Travel Guide to Canada
HALIFAX: WHERE OLD AND NEW INTERSECT
Nova Scotia’s 268-year-old capital somehow feels like both a vintage port town and a vibrant 21st century urban centre.
Being by far the largest city in Atlantic Canada, Halifax boasts the region’s densest concentration of up-to-date architecture, attractions and entertainment options yet remains understandably proud of its illustrious roots. The end result is a compelling mix of the trendy and traditional that appeals equally to vacationers and the 418,000-odd folks who call this place home (www.destinationhalifax.com).
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Halifax’s greatest asset and signature sight —its huge natural harbour—reminds visitors that the air is tinged with salt and touched by history. After all, it was this deep body of water that first drew British settlers in 1749, and the defining role it has played over the centuries is still obvious on the scenic waterfront boardwalk. Just witness the Historic Properties (www.historicproperties. ca), a cluster of converted marine warehouses dating from the late 18th and early 19th century. Always evocative, they will appear even
more so July 29 to August 1 when dozens of vintage vessels sail in for the 2017 Tall Ships Regatta (www.mtcw.ca/tall-shipsfestival-2017).
If you want to dive into the harbour’s history, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic sits on the boardwalk too (maritimemuseum. 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/halifax citadel). On Citadel Hill, you can literally see the passage of time in the Old Town Clock, which has ticked away in its octagonal tower for more than two centuries; and hear it in the firing of the Noon Gun, a daily ritual since 1857. You can feel it, as well, inside the formidable star-shaped fort. From May through
October, 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 broad parade ground.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
As you would expect in a bustling urban centre, 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 opened on the waterfront in 2010 (www.halifaxfarmersmarket.com).
A green grocery in more ways than one, the airy edifice sports rooftop windmills that are visually distinctive and energy efficient. Nearby, the Discovery Centre’s new location already has children cheering (www.the discoverycentre.ca). Covering four floors, it features five galleries devoted to such topics as water and flight, plus a state-of-the-art Innovation Lab and Immersive Dome Theatre.
Towering cranes, moreover, mark the spot where a striking new downtown convention centre is nearing completion (www.halifaxconventioncentre.com). Pointing toward the water like a ship’s prow, it is part of one of the largest development projects in civic history. However, even the buzz surrounding that can’t dampen the enthusiasm locals and visitors alike feel for the eye-popping Halifax Central Library, which was shortlisted for the “2015 World Building of the Year Award” and was 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 up-to-the-minute 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 a youthful vitality; Dalhousie alone has about 18,500 enrolled in 180-plus undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. They energize the arts scene and ensure the club culture is always evolving. They also influence menus, meaning eateries focused on classic Maritime fare are offset by an array of international ones, including Highwayman—a Spanishinspired spot that made enRoute magazine’s most recent list of Canada’s Top 10 new restaurants (www.highwaymanhfx.com).
AND A BLENDING OF THE TWO. . .
Happily, many Halifax 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 prospective citizens 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 re-imagined facility uses cutting-edge digital technology, multimedia experiences, and innovative hands-on activities to illustrate the immigrant experience in both a local and national context.
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 venerated Canadian artists, such 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. But curators keep things current by mounting dynamic shows that spotlight up-andcomers, and then shake things up further by hosting trendy events, like the afterhours ArtParty which aims for cool rather than quaint.
Even the venerable Alexander Keith’s Brewery, a local institution opened in 1820 by the eponymous former mayor, has recently given tradition a modern twist (www.keiths.ca). Following a makeover last year that allows for small-batch brewing, it has launched a new tour experience and introduced a series of craft beers—including the seasonal Lunenburg Coffee Cacao Stout—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.