FALL RIVER: When Alex D. Boutilier was asked why he wanted to write a book on the social history of colonial Halifax, he said it’s simply his contribution to the humanities.
Boutilier, an author who resides in Fall River, wrote The Citadel On Stage, a 374-page book published by Oakfield-based New World Publishing that focuses on the British military officers stationed in pre-confederation Halifax. The book surveys a wide range of social, theatrical, and recreational activities between 1749 and 1867. It was released in October 2015 and is available at most bookstores and Libraries in the Maritimes.
The Citadel On Stage was Boutilier’s thesis for his Masters in Atlantic Canada studies at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. Of course, it was only 80 pages then.
“I came across an article on British military theatre in the Patrick Power Library and it was only 11 pages, but it spoke volumes,” he said in a Dec. 8 interview. “I had to write the thesis so I started doing some research; perusing old newspapers at the N.S. Archives, and Dalhousie University special collections where I found an old diary. It contained a record of theatre performances for a period of about 20 years.”
He said the professors at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) told him at his Masters graduation he had to turn his thesis into a book because he was the only one who knew.
“I met one professor about 20 years later and he asked me if I ever wrote that book,” said Boutilier, “and he told me historians were waiting.
“To my knowledge it’s the only social history ever written about the British military and the people of Halifax.”
Boutilier said the Cambridge Library had just contacted him earlier in December to obtain a copy of his book to add to their collection.
“Anything to do with the British military they want a copy of for their library,” he said.
He said he has written a second book about the people of Halifax that will be a companion book to The Citadel On Stage. It will be published and available in early to mid 2017.
“As to writing the first book, I wasn’t sure I was equal to the task presented by all the historians who came before me but I was encouraged by the professors at SMU and my wife.”
Boutilier said once he started writing the book it took him eight years with a lot of research involved, and some late nights that saw him awake until 3am.
He explained what The Citadel On Stage is all about, noting how Halifax was a fortified city that was never attacked.
“The officers of the British military are the ones I wrote mostly about in my book,” he said. “They had all of this free time. What they did, I found out, was build theatres and put on plays for the people of Halifax. All the profits went to charity.”
Boutilier said the encouragement from his professors is what continued to be the spark. He admitted he had been thinking a lot about it over the years, but just never got around to it.
“The spark was them asking me to it write, and I felt if they were asking me they must have known it was important,” said Boutilier.