Halifax, Nova Scotia. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The overwhelming feedback I received from friends who’ve been there was positive. “Ahhh, Halifax (map) is like Vancouver but on the Atlantic coast, without the mountains and a lot more British”, was a remark that stuck. Well, I soon discovered that Halifax is a lot more than that, and the only similarity with Vancouver I could see was the harbour (Halifax has a stunning location at the edge of one of the largest natural harbours in the world). Halifax definitely has a very British feel – from the fortress on Citadel Hill to the many pubs and the historic Victorian era buildings – but as I soon discovered, simply calling it ‘British’ doesn’t do the city much justice. Halifax has a lovely cosmopolitan vibe that stems from the many immigrants from around the world who have settled in the city throughout the city’s colourful history.
A stroll around the Halifax Waterfront
Halifax owes much of its history to its strategic harbour so when I arrived, one of the first things I did was head down to the Halifax Waterfront to get my first ‘taste’ of the city. The harbour was the scene of numerous wars between the British, the French and indigenous Mi’kmaq people. It also played an important role in the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and was the site of the Halifax Explosion of 1917, the second-biggest man-made explosion (after the Horoshima nuclear bomb), when a French munitions ship collided with a Norwegian ship in the harbour. The resulting explosion caused a tsunami in the harbour and flattened large parts of the city, killing about 2,000 people.
I started my walk at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. Before entering the market, I paused at the statue of Samuel Cunard (the great shipping magnate), one of the city’s most famous sons.
Markets are always a great place to get a feel for a city and its inhabitants and the Farmers Market was no different. Friendly and boisterous Haligonians manned their stalls with great gusto, selling all sorts of (organic) produce, from fresh flowers and vegetables to seafood, cheeses and chocolates.
As I walked around and looked at the names of the stalls and the products, I couldn’t help but notice the variety of European influences: English, French, German, Dutch, Russian, Polish and others. It was clear that Halifax is a melting pot of cultures. The French showed off their local wines and cheeses whilst the Germans and Dutch flaunted their fresh vegetables, cheeses and meats. I started chatting with one of the Dutch farmers but being a second-generation Haligonian, he could manage only a few words in Dutch. He introduced me to his father who spoke fluent Dutch and we had a lovely conversation about Holland, where he’s originally from and how they settled in Nova Scotia.
I continued my walk around the market and discovered many little gems. There were stalls selling all sorts of cupcakes, macaroons and beautiful handicraft.
My nose led me to a tiny stall selling chocolates: Rawthentic Chocolates! I struck up a conversation with the friendly girl behind the stall. She described how she makes the chocolates by hand and they’re raw, gluten-free and dairy-free. Her passion for chocolate was almost tangible and when she offered me a few chocolates to taste, I knew it for sure: Rawthentic Chocolates is a true gem. They were simply some of the best chocolates I’ve ever had… and if you don’t believe me, I suggest you make a beeline to the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market and try them yourself!
The Halifax Harbour Walk
I bought several bags-full of chocolates, then continued my stroll along the waterfront. It was a beautiful day and the harbour sparkled in the sun. I followed the scenic Harbour Walk, occasionally peering into the water to spot fish and starfish.
My nose stopped me in my tracks again – this time at Rum Runners. I entered and sampled their rum and chocolate rum cakes and purchased a few of those too!
I continued my walk past the Maritime Museum to Cable Wharf, a colourful, bustling area which is also the embarkation point for harbour tours.
This was a great spot to sit in one of the brightly coloured chairs and watch locals and tourists pass by.
I popped into the nearby Nova Scotian Crystal store where I got to have a peek inside the workshop. Started by Irish immigrants, Nova Scotian Crystal produces gorgeous ornaments, vases and tableware.
My stroll ended at the end of the Lower Water Street, with many restaurants and cafés housed in Victorian era heritage buildings; an absolutely charming corner of the harbourfront.
This area was the perfect spot to end my walk along the Halifax waterfront. I grabbed a chair, ordered a local brew and enjoyed the sunshine in my face. With a pint in my hand, I pondered about the ethnic weave of the city and how each community has shaped Halifax. At first glance, Halifax does feel very British but take a closer look and you’ll easily discover many colourful layers… and the Halifax waterfront is the perfect place to start!
Note: a big thank you goes to Destination Halifax for your wonderful hospitality.