edition

Posted On September 2nd, 2015 Author Lia Rinaldo  Comments: 0

So, bet you were wondering what I was doing with all of those pirates recently, eh? Here's the upcoming story that will appear in the next issue of Local Connections Halifax coming out this week. Read on! And don't forget to tap the gallery link on the main page for all the photos. 


The crowd is winding down. There’s a loud knock on the door. Lia, the only member of the management team who wants the party to keep rolling, peers through the peephole.

(with authority)
No one else is coming in. We’re closed.

Oh. My. God.

C’mon Lia, who’s there? Seriously, our license.

(opens door to quickly assess and slams the door to face the room with glee)
Pirates are storming the suite. We HAVE to let them in!

This is a scene from the 2009 Atlantic Film Festival verbatim. And this kind of scenario, if you’re open to these kinds of things, happens reasonably often. In a role like mine — building and hosting large-scale events sometimes in other parts of the world — you get set on a track of creative yet high stress environments where you work hard, play hard and make fast friends. Add to that a penchant for being drawn to strong personalities. Then put those characters in authentic, 99 per cent screen-accurate pirate garb with all the layers of artisanal detail, beautiful tailoring, custom-made leathers and boots . . . and bam! Boy, do we have an interesting night ahead of us.

I finally received an invitation to participate in the Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s Big Day Downtown promotion this year, where they give writers $100 to spend on local businesses and talk them up. I did some research and decided I didn’t want to do something staid or that you’d expect, and the only thing that popped into my mind was: I’ll do this, but I’m doing it with a pirate given Halifax is a major port of call and has a history of rum-running. So, I charted out a course, changed my $100 into 100 shiny loonies at the bank and contacted a motley crew: the Pirates of Halifax.

I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t able to strong-arm them into exactly what I wanted them to do. I couldn’t get just one of them; they insisted on remaining together as a crew of five. They set the tone and pace. They called me out. They were, in fact, acting like pirates. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how much I would actually like them in the moment. We met at the Halifax Brewery Market, and after some self-directed photos with impressive props we sat down for a couple of beers at the Red Stag Tavern for the interview (not officially part of my Big Day Downtown). 

This merry and ruckus little band — Captain Hector Barbossa, Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Davy Jones, Captain Edward Teague and Gunner Skully — claim they all had a little pirate in their blood when they came together in 2008. Having met through various friends over the years, they were hired for their first official gig by Waterfront Development to man the boardwalk in front of the Bounty for the Tall Ships festival in 2009 (and again in 2012). They’ve been heckling and thrilling crowds ever since and reckon they are probably in hundreds of thousands of photos worldwide, including one officially acknowledged and hanging on the wall at Walt Disney Pictures.

“When we walk into a bar, it’s like we’re the Rolling Stones.” No doubt. “It’s like a study in human psychology.” They regaled me with stories of festivals, concerts, corporate gigs, weddings, birthday parties and parades, declaring that their favourite moments are often the random ones (stealing brides at weddings and storming the legislature to hold a sword to the premiere’s throat, for example), and nights can often take a debaucherous turn. In seven years they have never been late to a gig, and they all have day jobs. They weren’t friends or actors in the beginning, but they certainly are now, often hanging in each other’s pirate-themed man bars at home on nights off. And as you’d expect, a few of them sail, and they’re all avid rum drinkers and collectors.

As we chatted, I examined their faces — the guyliner, the crafted facial hair, the artfully drawn mechanic’s hands, the hair extensions. It’s impressive. Captain Barbossa explained that it’s two hours of prep time, and, after a full day, the outfit nearly walks itself off.

And like true entertainers, they rely and feed off the energy of a good crowd. They’ve impacted the lives of kids and parents alike, and do a fair amount of charity work. It’s been challenging at times, as they have had to become really good at reading people and situations. And for the record, they cited that Halifax’s most pirate-friendly bars tend to be the Celtic ones — the Lower Deck, Celtic Corner, The Old Triangle and Durty Nelly’s. They also have their respective modern pirate roles: the manager/booker, the masters of props and arms, the social media pirate, and the charmer. They feel like something’s missing if they aren’t all together. Having experienced it first hand, I’d say they’re a cohesive little unit with a somewhat arresting presence.

They remained relatively in character for the duration of the interview, but I suspect that if I were to land the gig as ghostwriter for their tell-all book, Fifty Shades of Piracy, I’d draw those unmentionable tales out. I did, in fact, hear a few on this particular afternoon. I’ve never conducted an interview with five people at once taunting and teasing each other, where every second line was “That’s off the record, luv” or “I’ve got my eye on that pen” or the best one: “Go easy with the dirt, mates, it’s not a competition.”

When we hit the boardwalk it was with a swagger, and on a sunny holiday weekend it was pure mayhem. The guys took on their swarthy characters, brash but without arrogance, towering over the crowds. They greeted fans with all the patience in the world — good-natured, fun and charming as hell. As they had impressed upon me, people’s reactions ran the full gamut, from those who giggle and stare to those who were absolutely game. 

As we wrapped up, I accepted a trinket from Jack Sparrow not once thinking about the fact that I may have actually been press ganged in the moment. A situation I would welcome if you haven’t got me figured out by now.

Here was my Big Day Downtown game plan with just one pirate: Stillwell Beer Garden for seafaring local ales on tap, Bishop’s Cellar to sample select rums and grab mini growlers from their new beer station, Rum Runners for classic rum cake, and, to finish it all up, Dark ’n Stormies and fresh oysters at Lot Six Bar & Restaurant.

Here’s what actually happened: seven pitchers of grog (draught beer) at the Red Stag Tavern clocking in at $106.16 before tax and tip. We effectively freaked out the busy staff at Bishop’s Cellar, resulting in no rum tasting, and when they sampled the rum cakes a little too joyously at Rum Runners (those hands!) I purchased one to replace what they ate for $7.49. So, in essence, I failed at the Big Day Downtown experiment, but I wouldn’t change a second of how it all played out. My face still hurts from all of the laughter.

Mark your calendars, mates. On September 19, the Pirates of Halifax will be hosting an event at the Celtic Corner in Dartmouth in celebration of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

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