Halifax, Nova Scotia, founded on 1749, was one of the first English settlements in Canada. Initially created as a naval and military base, it is dominated by its Citadel. Its subsequent role as a shipbuilding center created much of the wealth that funded the building of many of the city’s grand buildings. True, many such buildings were destroyed in 1917 by the accidental explosion of a World War I munitions ship (which destroyed the northern section of the city and killed more than 2,000 people). But, although a relative handful of 19th–and even a few 18th-century buildings remain scattered through the downtown area, the vast majority of buildings and the character of the city is overwhelmingly 20th-century.
Exploring Downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia
It is interesting just to walk the compact downtown area, and especially the pedestrian and family-friendly harbor-side boardwalk. The city, however, also has a few particularly interesting sights. Among those we visited were the:
- Halifax Citadel Historic Site, a preserved 19th-century (1856) British fortress with restored rooms and exhibits that explain the fort’s role in defending the city from Revolutionary War and War of 1812 days (from a previous fort at the same hillside location) through World War II and beyond. While the fort and exhibits are interesting, the best part is the role of the extremely knowledgeable “78 Highlander” regimen “soldiers” (actually guides and performers) who were in costume and explained details of everything from the design, construction and history of the fort (which were provided in a 45-minute walking tour), to the roles of the fort in different wars and the intimate details of each piece of the soldiers uniforms (both of which we learned by talking with soldiers who are available to explain exhibits). And as a side benefit, the fortress provides nice panoramic views of the city and the harbor that it was built to protect.
- The waterfront, with its boardwalk, public art, play spaces and restored warehouses that were repurposed as shops, restaurants, galleries and historic sites;
- The Jazz Festival, of which we just happened to catch a small snippet;
- Canadian Museum of Immigration, which explores the history of the various waves and categories of immigrants, its impact on aboriginal people, traditional discrimination against “undesirables” (such as Chinese, Jews and blacks), the flood of post-World War II war brides and U.S. Vietnam War protestors, the contributions immigrants have made to the country’s economy and culture and the point system currently used to assess applicants;
- St. Paul’s Church, the oldest Protestant church in the country (1750), with its historic tablets and burying ground; and the
- Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, which currently with more than 250 vendors.
We did not get to the Maritime Museum, which portrays the Titanic disaster (Halifax is the nearest city to and primary burying ground for a number of its recovered victims) and the 1917 Halifax Explosion (which, as mentioned above, killed thousands of people and wiped out a large section of the city).
Overall, Halifax was not the most historic or engaging city we have visited, but it was an interesting introduction to historic Nova Scotia and a good, centrally-located base for exploring the province.
Halifax Hotel, Meals and Restaurants
We spent our one night in Halifax at the modern, upscale Prince George Hotel, which has large, comfortable, well-appointed rooms. As we discovered throughout Canada, the staff went out of its way to help in any way. When the taxi driver that brought us to the hotel from the airport was unable to swipe our credit card (and we hadn’t yet exchanged any money and although he told us he took credit cards, he only took credit cards with raised numbers on the card–which ours did not have), a hotel staff member escorted Joyce to various locations outside of the hotel until he found an ATM that was working (the first 3 were out of order for some bizarre reason). Now that is service. The location was perfect for exploring the old part of the city. Our only “nit” is that we didn’t have any plugs by the bed–which is becoming a necessity for plugging in the cell phone in order to see the time at night or to ready an ebook. And, for a hotel of this quality, we would have expected to find bathrobes.
Our first “meal” in Halifax consisted of a fast, casual pickup at the Seaport Farmers Market, where we had one lobster roll and one lobster roll BLT from the Lobster Shack and a pint of fresh, organic apple cider from Suprima farms. It was OK, but nothing to return to.
We had dinner, at The Press Gang (located in one of those few, above-mentioned 18th-century buildings), which was considerably more upscale. We began with a lobster sampler appetizer (lobster mango sushi, cold lobster summer roll in rice paper and fried lobster spring roll, each served with soy-wasabi and Vietnamese sweet and sour dipping sauces. We then had two very different entrees. Joyce had butter-poached lobster and Digby scallops with saffron gnocchi, green peas and criminal mushrooms in a lobster reduction. Tom had Cornish hen stuffed with smoked duck mousse with thyme-scented red potatoes and zucchini with balsamic syrup and mushroom pan jus. (Although the Cornish hen was a tasty and very interesting combination, the cold lobster summer roll and especially, Joyce’s lobster and scallop dish were the standouts.) We had a bottle of 2012 New Zealand Spy Valley Pinot as a compromise wine for both dishes.
After a full day, we returned to our hotel to get a good night’s sleep before moving on to our next stop.