Wintertime is going to look different in 2021…but then again, all winters have their challenges (anyone else remember 2015 and the Wednesday Storms?) The most important thing you can do for yourself and your family is to find activities that make the time special, taking advantage of the snow and cold to find new traditions. Outdoor Halifax in winter has so much to offer, and the ideas below are simply a jumping-off point to make your own winter wonderland memories.
Building a Snow Army
Look, you can build just one snowperson and that’s fun, and if there isn’t much snow around you might think that’s all you can do. Not so! Instead of building a life-size model, why not build smaller snowpeople and kit them out with everything they need to do battle, lead an exploratory mission, or simply guard your home? If there’s plenty of snow to go around and you have the space, by all means make them bigger—and if you’re having trouble creating a scene, look to Calvin and Hobbes.
Evening Lights Walks
The Christmas lights display around Halifax range from the soft and tasteful to the wild and extravagant to everything in between. The best part is that most people leave them up past Christmas (my parents tend to take them down in late February/early March), so this can continue throughout the winter. Walk around your neighbourhood, a friend’s neighbourhood, or park downtown and check out the displays the city puts up! Bring warm touch screen gloves—I’m sure you’ll want to take some pictures.
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Hot Chocolate/ Apple Cider Walk
I put apple cider in the title because that’s my winter drink of choice (hot chocolate tends to give me headaches, sadly), but really this walk is for any kind of hot beverage. Day or night, taking a ramble with a hot drink lets you stay out longer, which is good for exercising and spending time with kids—or by yourself if that’s what you need. I’d recommend using a Thermos-type cup whether you’re making your drink at home or buying it; while a hot mug sounds like a good idea for a deck, if you’re walking it’s either going to get too hot to hold, or difficult to put down when you need to take a break.
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Alright, this isn’t for everyone, and that’s totally okay! But if you want to try it out, there are a few lakes close to Halifax that allow for this activity (check the link below for which ones, as they can change year to year). Head out for a different sort of lake day, try to catch your dinner, and hang out with everyone else doing the same thing. Best part? It’s very easy to do with social distancing.
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What could be more Canadian than combining snow and maple syrup? When the snow is freshly fallen (or still falling), grab your bottle of maple syrup. Pour hot maple syrup on the snow, and watch it form into maple candy before your very eyes. You can use popsicle sticks or just scoop up the snow and have that too! The best part is that you don’t need a specific kind of snow like sledding or snowballs—as long as it is cold and clean, you can make candy!
This one is going to take some props, but what you use to create the tracks is completely up to you! Find a park or just an open area (for extra points, try Citadel Hill) and figure out what kind of beast you want to imitate. Dragons, Bigfoot, capybara (why not?), and more—once you know the shape of the track, you can set to work making them. It’s a fun group activity, it gets you outside, and who knows? You might be able to pull a practical joke or two…
Whether there’s lots of snow or none at all, there’s plenty of winter’s natural beauty to see around Halifax. Visit a park like Shubie Park or Point Pleasant Park, pick a lake that’s a summer favourite, or just start walking on one of Halifax’s many trails. Look for wildlife, find some plants, and imagine winter from a less human perspective. Adventure is out there, even in the dead of winter.
Look, Christmas isn’t the only reason to decorate, you know. Having a winter aesthetic for the outside of your abode is a great excuse to let your tastes run wild. If you live in a house, decorate your front yard and windows. If you’ve got a balcony, string some lights on it and set up some (heavy so they don’t fall over) ornaments and statues. And if you don’t have either of those things, get your windows set up so they look pretty, and then head for a friend or family member that does have an outdoor space. Make some snacks, invite some guests, and get ready to cover little ones’ ears if the lights get tangled.
My favourite thing about scavenger hunts is that you can tailor it to exactly what you want to find. If you want to spend the day at the park, make the items nature-based; if you want to explore your neighbourhood, put house colours and decorations; if you want to explore downtown, choose some places with distinctive looks or items for sale. Make it as hard or as easy as you want, and if you want to start arguments you should make sure the list items are open for interpretation. The last scavenger hunt I participated in took about four hours to complete—I’d suggest making it a bit shorter or people will start whining.
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Okay listen, sledding is the most fun winter activity, but also one of the most ephemeral. You need the right kind of snow to fall and access to a good hill, so you have to plan for the right day. When that day comes, grab your sled/toboggan and a hat, and head to your hill of preference. If you’re not sure where to go, Citadel Hill is always a good bet. Make friends while you’re there, and you might hear about some other awesome spots. The world is your sledding oyster—just make sure everyone knows how to bail!
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Skating at the Oval
A tradition that came about by chance, skating at the Halifax Oval is entering its tenth year. It’s a fantastic place to go skating, especially because you should be able to rent everything you need for free. There are time slots for specific kinds of skating, so you don’t have to worry about getting mowed down by speed skaters if you’re a beginner. And of course, a day at the Oval would not be complete without a trip to the Beavertails trailer!
Skating at a Lake
Now you need to exercise caution with this one, of course—look at any warnings, follow directions, let’s not play Amy March. But there are some lakes in the Halifax area that (just like ice fishing), are possible to skate on under the right conditions. It’s a very different outdoor skating experience than the Oval, and it may just be your group one day. Enjoy skating over instead of swimming through the lake, and be ready to make some classic memories.
The fact that you can drive about twenty minutes from downtown Halifax and be at a farm with sleigh rides is another great reason to love Halifax. Hatfield Farm is open year-round for either wagon or sleigh rides (depending on the amount of snow), so you can suit up and be comfy on your ride. If you get lucky, it might snow while you’re on your ride. Depending on COVID restrictions, you can also enjoy food and drink, mini-golf, the playground, and ice cream.
