Halifax, Nova Scotia Review - A Step Back in Time

A visit to Nova Scotia and its capital Halifax is a step back in time. It is meeting people and families who for generations have relied on the earth and the sea - farmers, fishermen and artisans who have many poignant, sad and fascinating stories to tell about their bountiful and beloved province. Some have moved away, only to return more committed to Nova Scotia’s future; others have remained in small fishing villages and on homesteads settled by ancestors who arrived as immigrants and were processed at the Halifax Immigration Center, an entry point similar to New York‘s Ellis Island.

Halifax landmark

On a recent visit to Halifax, I followed the organic farm and sea-to-table food trail to a few of the city’s most popular restaurants; sat down to chat with chefs who are spear heading this city’s local and far reaching culinary revolution, using only the freshest and purest seasonal ingredients to create exceptional award winning dishes.

Sailing in Halifax

Everyone has a favorite recipe for rappier and sugar pie, seafood chowder and lobster rolls. The abundance of heirloom vegetables fresh off the vine, fish reeled in from the sea and sweet lobsters, is what brings chefs and repeat visitors to the smallest but most agriculturally rich province in Canada. I gathered a dream catcher of memories, tasted local dishes that were prepared with love and pride, and met a mix of creative, dedicated and endearing local characters and chefs.

Beautiful Halifax

United Airlines non-stop from Newark lands two hours after take-off. Regis Dudley from Destination Halifax, who graciously organized my visit, is waiting to greet me as is a comfortable limo. We cross the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge and arrive at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel where a spacious water view suite with fireplace, kitchen and two bathrooms is awaiting my arrival. General Manager Jeff Ransome is on hand to welcome me.

In the afternoon, Joe McSweeney, a retired school teacher/part time tour guide takes me on a city tour. Joe, ever the teacher, hands me two ledger pages he has thoughtfully filled with historical facts and trivia. Halifax, a medium size city with an ethically diverse population of 390,000 (85% European ancestry) has the temperament of a small town; water and fishing are important industries; the Halifax dockyards, established in 1749, is the city’s largest single employee, and the harbor, the third deepest in the world, makes this a popular cruise shop destination.

Titanic Graves

Halifax has had its share of tragedy, including the horrific 1917 Halifax Explosion, caused by two convoy ships crashing in the harbor which killed 2,000 and left 15,000 homeless. The Titanic sunk off the coast, and 121 recovered bodies are buried in the Fairlawn Cemetery . . . their burial sites marked by rows of low stones lined up in the shape of a shop’s bow, facing the direction in which the Titanic rests at the bottom of the sea.

Fairlawn Cemetery

The Citadel National Historic Site, built as a British Fort, restored into a National landmark commemorates Halifax’s role as a key naval station. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic traces Nova Scotia’s rich maritime history and relationship with the sea. We drive through neighborhoods lined with Victorian gems, mansions, townhouses and newly constructed condos that reflect the city’s laid back lifestyle.

Halifax waterfront

There is calmness about Halifax that is comforting. There is no frenzy in the air; people take time to please.

Friday

I arrive at Fisherman’s Cove, just over the bridge from Halifax, a charming old fishing village whose painted fishing shacks house shops and restaurants; its boardwalk and beach attract tourists and serve the community.

Blue Shark Fishing Cruises

To my disappointment, the sea is too rough for what I anticipated to be my first shark expedition, and I settle down on the dock with Captain Art Gaetan, who runs Blue Shark Fishing Charters. Art has been studying sharks for 50 years; tagging and testing DNA to trace genetic lines in his quest to discover where sharks mate and give birth… sharing his findings with the University Marine Biology Center. He tells me: “Sharks, play a vital role at the top of the food chain, keeping the ocean clean and in balance; they have been on the planet for 450 years, surviving five massive extinctions, but their population has depleted to 10% due to their getting caught in huge steel circle hooks and long lines used to catch tuna, swordfish and other large fish“.

Captain Art Gaetan

When fishing, Art brings sharks in quickly so they don’t build up lactic acid, records their length, where caught (longitude and latitude), observes their health, photos, and then releases back into the water . . . all in a matter of 2 to 3 minutes. Art is a scientist of the world committed to carrying the message: “man has and continues to contaminate the ocean”. www.bluesharkcharters.com

In the afternoon, I explore the waterfront following the boardwalk that is lined with a variety of attractions. I pass a children’s playground, a park, food stands, a marina, the Maritime Museum, party boats and commuter ferries.

When I reach Pier 21, home to Canada’s National Museum of Immigration, I join a scheduled tour with Canadians here to trace a wide cultural diversity of relatives who crossed the Atlantic in search of a new life and entered through this portal. 40 % were sent back; others were loaded onto trains to settle in other provinces.

Canadian Museum of Immigation at Pier 21

Sunday morning

The colorful and fragrant Halifax Farmer’s Market, created by Royal Proclamation in 1750, is the place to be on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when handicraft artisans, farmers, bakers, and fishermen sell fresh from the vine produce, cheeses, meats and home made delicacies. Halifax is for the young . . . and young at heart; it is history, mystery and delicious fare.

People who live and work here are warm and welcoming; the tourist infrastructure is fine tuned, and there are many ways one can explore this “city of tours” . . . from hop on/ hop off buses to comfortable limousines . . .from walking tours to riding side car . . . or even in a rickshaw pulled by a college student. Taxis are reasonable and reliable.

My last night in town, I find a quiet booth in the hotel restaurant; order the pound and a half lobster, served with a medley of crunchy vegetables, and a glass of red zinfandel. It is the sweetest lobster I have ever cracked open and devoured, and at $26, the bargain of a wonderful visit.

Monday

On my way back to the airport I tell Emerson, my limo driver, “Everyone I met is happy to be here” his response: “it’s because they aren’t jammed together; everyone has their own space”. I pass through customs and cross over into the US before boarding the plane. This added convenience of not having to go through customs after landing makes Nova Scotia even more inviting.

One of the many party boats

Halifax, with its rich seafaring heritage and cultural diversity is a great destination any time of the year. Food tastes better here. The fresh caught lobster was sweet and tender . . . the people warm and welcoming, and best of all, it’s closer than you think.

For more info: www.destinationhalifax.com

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