Picturesque Cattle

On Saturday I was transfixed when I opened Twitter and saw an amazing image of  of a team of oxen plowing a green field with the harbour and Halifax in the background. “So cool!” tweeted Mental Health NS and I agree.


The oxen, Lion and Bright of course,  were there to break ground for the Back to Our Roots Urban Farm on the NS Hospital site.  What a great idea (I’m also a fan of Common Roots Urban Farm on the old QEH site – well worth a visit).

For me the ox + Halifax image evokes a long tradition or convention of rendering the distant city with some picturesque cattle in the foreground.  Consider this 1801 engraving by George Parkyns. A group of people are frolicking on the slope of Fort Needham with the spires of the city and Citadel Hill in the distance. To symbolize rural peace and tranquility we have  grazing cattle (and a flock of sheep thrown in for good measure).

30-05-2015 09;10;30PM

A favourite and very cattle-centric  painting in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia collection is by Henry Davis,  c1830.  This fanciful image, sort of from the Point Pleasant area,  has George’s Island in the background but is really an excuse to paint cows. The clouds reminded me of the oxen plowing photo.


A late 19th century photograph is evidence that the cows were not all artistic licence. A  herd is grazing on the east slope of the Citadel. In the middle ground are buildings in Royal Artillery Park. The large roof that breaks the horizon line is the still existing Fort Massey Church.

ox 2

Notman Collection, NSARM 1983-310 number A-6

Keep your eye out for similar views from the countryside into towns and watch for picturesque livestock (I can think of several other Halifax views with goats).

Post Script

Nova Scotia has a grand ox heritage and an ox culture stills seems to be alive.  It would be fun to see them make appearances at more events.  Last summer we attended the sod turning for the new Learning Centre at Ross Farm Museum. Their team, with a couple of politicians handling the plow, made the show.  Sublime.

ross farm

In the middle ground of the photo of cows grazing on Citadel Hill is a large formal looking building.  It was Morris Street School , at the head of Birmingham Street.  The photo suggests the gravitas the building must have provided for the Schmidtville area.

morris st school

Notman Collection, NSARM 1983-310 number 613002




About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.