Canadian cities all have their own unique charm, and Halifax is no exception. Whatever your reason for coming to visit, you should experience both the major beats of Halifax as well as the smaller yet still meaningful moments familiar to Haligonians and frequent visitors alike. Some of the following ideas depend on the season, but I suppose that’s a good reason to make a return trip, right?
Go Through Pier 21 Pier 21 looks very modern on the inside now, but there’s no denying the sense of history in this place. Tens of thousands of new immigrants to Canada walked through those doors in the first half of the 20th century; they weren’t all going to stay in Halifax, but this was their first experience of Canadian hospitality. On a more somber note, this was also the gateway to World War Two for soldiers heading off to war, some never to return. Pier 21 is now a museum that showcases all of this history, the good and the bad, and paints a unique view of Canadian history.
Address: 1055 Marginal Road
See Canada’s oldest children’s bookstore
Woozles is a fond childhood memory for many Haligonians, me included. It’s a beautiful children’s bookstore whose design has stood the test of time. You can curl up there with your little ones and try out some books together, and older kids can poke around the shelves by themselves and find new and exciting reads. Best of all, they don’t just sell books: you can get puzzles, car games, Playmobil and stuffed animals.
Address: 1533 Birmingham Street
Pay your respects to the victims of the Titanic
Over a hundred victims of the Titanic tragedy were laid to rest in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, situated in North End Halifax. You can find the grave of the Unknown Child, who was finally identified in 2007 as Sidney Goodwin, and the grave of William Denton Cox, the steward who died getting third-class passengers to the lifeboats. There is also a mass grave there for victims of the Halifax Explosion, so you can pay your respects to them as well.
Address: 3720 Windsor Street
Ward off seagulls on the Waterfront
Australia has its war with the emus (which the humans lost). Haligonians aren’t quite at open war with the seagulls, but I’m sure the day is coming. It’s an interesting sport, eating at the Waterfrontwhen there are lots of seagulls around; you need to duck, cover, and decide whether or not to attack offensively. Chasing them off with loud shouts might be necessary, and there won’t be many people judging you for doing so. Besides, the food’s totally worth it!
Visit the Africville Museum
Africvillewas a vibrant African Nova Scotian community for nearly a century until racist practices by the city of Halifax forced out the occupants. They kept the spirit of Africville alive, though, and today a museum stands where the Africville church served as a community centre for many years. You can learn all about the history of this place, the reasons it was destroyed, and the resilience of its exiled community who still honour the history to this day.
Address: 5795 Africville Road
Do four different sports at the same place on the same day
The Emera Oval is open year-round now, with the ice rink of the winter giving way to concrete for the spring and summer. You can rent equipment there so long as you have a photo ID, and their equipment selection is pretty large. In the winter you can rent hockey skates, figure skates, snowshoes, sleds, and even snowshoes (along with helmets and skating aids). In the summer you can get roller skates, bikes, scooters, inline skates, and even plasma cars (again, helmets included). Don’t settle for one or the other; try all your options in one day, and enjoy the Oval to its fullest!
Hear the noon cannon If you’re downtown at noon, there will be a large boom noise every day of the week. Don’t be alarmed; it’s just the noon cannon. It’s fired off of Citadel Hill every day of the year, but don’t worry it’s just powder. You won’t be the only person jumping, either; I still get startled by it. This cannon also sets the Old Town Clock, so even if it’s not quite noon on your watch, it’s noon on Halifax time.
Ride Theodore (Tugboat) Too
Theodore Tugboat was a children’s show from the 90s that was filmed in the Halifax Harbour many years ago. These days there are fewer and fewer people who have actually seen the show, but everyone can ride Theodore Too. It’s a life size imitation of the beloved character and you take a tour around the Halifax Harbour through a tugboat’s eyes. Be prepared to get the theme song stuck in your head, but it’s so charming you won’t be too annoyed.
Address: 1751 Lower Water Street to board
Eat a donair in its natural habitat (and garlic fingers)
Whenever I meet someone from away, particularly Ontarians, the conversation eventually turns to donairs and/or garlic fingers. Before university I had no idea these foods were native to Nova Scotia and the Maritimes, and haven’t made it too far west. For context, donairs are pitas wrapped around shaved spit roasted beef with tomato and onions and donair sauce, and garlic fingers are kind of like garlic bread pizza, cut into soft sticks (fingers). They’re both delicious, and you can find wonderful examples of both all over the city. Find a place you like, and get both; you’ll feel like a true Haligonian.
See the Tattoo
If you’re coming near the end of June, you should plan to spend a day or two at the Tattoo. This military festival started to celebrate the International Gathering of the Clans in 1979 and has become a two and a half hour show with dancers, bagpipes, military pomp, and more. This event supports the Canadian Armed Forces and first responders, and shows off real Nova Scotian pride. Watch the website as full 2020 festival details are coming soon.
Address: Scotiabank Centre (1800 Argyle St)
See one of the most useless signs in the world
There is a sculpture of a wave on the Halifax Waterfront, known simply as ‘the Wave’. You are not supposed to climb on The Wave, and there is a sign telling you not to do so. Despite this, I can almost guarantee that any day you’re at the Waterfront in the summer there will be people climbing up the Wave. Logically I understand that the sign is there for liability reasons, but the ground around it was replaced by softer material (the kind you can find at playgrounds) a few years back, so…might as well give it a whirl.
