How a rock gave a Halifax-area park heritage status

A massive, swaying boulder of granite that has drawn visitors for two centuries and is said to have captured the attention of royalty has had its historical significance to the Halifax region carved in stone.

The Halifax Regional Municipality granted heritage status last week to Rocking Stone and surrounding Kidston Lake Park in the community of Spryfield.

“It’s such a unique feature,” said Arthur Kidston, whose family once owned the land where the Rocking Stone stands.

“There are plenty of large granite boulders in the area, but none as big as this one – and none of them rock.”

The Geological Survey of Canada has said the rock, left behind thousands of years ago by a melting glacier, may be the biggest rocking rock in the world.

It was once possible to move the Rocking Stone back and forth with the push of a hand. The rock is called a glacial erratic, which means it was carried in place by a glacier and left behind as the glacier melted. (Rob Short/CBC)

The first published description of the rock was in the Acadian Recorder newspaper in Halifax, which described the Rocking Stone in 1823 as a “natural wonder” and noted that it could be “set in motion by a 12-year-old child”, according to to a Halifax Regional Municipality staff report.

Kidston Login

The connection between Kidston and Rocking Stone goes back several generations.

The stone was on the family’s dairy farm for over 100 years before Kidston’s father donated part of the land, including the single rock, to the former Halifax County Municipality for it functions as a public park.

“Over the years we’ve brought so many people to come and visit the rock, whether it’s for a picnic or a photo,” Kidston said.

“It’s part of our heritage and part of our way of life.”

The rock has also attracted notable visitors.

Former British Prime Minister Bonar Law, whose mother was a Kidston, played on the rock as a child. Kidston said it was rumored that King George V had visited the stone and had tea with his grandfather.

Arthur Kidston with his children, brother, nieces and nephews on the Rocking Stone. (Submitted by Arthur Kidston)

The city staff report says the Rocking Stone has long been a “well-known geological oddity”, measuring six meters long, four meters wide and not quite three meters high. It’s unclear exactly how much it weighs, but estimates range from 147 tons to 431 tons, the report noted.

Do not move

The increased use of the area had detrimental effects on the rock’s tilting abilities.

A group of soldiers from the Halifax Garrison once reportedly shook the stone so vigorously that it sank slightly, but visitors could still tip it over using the lever.

The Rocking Stone has been a popular picnic spot for 200 years. The HRM staff report notes that the rock was likely discovered by the Mi’kmaq long before it was mentioned in a written report. (Rob Short/CBC)

After the transfer of the land to the municipality, the lands bordering Lake Kidston served as a site for the Timberlea Lumber Company. Due to an increase in debris stuck under the rock, the stone was rendered immobile.

It remained that way until community efforts in the 1990s rocked Kidston’s favorite landmark once again. Firefighters hosed down the debris and visitors were able to witness the magical movement with the help of a lever.

But Kidston said there was still room for improvement.

Kidston and his wife, Lola, trying to get the Rocking Stone to move. (Rob Short/CBC)

“Maybe it’s time for them to come back and start over,” Kidston said. “Let’s put some rock in this rocker thing.”

Com. Patty Cuttell said the heritage decision was an important step in protecting both Kidston Lake Park and Rocking Stone from increased development pressure in the area.

“I think it’s really important that we recognize the heritage value of the park so that we can preserve the stonework in its original state, which is such an important part of Spryfield’s history,” Cuttell said.

“Protecting it now not only preserves its integrity, but it will also help inform what will happen around the park in the future.”

Kidston hopes getting Rocking Stone heritage status is a step toward preserving the rest of the lake. (Rob Short/CBC)