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(2016 - Spring/Summer Issue)


While Halifax is a century older than Canada, its vibrancy is fuelled by the lively arts, music and cultural scenes that feed off the 12 per cent of the population who attend the city’s seven universities and colleges.

Visually, Halifax is an architectural treasure trove with structures ranging from two-century-old waterside privateers’ warehouses (privateers were pirates employed by the Crown) and the impenetrable hilltop Citadel to elegant Georgian mansions, Victorian fantasies and modern office towers and hotels, such as the $500-million Halifax Convention Centre and yet-to-be-named hotel opening next year in the heart of the entertainment district.

Water is Halifax’s raison d’être. Halifax has been an important naval base since its founding in 1749. In addition to the on-going naval presence, ocean research and commerce are opportunities for water-based enjoyment ranging from sailing on the tall ship Silva to land-and-sea explorations aboard amphibious Harbour Hoppers and inexpensive round-trip ferry rides across the harbour. The more adventurous can sea kayak while others sun themselves on a beach. And that’s all without leaving the city centre!

The lifestyle, access to farm-fresh produce and just-landed seafood has attracted edgy, innovative chefs to Halifax. Fresh food paired with award-winning local wines, spirits and beers have cemented Halifax’s position as the culinary coast.

Much to Explore

The 75-hectare waterfront Point Pleasant Park is easily walkable or cyclable from any downtown hotel. The park offers 39 kilometres of forested paths, beach, picnic places, ancient fortifications to explore and an opportunity to attend an outdoor performance by Shakespeare by the Sea.

Overlooking Bedford Basin, Seaview Park at the other end of the peninsula is home to the Africville Museum, which recounts the history of one of Canada’s oldest African-Canadian communities.

In between these parks, the four-kilometre Halifax Boardwalk connects the casino to a cluster of pubs, cafés, shops and galleries in the 250-year-old Historic Properties; the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic; HMCS Sackville (Canada’s naval memorial); an outdoor food court; the Seaport Farmers’ Market, which has delicious consumable on-site treats; and Pier 21, Canada’s Museum of Immigration.

One in five Canadians can trace their roots to Pier 21. The newly upgraded museum has expanded the immigrant story from the original 20th-century focus to the 400 years since Europeans began exploring Canada. In doing so it gives a precis to the settlement and development of Canada through exploration and conquest to sanctuary and land of opportunity.

One of the city’s institutions is Alexander Keith’s Brewery. “A Keith’s” is almost Nova Scotia’s official drink. Costumed guides in the original 1820 brewery building lead one of the world’s more entertaining brewery tours, which includes music and “a jar.”

For horticulturists, the 6.5-hectare Halifax Public Gardens are a must. Opened in 1867, they are considered the finest example of Victorian Gardens in North America.

As you explore Halifax keep an eye open for eccentric constructions like the round church, round clock tower, round Martello tower and round music room at the end of Bedford Basin, all built by Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent. Some people believed evil spirits hid in corners, so round rooms eliminated their hiding places.

Historic Exhibits

Sometimes the harbourside Maritime Museum of the Atlantic seems like disaster central. That’s to be expected when the main exhibits are about the Halifax Explosion, Titanic and World War II. Their most riveting permanent exhibit is the Marconi wireless operator’s handwritten final correspondence with RMS Titanic. This year’s special exhibition is “North from Nova Scotia,” which explores the province’s historic and current links to the Canadian North.

Of all the collections in Nova Scotia, perhaps nothing is more poignant than the Maud Lewis Gallery at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS). Maud was born with a bundle of diseases and physical challenges, yet all of her work is bright and cheerful. Her ultimate canvas was the tiny home she shared with her husband. She painted every surface in it. The AGNS reconstructed her house in its own gallery in Halifax.

The most visited National Historic Site in Canada is the hilltop Halifax Citadel, which was the Stealth bomber of its day with no murderous option overlooked. It was so advanced that it became the model for fortifications throughout the British Empire.

In addition to its fortifications, the Citadel’s military museum commemorates the Centennial of WW I with an exhibition on Hometown Heroes, which replicates a WW I trench.

The Citadel also hosts a variety of events like the hourly sentry change, a daily pipe-and-drum concert following the firing of the window-rattling noonday gun and military drills. Ghost tours are conducted twice weekly. Bigger events include the pageantry of scarlet-clad, kilted Highlanders marching to City Hall to receive the Freedom of the City (August 19) and an on-site encampment by historic re-enactors (September 17 and 18).

All in Good Fun

Music is everywhere in Halifax. Buskers fill the waterfront. A bagpiper can be found outside the Public Gardens. Clubs and pubs along the waterfront and in the Argyle Street entertainment district offer choices from folk and pop to Celtic rock. It’s a small place; follow the music.

And then, there are the festivals.

From June 30–July 7, the annual Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, the largest live spectacle in North America, features more than 2,000 military and civilian performers. The Halifax Pride Festival, Atlantic Canada’s largest, runs July 14–24. The Halifax International Busker’s Festival is like a circus that came to town and stayed. This pass-the-hat event provides cheap and cheerful entertainment, July 27–August 1. The Halifax Seaport Beer Festival presents 300 craft, import and seasonal beers and ciders to the public on August 5 and 6 by the waterfront. The Atlantic Fringe Festival takes place in August and September while the Atlantic Film Festival runs from September 15 to 22.

Travel Planner

For the best guide to what’s happening in Halifax, visit destinationhalifax.com/experience-halifax/festivals-events.

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