Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — Residents of Nova Scotia can complain about being stereotyped all they want when they read this, but it goes without saying that you simply can’t visit this province without celebrating the ocean.
It’s everywhere, it’s all over, it surrounds. Visiting Nova Scotia without seeing the ocean is like visiting Bordeaux without enjoying at least one glass of red wine on a patio or going to Havana without taking a puff on a cigar.
If it’s your first time in the province, one of the best places to get acquainted with the ocean is the Halifax Waterfront, featuring about two kilometres of beautiful accessible boardwalk, delicious places to eat and several attractions. The boardwalk runs roughly from Casino Nova Scotia (1983 Upper Water Street) to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (1055 Marginal Road). Halifax owns the second-largest natural harbour in the world after Sydney, Australia and the beauty of it will leave you breathless.
I love this waterfront because it’s connected to the city. Being from Toronto, one of my biggest beefs with our waterfront area — despite its beauty — is the sad fact there is a major highway between the city and the lake, a mistake many urban centres besides Toronto have made. Luckily, Halifax’s planners were careful with the view. The ocean is connected to the city and the people are connected to the ocean and getting to the waterfront is as easy as a leisurely walk.
Maritime Museum a Place to Learn and Reflect
My friends and I began our day at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (1675 Lower Water Street), which features several wonderful exhibits and paints an intriguing picture of Halifax’s history. Unlike the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in the popular village of Lunenburg, which tells the story of the ocean from a fisherman’s perspective, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic tells it from a marine commercial perspective. The museum not only paints a vivid picture of Halifax but also illustrates Canada’s relationship with the sea, including critical historic events.
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One of those events is the sinking of the Titanic, which occurred in 1912. The Titanic exhibit sets the mood with a display that includes baby shoes from a child that was lost in the disaster as well as a model of the ship and a replica of the deck. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is the only museum in Nova Scotia that has Titanic artifacts.
It’s an interesting look back in time, and what’s even more touching is that, even today, the Titanic still holds a special place in the hearts of Nova Scotians. The city took a leading role in the rescue effort and providing comfort to families who had lost loved ones.
Another reason to visit the museum is to learn about the Halifax Explosion, which occurred in December 6, 1917 when the munitions ship Mont Blanc collided with the Belgian relief ship SS Imo, triggering an explosion that would devastate the city.
You can see several artifacts, including twisted metal fragments from one of the ships. It may only be pieces of rusted metal, but it gives you an sobering idea of the force that explosion packed when it ripped through the city.
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The museum also has other interesting and educational displays. There are stories about the ships of the Canadian armed forces (including some really cool models) and Canada’s naval history during the wars. There is also a lighthouse lantern that looks really huge when you stand next to it. As well, you’ll be intrigued by a replica of a poor soul hanging in a gibbet at the front door, a horrible fate that awaited anyone who was caught working as a pirate.
Touring the Halifax Waterfront
After our visit with the museum, I’m feeling hungry and ready to check out the waterfront, which can be accessed simply by walking out the east entrance of the museum and onto the boardwalk. The first thing you notice are boats, including one that’s part of the museum called CSS Acadia. Admission to the museum would get you access on the Acadia. Another boat that’s visible is the Tall Ship Silva, which takes guests on sightseeing tours of the harbour. Tickets for these tours can be purchased through Murphy’s on the Water.
There are many ways to enjoy the boardwalk and all the tasty treats and unique sights it has to offer but the way we chose to do it was with Local Tasting Tours, which offers a walk any foodie and ocean lover will appreciate. Run by owner and guide Emily Forrest, the downtown tour included several tasty stops.
We began at Halifax Seaport Farmers Market, without question the best place in the city to be if you’re hungry. Created by Royal Proclamation in June 1750 — a year after the founding of the city — the Halifax Farmers’ Market is the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in North America. The market is perfectly situated, just a short walk north of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Inside you will find just about everything you would expect to find inside a world-class market, including fresh food and a wide range of eateries and entrepreneurs selling crafts and souvenirs.
After that visit we continued north along the waterfront, where we made several delicious stops including Sugah Confectionery & Ice Cream Emporium and Rum Runner’s. One of my favourite stops was at The Battered Fish. Other spots to eat in the area (known as Queen’s Landing) are BeaverTails, the Shack Oyster Bar, Canadian Bacon Cookhouse and Black Bear Ice Cream.
Forrest says people are impressed with the local and innovative food movement, and appreciate how things are expanding, as well as the diversity of the things available to visitors.
“I always say Nova Scotia is amazing because our farms are not too far from the waterfront, so our restaurants are able to really take advantage of the wonderful seafood, as well as produce from local farms,” says Forrest. “I love highlighting the talent that we have here. I think it’s really neat to show the people who come on my tour the diversity and talent of our chefs. With regards to shawarmas, we’ve had guests — specifically from Israel, Egypt and Ottawa — I know shawarmas are big in Ottawa — who have tasted the shawarma from Mezza Lebanese Kitchen, which is owned by the Nahas family. They were really impressed by the quality.”
The ocean isn’t the only awesome thing the waterfront has to offer. For those who are looking for fun things on the waterfront minus the ocean theme, visit Casino Nova Scotia (1983 Upper Water Street). Due to limited funds and a complete lack of skill in casinos I chose not to go, but by all means visit if you feel like having a James Bond moment. For those who aren’t gamblers there are other options. Entertainment may include the likes of “Weird Al” Yankovic and Melissa Ethridge. The other wonderful thing to see is the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. While it obviously bears a strong connection to the ocean, what makes it truly special is learning about the number of people who made their journey to Canada through Pier 21. There are also two breweries worth checking out on the waterfront — the legendary Alexander Keith’s Brewery and Garrison Brewing Company, located across the road from the market.
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Nova Scotia Tourism
Telephone: 1-800-565-0000 (toll free)
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One of the first things I did when I landed in Halifax was catch a bus tour with Ambassatours ($23.45) that provide an excellent overview of Halifax. The tour is a great way to orient yourself with the city and see some of the cool sites Halifax has to offer, including the Halifax Citadel and the shipyards.
The cemetery is beautiful, as far as cemeteries go of course, and fallen are laid in a gentle curve, not unlike the bow of a ship. The saddest part of the cemetery is the “Marker of Unknown Child,” which has since been positively identified to be Sidney Leslie Goodwin.
According to NovaScotia.ca, On May 6, the Canadian government vessel CGS Montmagny left Halifax and recovered four bodies, one of which was buried at sea. The remaining three victims were brought from Louisbourg, Nova Scotia to Halifax by rail. The fourth and final ship in the recovery effort was the SS Algerine, which sailed from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador on May 16. The crew of the Algerine found one body, which was shipped to Halifax on the SS Florizel.
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Halifax has wonderful restaurants and eateries like Five Fishermen Restaurant and Henry House, which I enjoyed. There are also nationally recognized restaurants in Halifax that made the annual Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide, including Brooklyn Warehouse (2013), Chives (2013, 2014), Edna Restaurant (2015) and Morris East, Halifax (2013).
To read more about Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in the Canada, click here.