Address: At the Waterfront, near the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
Eat-in one of Canada’s first pubs
The Split Crow was opened on July 14th, 1979, which makes it the oldest tavern in Halifax and one of the oldest in all of Canada. Their food and drink menus both highlight traditional Nova Scotian favourites, with a big list of local offerings. They also have live music seven nights a week, so it’s a great place to go and settle into a historic place with every modern comfort.
Address: 1855 Granville Street
Walk on land that costs less than a dime a year in rent Point Pleasant Park is an iconic Halifax park, especially as it continues to heal from the damage done during Hurricane Juan in 2003. They have walking trails, old military buildings, a gazebo, and beaches you can walk on. My favourite fact about the place is that it truly does cost less than a dime a year; it was rented at a 999 year lease in 1879 for a shilling a year (less than 10 cents), which is paid to the Lieutenant Governor every year in the shilling ceremony. So enjoy the park, because someone’s got to pay a whole dime for it.
Address: 5530 Point Pleasant Drive
Watch Shakespeare (in the park) by the Sea
Going to live theatre is a great way to spend an evening, and if it’s a sunny summer month, you should go down to Point Pleasant Park and see Shakespeare by the Sea. This non-profit theatre troupe performs two Shakespeare plays and one family show every summer, and it’s a great time. It’s outdoor theatre at its most Nova Scotian, with an indoor theatre ready in case of rain. Rent a chair ahead of time or bring a blanket and settle into park theatre.
Address: Outdoor (Tower Road), Inside (5480 Point Pleasant Drive)
Get a bag of cake scraps
Fancy cupcake stores are a great time, and Halifax has two of them. Susie’s Shortbreads is out in Bayer’s Lake, and they have brilliant cupcakes. But Layers, in downtown Halifax, has something special: cake scrap bags. Because Layers is also a wedding cake store, they will often have leftover scraps from carving and designing cakes. They’re still delicious, they’re just smaller pieces, so they put them in paper bags and sell them. They’re super useful for making trifle, or you can just have them with a can of frosting and enjoy delicious cake for a fraction of the usual price.
Address: 1276 Barrington Street
Buy clothing created from a university project
The East Coast Lifestyle brand was literally created by Alex Maclean for an Entrepreneurship project in 2013. The signature design is simple and effective: a blue anchor on a white background with ‘East Coast Lifestyle’ written around the edges. It took off immediately and is still going strong. Take a piece of the Maritimes home with you and remember that sometimes homework can become a whole movement.
Address: Halifax Shopping Centre (Pseudio)
Visit the birthplace of a Dragon’s Den winning product
Hope Blooms is a story that encompasses entrepreneurship, Dragon’s Den, a beautiful garden, education, and community enrichment. They started with selling homemade dressings, and after Dragon’s Den they were able to grow produce year-round, creating youth community programs and an education fund. They’ve created a sustainable community product that also tastes fabulous, and it’s a huge point of pride for Halifax, the North End in particular. You can visit their store, taste some dressings, and learn more about how they literally made hope bloom.
Address: 5527 Cornwallis Street
Phone: 902-405- 3830
Go to two different cafes in the same library The Halifax Central Library is my favourite place in the city for so many reasons, but maybe especially for this design choice. The library was designed to be a community centre, so a lot of thought went into comfortable chairs, adequate seating, lots of lighting, and accessibility options everywhere. But the best part is that the Pavia café is in the library on the first floor…and on the fifth floor. The fact that you are never more than two floors away from food says a lot about the spirit of this building, and it also means that if they don’t have your preferred cookie downstairs, all you have to do is take the elevator up and try your luck upstairs!
Address: 5440 Spring Garden Road
Go to the market on a Saturday afternoon
The Seaport Farmer’s Market is a seven-day business where local businesses, artisans, and farms come to sell their wares. It’s a great way to support the community and to get some fresh produce, homemade goods, and fresh apple cider. My personal suggestion is to go on a Saturday afternoon; it’s very busy first thing in the morning, but the crowds have lessened by about 1. There’s still plenty of everything, you can find a place on the stairs to sit down, and you’re not getting confused by snaking and intersecting lineups.
Address: 1209 Marginal Road
Phone: 902-492-4043 extension 301
Try both “best poutines in Halifax”
Since 2012, there’s been a debate raging in Halifax: who has the best poutine? There are three major players in this category, exchanging places in the Coast’s Best Of list every year. Cheese Curds Poutine is great, and you should absolutely check it out as well; however, it’s in Dartmouth, so the real arguments take place about which is the best place on Blowers Street. Smokes Poutinerie and Willy’s Poutinerie are both on this street, right across from each other in fact, and they both have extremely loyal fan bases. If you like poutine (especially gourmet poutine), you should check them both out and make your own decision. There are no wrong answers…depending on who you’re talking to, at least.
Explore Nova Scotia
By: Adrienne Colborne