HAL­I­FAX: TRA­DI­TION WITH A TWIST

Travel Guide to Canada - - Table Of Contents - BY SU­SAN MACCAL­LUM-WHITCOMB

Hal­i­fax’s res­i­dents are called Haligo­ni­ans; and while the moniker may be hard to pro­nounce, the pride those 426,000-odd folks take in their city is easy to un­der­stand. After all, Nova Sco­tia’s cap­i­tal—and Atlantic Canada’s largest ur­ban cen­tre— is a unique mix of old and new.

Its sto­ried past, which stretches back more than two-and-a-half cen­turies, is bal­anced by an ap­peal­ing mod­ern-day side that man­i­fests it­self in up-to-date ar­chi­tec­ture, at­trac­tions and en­ter­tain­ment op­tions, mak­ing this place tra­di­tional and trendy in equal mea­sure (www.dis­cov­er­hal­i­faxns.com).

SOME­THING OLD

The huge har­bour—Hal­i­fax’s great­est as­set and sig­na­ture site—re­minds visi­tors that the air here is tinged with salt and touched by his­tory. It was this body of water that first drew Bri­tish set­tlers in 1749; and the defin­ing role it has played over the cen­turies re­mains ob­vi­ous on the scenic wa­ter­front board­walk, where stops in­clude the His­toric Prop­er­ties, a clus­ter of 18th and 19th cen­tury ware­houses now filled with shops and eater­ies (www.his­toricprop­er­ties.ca), and Ca­ble Wharf, which is still typ­i­cally topped by the masts of tall ships (www.mtcw.ca).

If you want to dive into the har­bour’s his­tory, the Mar­itime Mu­seum of the Atlantic sits on the board­walk, too (mar­itime mu­seum.no­vas­co­tia.ca). Partly housed in a ship chan­dlery, the old­est and largest fa­cil­ity of its kind in Canada show­cases our sea­far­ing legacy and con­tains par­tic­u­larly poignant ex­hibits re­lat­ing to the Ti­tanic dis­as­ter—re­cov­ery op­er­a­tions were based here when the “un­sink­able” sunk in 1912— and the hor­rific Hal­i­fax Ex­plo­sion, which claimed nearly 2,000 lives in 1917. The mu­seum also has a gallery high­light­ing na­tional naval his­tory, which is fit­ting con­sid­er­ing Hal­i­fax has long been home port for the Royal Cana­dian Navy’s Atlantic Fleet.

Strate­gi­cally over­look­ing the har­bour, the Hal­i­fax Citadel Na­tional His­toric Site is an­other place where the past seems pal­pa­ble (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/hal­i­fax­ci­tadel). On Citadel Hill, you can literally see the pas­sage of time in the Old Town Clock, which has ticked in its oc­tag­o­nal tower for more than 200 years; and hear it in the fir­ing of the Noon Gun, a daily rit­ual since 1857. You can feel it in­side the for­mi­da­ble star-shaped fort. Cos­tumed in­ter­preters recre­ate gar­ri­son life within the ram­parts, while re-en­ac­tors wear­ing the kilted uni­form of the 78th High­land Reg­i­ment prac­tice syn­chro­nized drills on the pa­rade ground.

SOME­THING NEW

As you would ex­pect in a bustling ur­ban set­ting, there are more re­cent land­marks

that un­der­score Hal­i­fax’s cool con­tem­po­rary side. In fact, this city has been on an ar­chi­tec­tural roll ever since the Sea­port Farm­ers’ Mar­ket de­buted on the wa­ter­front in 2010 (www.hal­i­fax­farm­ers­mar­ket.com). The Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre’s fam­ily-friendly fa­cil­ity glis­tens nearby (www.thedis­cov­erycen­tre.ca). Fea­tur­ing five gal­leries de­voted to such top­ics as health and flight, plus a state-of-the-art In­no­va­tion Lab and im­mer­sive Dome Theatre, it opened in 2017.

