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Travel Blog: Halifax

June 19, 2009

The full-sized Theodore Tugboat, a minor icon of Canadian childrens' heritage.

With a quick flight over Maine, we landed in a much more anglicized Halifax on Monday. We’re shacked up in a quaint historical Victorian inn that’s been beautifully restored, in a room across the hall from where Oscar Wilde once stayed—though his pictures remain youthful and flamboyant, scattered throughout the inn, I’m certain Wilde himself has aged dramatically since the occasion.

The city of Halifax is lush with all the historic grandeur that one might expect from one of Canada’s oldest and most bustling economic centres. There’s a special place in my heart for port cities—the activity of shipping barges and fishing boats going about their daily business in a wide open bay has always been such a thrilling sight for a land-locked prairie dweller such as myself.

Centuries-old artillery line the courtyard of the Citadel while interpreters in historic militar garb add to the atmosphere.

Centuries-old artillery line the courtyard of the Citadel while interpreters in historic militar garb add to the atmosphere.

These days, Halifax has a bit of history and a lot of tourist traps along the harbour, but it’s still quite friendly to self-guided explorers. It’s peaceful enough to just sit and watch the sailing ships, and downtown shopping is mere blocks away. Further south, up the hill lies the city’s famous Citadel, constructed by the British to repel an American invasion that never came. In that sense, I suppose it did its job right proper, and today, it’s still used for its daily noon-hour ceremonial cannon firing, which they say some locals still set their watches to.

I’m under very specific orders from my girlfriend, who works in Alberta’s Ukrainian Heritage Village, to report on the quality of the historic interpretation at any site I visit. I can say that while the uniforms and overall aesthetic of the Citadel is near spot-on, I was a bit let down by the interpretters’ acting. It’s done primarily in modern-day vernacular, completely aware that we’re no longer living in the 19th century. While this doesn’t fully detract from the experience, the anachronism does lose the site points on what would otherwise be a fairly well-done historic reconstruction.

The old burial ground is home to some of Halifax's oldest graves, including Alexander Keith's

The old burial ground is home to some of Halifax's oldest graves

The rest of the city is fairly small and easily navigable on foot; most of the must-see spots can be experienced in a matter of a few days. I’ve been fortunate to have some contacts in the area so I can get a taste of the night life, too. Buddies Ryan and Tim have given me a whirlwind tour of some of the more reliable pubs of Argyle and Barrington streets, as well as the GraWood, Dalhousie’s own Students’ Union Building bar. I was pleased to learn of the pub crowd’s fondness of trivia—it’s a phenomenon that’s only recently swept Edmonton, but seems to be a long-running tradition in this part of the country. While the quality of operations at the Irish pub Pogue Fado is questionable (there’s no penalty for rampant smartphone use, and questions are impossibly obscure, bordering on trivial), the ‘Wood was more on par with my style, where our team of drunken journalists finished in a respectable first place, with rewards of Keith’s pitchers enjoyed by all.

On that note, a trip to Halifax wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the Alexander Keith’s brewery along Lower Water Street. Oddly enough, the in-character, in-period interpretation at the brewery is far more enthusiastic than the Citadel, to the point of being almost gimmicky. However, it’s charming enough that I won’t bother with nitpicks—it’s better to simply shut up and appreciate the brew samples, including Stag’s Head stout, a brew I’ve yet to find in Alberta. For the record, it’s a less bitter, lighter kind of stout that seems to be marketed to a more mainstream crowd; tasty on that merit, but if you’re actually looking for a true stout, don’t bother. I’ve always enjoyed the India Pale Ale, and though I’m not a fan of the newer Keith’s Red, it’s actually quite tasty when it comes straight from the source. Must be something to do with the local water.

We’ve got a day left before heading east towards Cape Breton Island. For the sake of digestability, I’m breaking this post in two, with the next part covering my adventures along the South Shore and Annapolis Valley.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 8, 2012 8:35 pm

    Thank you so much for providing this!

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