This knowledge is especially evident when he is describing the city of Halifax. It's obvious that the author knew the area well, as he included minute bits of information that only a local would know, such as the fact that the gates of the Public Gardens are locked during the winter months.
It's a novel thing to read about places and sights that you know well in a work of fiction... well, for me, anyway. Perhaps if you live in a place which is constantly written about- New York, for instance- it wouldn't seem so unusual, but the fact is, not a whole lot of fictional works are set in little old Halifax, Nova Scotia. During the first part of his book, MacLennan's character Neil Macrae walks about the town, and the streets and places he visits are all so familiar... Spring Garden Road, The Public Gardens, the Wanderers' Grounds, etc... all these are places I've often walked myself and know well. The inclusion of descriptions of these places gave me a sense of familiarity and connection with the past, and a recognition that, though much about Halifax has changed, quite a lot has remained the same.
Penny Wain is conflicted about life in Halifax. On one hand, the war and the city's importance as a port and a source of ship building has given her a successful career. On the other hand, the oppressive life she lives with her family there has cost her the man she loves, and resulted in her having to give up her baby to be raised by her aunt and uncle. She is both freed and trapped by her life in Halifax, both grateful for the opportunities it has afforded her, and resentful of the cost it has demanded.
For Neil Macrae, Halifax for a long time represented the unhappy childhood he had there, living with the Wain family, brightened only by his relationship with Penny. He spent many years avoiding the city, going to school in the United States, Montreal, and then overseas to the War. Even now, he has only returned for one reason- to clear his name. Once in Halifax for a while, however, he feels a curious sense of coming home and of belonging. Near the end of the book, after all the trouble, grief, death and destruction, Penny asks him why, after all that's happened, he's so glad to be back. After considering for a moment, Neil tells her,"A man has to think he hasn't got a country before he knows what having one means."
Likewise, Neil Macrae is also changed for the better by the aftermath of the explosion. When we first meet Neil, he is a shell of his former self- limping, shell-shocked, bitter. Labelled a coward and disgrace, he is not even able to claim his own name, forced to live under the one mistakenly assigned to him during his hospitalization. He skulks about the streets of Halifax, afraid of meeting anyone he knows. Following the explosion, however, Neil's natural ability to take command of a situation reasserts itself, as he quickly organizes and gives instructions to various soldiers and citizens, leading them in rescue and recovery efforts. In the process, he meets many people who know and recognize him, but he no longer cares. Angus Murray, who takes the time, despite his exhaustion, to go to the bedside of the badly-injured Alec Mackenzie and obtain his sworn statement about what happened in France, wonders exasperatedly how Neil could have forgotten about it. But the truth is, it doesn't matter to Neil very much anymore. Whether or not he regains his good name in society, he has, in his own eyes, proven his worth and regained his self-respect.
Barometer Rising ends on a hopeful note. Halifax and the lives of its citizens are in ruins, but have not been utterly destroyed. They are rebuilding on the foundations, and the city- and its people- will be better and stronger because of what has occurred.