Look, this might be a basic activity, but that’s the brilliance of it. Everyone can make a snow angel so long as there is snow, and while they may look different from person to person, they will still be beautiful. There’s something freeing about lying down in the cold and moving your limbs to create a picture that’s instantly recognizable. Leave them in a park, a snow-covered beach, or your own lawn.
You have to wait for the right kind of snow for this, and it’s important to establish the rules before the snow starts flying. No aiming for the face, no ice or rock in the snowballs, and timeouts are sacred are generally the rules my family uses, feel free to try them out! I’d recommend trying out Point Pleasant Park for a snowball fight—there are more places to hide, and it’ll be easier to build a fort for a proper defence.
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Walking while the snow is falling is actually a rare enjoyable activity in Halifax. Sometimes it’s more snow than rain, sometimes it’s more ice than rain, and sometimes the snow doesn’t start until the middle of the night…so when the snow is falling nicely and your boots are high and dry, jump on it! Go for a walk in whatever part of the city you want to see slowly turn white and soft. I highly recommend the Waterfront or the Commons, and if it’s not icy Citadel Hill will give you a gorgeous 360-degree view of snowy Halifax.
You can build a fort for a winter hideout, for shelter during a snowball fight, or just because you want to see if you can build a proper igloo (you can, but look up instructions if you want it to stay up). When the right snow falls, assemble your team, decide on the outline and then start constructing your fort. Like with the snowball fight, I would suggest a park like Point Pleasant because you might be able to use a tree or a large rock as one of the walls. But if you’ve got a big enough yard and lots of snow, you can just make a tiny home beside your home!
Snowshoeing is fascinating to me because once you’ve got a pair, you can go on snow many adventures (look, I had to make at least one pun). It takes a little getting used to, but it won’t be long before you’re grabbing your snowshoes after every snowfall. Explore the trails around the HRM, walk through the park without getting your shoes wet, or set off in the woods for a wild winter tour (make sure you bring all necessary gear for this). They are designed uniquely for the snow, so make sure you make the most of it.
I’m sure everyone’s done this at least once in their lives on New Year’s or Canada Day—you hold a sparkler and you woosh it around in the air, making patterns or letters that hold for just an instant. But who said you have to wait for a special occasion? Sparklers aren’t noisy the way fireworks are, so you won’t be disturbing anyone if you light up some sparklers and gather some friends. See who can make the most complicated drawing in the air, or call out things to draw and see what people come up with. Get the big sparklers that are like two feet long, that way you don’t have to keep relighting an endless amount of the smaller ones.
Visiting the Public Gardens
You won’t find flowers at the Public Gardens in the wintertime, and most of the ducks have flown away. It’s a quiet, peaceful landscape…and honestly? It’s one of my favourite places to go in the wintertime. This isn’t just because of the gazebo, by the way—even though it’s just on the edge of downtown, a hush falls over the Gardens, helped along by the snow. The paths are still relatively clear, so walking is easy to do beside the frozen pond and sleeping flower beds, trees hanging in slumber for their leaves to burst forth in the spring while the conifers stand guard. But the best part? You’re only a few steps away from hot drinks, food, or the shopping area of your choice!
The Halifax Regional Municipality has several lovely places to go window shopping. From Spring Garden Road to Dartmouth Crossing to malls of varying shapes and sizes, you can window shop to your hearts’ content. Books, clothing, sports gear, shoes, collectibles, jewelry, music, tech, and more…whatever budget you might have, you can buy anything you want with your eyes! I’d personally recommend Dartmouth Crossing because it’s designed for you to walk between the various stores and restaurants. That makes it easy to window shop safely and be able to stop and grab some food whenever you see somewhere you like.
Winter Beach Walking
The sea all but surrounds Nova Scotia, and wherever you live you’re never far from a beach. In the wintertime, beaches become white with snow dunes, blown around by the winds off the ocean. You might find ice lining the shore being pushed by the waves, and you might see the footprints of other beachgoers, both two- and four-legged. Bring sunglasses to prevent snow blindness and enjoy the wintery side of living on a peninsula.
Winter brings an aesthetic all its own, and capturing memories of that in Halifax is a fun way to get some exercise, fresh air, and practice taking your very own masterpieces. You can combine this with any of the other activities on this list, of course, or you could stick to a photography-based challenge. Here are a few winter sights you might want to capture:
- Parade Square during snowfall
- The view out the window from the 5th floor of the Central Library
- Statues with snow
- Interesting iced-over puddles—usually found near storm drains
- Animals being Confused about the cold
- Recreating your beach pictures with winter attire
What are you waiting for?
Anyone who’s watched the Winter Picnic episode of the Old Bear Stories show knows exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t have time to watch the episode, the concept is simple: dress up warmly, pack hot food and drinks in Thermoses, bring a hot water bottle, and head for a favourite picnic spot. This idea’s a bit unusual in that it actually works better if it isn’t snowy out—that makes it much easier to find a dry spot to sit. Citadel Hill and the Commons are a good choice, and Point Pleasant Park is another good option. Just don’t get stuck in the basket and go rolling down a hill! Maybe you should watch the episode…
Ah, the Waterfront. Maybe I’m biased, but I love the ocean in all seasons, and I want to be as close to it as possible. The Waterfront allows you to do that year-round, offering a long boardwalk to walk on by the sea. Unlike the summer, it’s pretty quiet in the winter with fewer stores and stalls open. This creates a more tranquil atmosphere, especially when the snow comes, but there are still buildings open like Historic Properties and Bishop’s Landing that let you shop, eat, or simply get warmed up before you set off down the Waterfront again.
By: Adrienne Colborne