Travel Guide to Canada
HALIFAX: WHERE OLD AND NEW INTERSECT
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Halifax’s greatest asset and signature site—the huge natural harbour—reminds visitors that the air here is tinged with salt and touched by history. After all, it was this body of water that originally drew British settlers in 1749. The defining role it has played over the centuries remains obvious all along 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 the Instagramable Cable Wharf, which is still typically topped by the masts of tall ships.
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 is palpable (www.parkscanada.gc .ca/halifaxcitadel). On Citadel Hill, you can literally see the passage of time courtesy of the Old Town Clock, which has ticked away in its octagonal tower for more than 200 years. You can hear it in the firing of the Noon Gun, a daily ritual since 1857; and you can feel it inside the formidable fort, where films, exhibits and costumed interpreters bring history to life. For the full effect, watch kilted re-enactors practice drills on the parade ground, then return at night for a ghost walk through dungeons and dim passageways.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
As you would expect in a bustling urban setting, there are more recent landmarks that underscore this city’s cool contemporary side. In fact, it has been on an architectural roll ever since the visually distinctive Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market debuted on the waterfront almost a decade ago (www.halifax farmersmarket.com). The Discovery Centre’s larger, relocated facility sits only a stone’s throw away (www.thediscoverycentre.ca). Featuring five galleries devoted to such topics as health and flight, plus a state-ofthe-art Innovation Lab and immersive Dome Theatre, it opened in 2017 and immediately became a favourite venue for curious kids.
Pointed toward the water like a ship’s prow, the striking new Halifax Convention Centre welcomed its first attendees last year (www.halifaxconventioncentre.com); and during the coming year another design-savvy project—Queen’s Marque, a $200-million mixed-use development downtown—is slated for completion (www.queensmarque.com). But even the buzz surrounding these can’t dampen the enthusiasm engendered by the eye-popping Halifax Central Library, which was shortlisted for the 2015 “World Building of the Year Award” and won 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: almost 26,000 are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs at Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s alone (www.dal.ca; www.smu.ca). Collectively, they energize the arts scene and ensure restaurant 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. Moreover, they set the standard for in vogue watering holes— among them The Watch That Ends the Night, named Canada’s Best New Bar for 2018 by EnRoute magazine.
AND A BLENDING OF THE TWO . . .
Happily, many attractions manage to create an au courant character while simultaneously taking pride in their pedigree. The stellar 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 Canadian immigration, from first contact to present day.
A few blocks uphill, yet another converted building—an 1868 Italianate beauty housing the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia—yields similar surprises (www. artgalleryofnovascotia.ca). Its collection of more than 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. However, curators also keep things current by mounting dynamic shows spotlighting up-and-comers and hosting innovative events that aim for cool rather than quaint.
Even the venerable Alexander Keith’s Brewery, a local institution opened in 1820 by the eponymous former mayor, puts an updated spin on its “sociable” scene. Following a recent makeover that allows for small-batch brewing, it launched a new tour experience and introduced a series of specialty beers—including the awardwinning Lunenburg Coffee & Cacao Stout and locally-inspired seasonal releases— 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.alexande rkeiths brewery.com).