The strik­ing con­ven­tion cen­tre—pointed toward the water like a ship’s prow—has been of­fi­cially chris­tened (www.hal­i­fax­con­ven­tion­cen­tre.com). Work is also well un­der­way on an­other large-scale de­vel­op­ment, Queen’s Mar­que—a much-an­tic­i­pated, mixed-use pro­ject down­town (www.queens­mar­que.com). But even the buzz sur­round­ing these can’t dampen the en­thu­si­asm lo­cals and visi­tors alike feel for the eye-pop­ping Hal­i­fax Cen­tral Li­brary, which was short­listed for the “World Build­ing of the Year Award” in 2015 and awarded the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Ar­chi­tec­ture Medal in 2016 (www.hal­i­fax­cen­tral­li­brary.ca ). Can­tilevered glass boxes, a cam­era-ready in­te­rior and stel­lar views com­bine to make this build­ing a must-see.

Of course, it is not just mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture that helps keep “Hali” on its 21st cen­tury toes. Home to seven uni­ver­si­ties, the city has a dis­pro­por­tion­ately large num­ber of stu­dents who lend it an un­de­ni­able ex­u­ber­ance. Take Dal­housie: still go­ing strong on its 200th an­niver­sary, it alone has about 18,500 learn­ers en­rolled in 180-plus un­der­grad­u­ate, grad­u­ate and pro­fes­sional pro­grams (www.dal.ca). Col­lec­tively they en­er­gize the arts scene and en­sure that the club cul­ture here is al­ways evolv­ing. Their youth­ful taste also man­i­fests it­self in mu­sic, which ex­plains why night owls are as likely to hear techno dance tunes as old sea shanties; it in­flu­ences menus, too, mean­ing in­no­va­tive in­ter­na­tional cui­sine is as read­ily avail­able as clas­sic Mar­itime fare.

AND A MAR­RIAGE OF THE TWO . . .

Hap­pily, many at­trac­tions have man­aged to cre­ate an au courant char­ac­ter while si­mul­ta­ne­ously tak­ing pride in their pedi­gree. The top-rated Cana­dian Mu­seum of Im­mi­gra­tion at Pier 21, which oc­cu­pies an erst­while im­mi­gra­tion shed where around a mil­lion new­com­ers were pro­cessed be­tween 1928 and 1971, is a case in point (www.pier21.ca). Known as Canada’s an­swer to El­lis Is­land, it mor­phed into a mu­seum in 1999 and dou­bled its dis­play space in 2015. Now the reimag­ined fa­cil­ity uses cut­ting-edge dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, mul­ti­me­dia tools, oral his­to­ries and hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties to il­lus­trate 400 years of im­mi­gra­tion to Canada, from first con­tact to present day.

A few blocks away, yet an­other con­verted build­ing—an 1868 Ital­ianate beauty hous­ing the Art Gallery of Nova Sco­tia— yields sim­i­lar surprises (www.art­gallery­ofno­vas­co­tia.ca). Its col­lec­tion of some 17,000 works con­tains paint­ings by such revered Cana­dian artists as Alex Colville and Mary Pratt, along with a strong as­sort­ment of Mar­itime folk pieces, most no­tably the wee, whim­si­cal, paint-slathered home of Maud Lewis, which was re­assem­bled on the premises. Maudie, a hit biopic about the painter, brought new at­ten­tion to Lewis’ work last year. But cu­ra­tors also keep things cur­rent by mount­ing dy­namic shows spot­light­ing up-and-com­ers and host­ing events, like the after-hours ArtParty, which aim for cool rather than quaint. Even the ven­er­a­ble Alexan­der Keith’s Brew­ery, a lo­cal in­sti­tu­tion opened in 1820 by the epony­mous former mayor, has put an up­dated spin on its “so­cia­ble” scene. Fol­low­ing a re­cent make-over that al­lows for small­batch brew­ing, it has launched a new tour ex­pe­ri­ence and in­tro­duced a series of spe­cialty beers—in­clud­ing the sea­sonal Lunenburg Cof­fee & Ca­cao Stout and lo­cally-in­spired An­napo­lis Hop Field Ale— that hon­our the brand’s long legacy while cater­ing to to­day’s more ad­ven­tur­ous tastes. In do­ing so, it could be said to dis­till the true essence of Hal­i­fax, for this too is a place that com­bines the hip and his­toric in per­fect pro­por­tion (www.kei­ths.ca).

WA­TER­FRONT AND BUSKERS • DIS­COVER HAL­I­FAX

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