Twitter & the Halifax Noon Gun

Posted by Jen Ochej on April 2, 2013

At two o’clock last Tuesday afternoon, I turned to Gordon across our Halifax office and asked, “Are we under some kind of attack I’m unaware of?”

The cannons at Citadel Hill, silent 99.9% of the time, had begun to fire one blast after the other in quick succession. Since we can see the Hill from our office window, we quickly ruled out the possibility that blasting at a nearby construction site had inexplicably increased in volume, but that still didn’t explain why we were hearing repeated blasts and seeing the plumes of smoke from these mock cannon firings.

The cannon on the Hill can be heard every day, of course. Since at least 1856, the noon gun has signified midday to everyone within earshot. It’s a bit of a shibboleth in the local culture, easily identifying the Haligonians from those “from away” based on whether the sound is startling or not (it’s also quite funny to be near tourists who don’t know it’s coming). In fact, even when our own Principal, John Laforet, is in town for a full week, the sound makes him jump every single day; the hustle and bustle of Toronto does nothing on the nerves compared to that iconic cannon blast!

This lunchtime signal is such a part of the local culture, in fact, that it has its own Twitter account; it simply tweets “boom #halifax” each day at noon—no more, no less.

Noon Gun Twitter

So, what was happening last Tuesday afternoon? After an exciting few minutes of counting cannon blasts (listen; we take our entertainment where we can get it) and a bit of Internet sleuthing (read: posting things like “What’s with the cannon blasts?” on Twitter), we finally determined via the @HalifaxCitadel account that the cannons were being fired in salute by the 1st Field Artillery Regiment to mark the opening of the Nova Scotia Legislature.

In moments like these I’m reminded of why I love Twitter and social media so much—and how often we still fail to use it to its full potential.

Twitter is so useful for these kinds of events; a Google search for “Why are the cannons blasting in Halifax?” is unlikely to provide an immediate response, but the same question on Twitter will doubtless be shared and discussed by many, at least some of whom might even know the answer. There’s an element of crowdsourcing and of filling in one another’s knowledge gaps that you might not get from traditional research (acknowledging, of course, that Google is hardly “traditional research”).

At the same time, it becomes obvious in moments like these that we still fail to use Twitter as well as we could. With accounts run by groups and individuals from the Nova Scotia government itself to the Halifax Citadel Regimental Association, it seems reasonable to have expected that at least one person or account would have preceded the uncommon cannon activity with some kind of explanation or announcement. For such a regimented and predictable daily activity to deviate so much from the norm was bound to be noticed and queried by everyone within earshot; why not use your own communication channels to clear that up before the questions were asked? Or, crazy thought, use it as a quick and easy promotional tool?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying it was some cardinal sin that no one thought to make an announcement about the cannon blasts. My point is simply that for as much as we have honed and refined a tool like Twitter to be such an amazing mechanism for the dissemination of news and information, we still occasionally miss what might be obvious opportunities to do as much.

I’m sure we’ll continue to drop the ball on occasions such as these, because no one is perfect; but perhaps we’ll keep recognizing these missed opportunities and be able to make them fewer and farther between. One thing is for sure: next time they fire the cannon fifteen times at the opening of the Legislature, I’ll be able to tweet the reason why!