Sitting on one of the Eastern Seaboard’s deepest harbours, Halifax has long been a significant seaport on Canada’s Atlantic coast. This historical importance as a centre of marine transport, commerce and defence has made it Atlantic Canada’s largest city, with over 400,000 people in living in the surrounding area.
Starting out its life as the English’s beachhead on the Canadian portion of the North American continent in the mid 1700’s, much of its history has been centred around the military, for better and for worse. This has granted the city a cornerstone attraction just above its compact central business district, as the Halifax Citadel has been maintained over the centuries as an imposing sentry that has defended this city from attack by virtue of its superior placement, as it has never been challenged by an enemy over its tenure.
It did spare much of Halifax from a far worse fate on the morning on December 6, 1917, as the Halifax Explosion flattened north end Halifax in the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion. The elevated nature of the hill and its solid ramparts tempered the shock waves sent in its direction, limiting damage to shattered windows in the parts of the city on its lee side (South and West Halifax).
Today, Halifax is best known as an entry point for travelers aiming to explore Atlantic Canada, but its rich history, abundant pubs (more per capita than any city in Canada), and vibrant music scene will keep you busy for at least a few days in one of the only true urban environments in this corner of the country.
As mentioned in the introduction, the Halifax Citadel is one of the most popular and imposing attractions in the city, as its very existence allowed the city to be born and grow without fearing the raids and attacks that had plagued other settlements in the region. Built to check the power of the militaristic behemoth that was the Fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, its commanding presence dissuaded any foreign power from attacking it in its lifetime, which is a testament to its superior positioning, which was married with overwhelming firepower.
Today, living history actors from the 78th Highland Regiment of days past bring the fortress complex to life, and due to not being attacked over its history, the majority of fortifications are largely intact and those that had decayed over time have been rehabilitated to their former glory. Arrive at High Noon to hear the daily firing of a cannon during the summer months.
Serving as Canada’s answer to Ellis Island in America, Pier 21 in Halifax served as the primary point of entry for immigrants to Canada throughout much of the 20th century. Closing in 1971 as most aspiring Canadian citizens had chosen to fly rather than endure a dodgy voyage by sea at this point, it was reopened in 1999 as Canada’s national museum chronicling immigration to this country over its 130+ year history.
Countless exhibits tell the story of migrants seeking a better life and/or shelter from danger in their home countries by coming to Canada, making it an essential stop for those seeking to have a better understanding of the story of this nation.
One of the most mesmerizing displays of pageantry, culture and athleticism can be had at The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, which is the largest indoor performing arts show in the world. The show is put on by a mixture of military and civilian teams, all displaying superior displays of musical and athletic prowess.
Want to dig deeper into the marine roots of this region? Then a visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic will be in order for you and your travel companions, as it is the largest one of its kind in Canada with over 30,000 artifacts and 70 reconstructed ships, including the CSS Acadia, a steamship that was christened and put into service back in 1913.
More in-depth information about the previously mentioned Halifax Explosion can be found here, as well as info on the sinking of the HMS Titanic, as this city was a central base in rescue and recovery efforts during the 1912 nautical disaster.
If botany is one of your passions, then a walk through the Halifax Public Gardens is an outstanding way to spend an hour or two. Constructed in the Victorian style in 1867, its many statues, fountains, flower beds and ponds make it a popular spot for wedding photos and many a lunch hour by numerous office workers from the downtown core.
One of the most prominent beers in Canada was born and still primarily brewed in Halifax, making the Alexander Keith’s Brewery a popular tourist destination for beer loving Canadians, as well as an increasing number of foreigners. Founded in 1820, it is one of the oldest breweries and beer brands in North America, and with tours that involve period actors/actresses and the eagerly anticipated tasting afterwards, it is a fun way to spend one of your last afternoons in the city before heading off to attractions further afield in Nova Scotia.
Before departing though, hop on a ferry to McNabs Island first, as mid harbour island is a provincial park that boasts former fortifications, remains of houses, and plenty of trails through the forest and along the seashore of the isle, granting the most unique view the central business district in the area.