A Trip to Halifax

By Deanna Wilmshurst   Destination Halifax

If I had to sum up my trip to Halifax in one word, I would say “enlightening”. I expected to find myself in a sleepy fishing village, but as it turns out, Halifax is anything but tired. It’s a surprisingly vibrant, cosmopolitan place.

The city’s old-world Maritime charm is alive and well, but there is more to Halifax than just its past. Haligonians (yes, that is what the locals call themselves) know how to have a good time. Luckily for me, they go out of their way to show visitors a good time too. I found this out while waiting in line to see an Irish dance group called the Blackthorn Dancers perform at the Halifax Celtic Féis, a festival celebrating the city’s rich Irish and Scottish ancestry. They were performing their jigs and reels on the waterfront inside the Historic Properties buildings.

A young woman with a Celtic cross tattoo on the back of her neck was standing in line in front of me. She must have heard me say it’s too bad that our waterfront back home doesn’t have such impressive buildings. “They’re actually the oldest waterfront warehouses in Canada – been around since 1800,” she said as she turned around to face me. “Where you from?”

Next thing I knew, Cathleen (or Cat, as her friends call her) convinced me to pull up a chair with her and her friends – an entertaining bunch to say the least. Chad and Matt are performers at one of the local dinner theatres and Sarah is a tour guide at Citadel Hill, a military fortress built in 1749 as part of British North America’s defense. The National Historic Site is perched on the highest point in the middle of the city and offers visitors an authentic look at Halifax’s impressive military history, seconds away from the bars and boutiques.

When the performance was over, Cathleen wanted to know what I thought of Halifax. So I gave her and her friends a quick rundown of what I had seen and done since arriving. On my first day in the city, I explored the city on foot. I was impressed by how modern Halifax is. Stone buildings over 200 years old mingle with ones made of glass and steel. From the European inspired design of the Granville Mall to various churches and government buildings, the architecture reflects both the old and new characteristics of the city.

I made my way down to the busy boardwalk and headed to Pier 21, another National Historic site. Its exhibits and multimedia displays are a touching tribute to the millions of immigrants who had the courage to pursue their dream of a better life in Canada. On the way back to the hotel, I dropped into the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. That’s where I heard the most devastating story in Halifax’s history. In 1917, two ships collided in the harbour causing an explosion that left 2,000 dead and 9,000 wounded. On my way out, I stumbled over a cat. According to her tag, her name is Clara and she is the resident mouse-catcher on the ship Acadia, permanently anchored in the harbour as part of the museum.

“Any suggestions on what I should do tomorrow?” I asked Cathleen and her friends, taking a sip from my Rafter Red beer, brewed right in Historic Properties at a place called Shippy’s.

“Well, you can’t leave without tasting our seafood,” said Chad, “ Definitely go for dinner at the Five Fisherman restaurant – it’s haunted.” According to Chad, the last time he ate there his waiter told ghost stories. Long before it was a restaurant, the building was a funeral home. Some of the wealthier passengers of the Titanic, their bodies recovered by local fishermen, were laid out in its rooms.

“And you should take a tour of the Alexander Keith’s Brewery, it’s the oldest working brewery in North America,” Sarah chimed in. “I used to be a tour guide there too.”

“Do you like art galleries?” Matt asked. “’Cause Halifax has a lot of them. I just saw the Rodin exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and it’s definitely worth checking out.”

“Make sure you go to Biscuit too, it’s a really hip, independent clothing store downtown,” said Cathleen. “I just bought the funkiest boots there.”

That’s the way the conversation went for the next hour. Long after our beer mugs were empty, they continued to tell me about all the fun and cool things to do in Halifax. Like I said, it was enlightening. I came to realize that Halifax is more than just a charming city on the East Coast. It’s a lively intermingling of eras, attitudes and influences. It’s where the past meets present and quaint meets hip.

Halifax Features

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