Following a delayed and circuitous route to Nova Scotia (don’t get me started with airline delays) I arrived in Halifax, Canada by evening. So did my friend, Barb, from Colorado and that left us with a day to explore the city before our photography workshop with Bryan Peterson. But, I was also left without my luggage.
We began walking in the direction of the Old Burying Ground across from Government House (circa 1799) which reminded me of civic buildings in Belfast or Edinburgh. I’d passed a statue of Queen Victoria on my taxi ride into town, giving another UK feel to the city.
The haunting old cemetery dates back to 1749 and holds over 12,000 graves but only 1,200 headstones. A number of the markers are carved with detailed motifs common to the 1700-1800’s and contain poignant epitaphs honoring the deceased. Stopping here brought a personal connection to the early maritime history of the province.
We strolled along Barrington Street to St Paul’s, the first church built in Nova Scotia and the oldest building in Halifax. The church survived the tremendous explosion of 1917 when two warships carrying TNT collided in the harbor. The resulting fire, said to be the largest blast before the atomic bomb, caused a death toll of 1,900 with an additional 9,000 injured.
Reaching City Hall, we headed uphill toward the Citadel, one of the most visited National Historic Sites in Canada. Rightly so; this stronghold presents living history, costume and color, plus a grand view of the seaport below. The star-shaped enclosure was built in the19th century as a British fortification with multiple lookouts. I reckon it would be nearly impossible for a surprise attack.
Every noon the 78th Highlanders perform a gun ceremony and blast the canon atop the Citadel. Unfortunately, we just missed the event but encountered a friendly bagpiper dressed in a green plaid kilt. Another member of the regiment, festooned with an ostrich-feathered hat, took us on a tour of the musket galleries, garrison cells and parade grounds. Barb and I snapped away at the photo worthy changing of the guard and smaller canon firing by the royal artillery.
We then stopped at corner of Argyle and Sackville Street for lunch at Durty Nelly’s, an authentic Irish Pub which was designed and built in Ireland and shipped to Canada. The restaurant sports an elongated wooden bar and apparently is ‘ the place’ for listening to the Craic, what the Irish call storytelling and partying. FYI- My seafood chowder was mighty fine, too.
Halifax boasts a deep, natural harbor, actually the second-largest in the world which called for investigation. A ferry crosses the harbor to and fro Dartmouth so we grabbed a seat and began photographing the skyline and waterfront. Apparently you can ride all day on your $2.50 ticket. Sadly, we did not leave time for The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the city’s signature museum. To be honest, my feet were killing me as I’d worn heeled boots on the plane and they were my only shoe choice. If I ever return I’d like to see the Titanic displays in the museum. Halifax was closest to the tragic sinking of the oceanliner.
We strolled along the restored buildings on the wharf, a popular tourist haven, and stopped into Nova Scotia Crystal. To my surprise, we found crystal being mouth blown, hand-cut and etched right there in the factory. Irish artisans hoping to keep their craft alive opened the facility in 1996 and it remains the singular crystal manufacturer in Canada. Each master craftsmen, from glass blower to cutter, have apprenticed their skills for a minimum of ten years. The showroom pieces glisten in the light and tempt purchase, but watching the operation remains the best part.
After just one day in the walking- friendly city, I felt I had it under control. The layout is straight forward and pretty directionally unchallenging. The thing I will remember was the aura of welcome emanating from the citizens: the baristas in Starbucks,the regimental members in the Citadel, the waiters and waitresses and workers on the ferry. They couldn’t have made a tourist feel more appreciated, something I don’t usually perceive in American cities. At the time, I did not know the awe inspiring sense of wonder I would garner from the Oceanstone Inn near Peggy’s Cove, but, I left Halifax grateful to have taken the extra day to tour and connect.
If you go:
The Halliburton, a boutique hotel, became an excellent choice for downtown lodging within easy walking distance of all the sites. The inn, now connected with three townhouse-style buildings, was built in 1809 for the Nova Scotia Supreme Court’s first chief justice. Their small restaurant offered service and food far above expected and really quite sensational.
Read also about lodging at the Oceanstone Inn in my previous article here: A Mystical Escape in Nova Scotia.