DescriptionBecause of the harbor (the second largest natural one in the world) that extends inland 26 kilometres (16 mi.), Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, was one of the first English settlements in Canada. It was founded in 1749 by Edward Cornwallis, who recognized the site's potential as a naval and military depot. After the British attained supremacy throughout Canada in 1763, Halifax served as the Atlantic headquarters for the British Army and Royal Navy.
Until World War I, Halifax's military character was moderated by a civilian shipbuilding industry, which brought considerable wealth to the port economy. During World War I and World War II the city was part of the North American lifeline to war-torn Europe. Halifax still remains the principal naval outpost on Canada's east coast.
This commercial, administrative and military center of Atlantic Canada is distinguished by a blend of modern office towers and restored buildings. Museums, shops and galleries lure locals and visitors to the city's waterfront boardwalk. Theater, symphony performances, live music, cinemas, pubs and cafés combine to create a lively downtown entertainment scene.
Many of the city's historic buildings were constructed by order of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Halifax's commander in chief 1794-1800. Princess Lodge, on Bedford Basin, was his primary residence. The prince commissioned the Town Clock on Citadel Hill to discourage tardiness, designing the four-sided tower so that it could be seen anywhere in town.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is one of Canada's most visited attractions. The massive star-shaped fortification, among the best preserved in the country, offers historic re-enactments, museums, a noon gun firing and lofty views of the harbor.
Halifax is fortunate to have anything left to preserve, considering the awesome maritime disaster that shook the city at 9:05 a.m., Dec. 6, 1917. The French munitions ship Mont Blanc collided with the steamer Imo in Halifax Harbour, causing a fire that ignited the volatile cargo of the munitions ship. The ensuing explosion literally blew the Mont Blanc to pieces, heaved the Imo onto the Dartmouth shore and leveled the north end of the city, killing more than 2,000 people. Reminders of the event still mark the city, which commemorates the “Halifax Explosion” every year with a ceremony at the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower in the hilltop Fort Needham Park. Boston, the first city to come to Halifax's aid, receives a Nova Scotian Christmas tree each year.
On April 16, 1912, the crew aboard the cable repair ship Mackay-Bennett set sail from Halifax to retrieve the corpses of 306 Titanic victims. Fairview Lawn Cemetery , 3720 Windsor St., is the resting place for 121 of these individuals, many of whom are unidentified.
Halifax hosts festivals and events year-round, with some outstanding offerings at the height of summer. The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, held in early July, is an extravaganza featuring military music, pageantry and precision drills as well as dance and athletic competitions. Crack military units from around the world perform, and the traditional Naval Gun Run Competition pits Canadian naval teams against one another in a contest that involves dismantling, transporting and reassembling a cannon.
Alexander Keith's Natal Day Festival celebrates the birthdays of both the Halifax and Dartmouth communities. The festival consists of entertainment, sports activities, family events, breakfasts and fireworks. The civic holiday may occur in the last week of July or first week of August. Street performers entertain visitors during the Halifax International Busker Festival. Jugglers, acrobats and musicians are just a few examples of the line-up appearing over the 10-day event held in August.
Getting to the islands can take work, as ferry service varies. However, McNabs Island, in outer Halifax Harbour, lures hikers and picnickers during warm weather. Of historical interest is Fort McNab National Historic Site, which preserves an 1892 fort built to defend the harbor; phone (902) 426-5080. Nearby Lawlor Island is popular with bird-watchers, and stories persist that another harbor island, named Devils Island, is haunted. Phone McNabs Island Ferry (902) 465-4563 or (800) 326-4563.
A variety of tours, including biking, fishing, golfing, kayaking, sailing, walking and whale-watching as well as bus excursions, are offered throughout Halifax and the surrounding area; phone Nova Scotia Tourism Agency at (800) 565-0000. The Halifax-Dartmouth Ferry, the oldest continually running saltwater ferry in North America, crosses the harbor year-round. Murphy's The Cable Wharf, (902) 420-1015, operates sightseeing bus tours in and around the city as well as a variety of boat tours around the harbor and coast. Atlantic Tours, (902) 423-7122 or (800) 565-7173, specializes in private tours and multi-day tours in Nova Scotia and the neighboring provinces.
Halifax is the site of North America's longest-running market, beginning 1750 and continuing every Saturday 7-1 in the 1800s Alexander Keith's brewery on Hollis Street. It is now known as the Historic Farmers' Market to distinguish it from the new Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market, in a sustainable conversion of the former Pier 20 building on the waterfront at 1209 Marginal Rd. The latter has more than 250 vendors selling everything from fresh local produce to meats, bakery items, plants, wine, and arts and crafts. It operates daily, although many vendors only are available on Saturday or when a cruise ship is in port.
Visitor InfoHalifax Waterfront-Nova Scotia Visitor Information Centre 1655 Lower Water St. HALIFAX, NS B3J 1S2. Phone:(902)424-4248
ShoppingHalifax Shopping Centre, 7001 Mumford Rd., features some 170 retailers, including Gap, Pier 1 Imports and Sears. Spring Garden Road, between Barrington and Robie streets, is home to a variety of specialty shops, boutiques and restaurants.
Self-guiding toursBrochures detailing tours of the historic and downtown areas of Halifax are available at the visitor information center.
Things to SeeAlexander Keith's Nova Scotia Brewery Tours