Travel Guide to Canada
HALIFAX: TRADITION WITH A TWIST
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).
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.
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).