Alternative Travel Destinations – Halifax
Summer’s coming to an end, the rains are back upon us and the days are getting shorter. Winter looms on the horizon and I’m not even close to having a nice tan yet. Mince pies are already on sale, for God’s sake! Woe is me, woe is us.
But not all is lost, because Alternative Travel Destinations is back for another instalment! And this week we are going to:
No, not the West Yorkshire town that is famous for … well. Not much, come to think of it. Maybe the bank? Whatever the answer is, it doesn’t matter, because the focus this week is on Halifax, Nova Scotia, located on Canada’s eastern coast.
The city is perhaps best-known for its role in the rescue operations carried out after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. The celebrated cruise liner’s journey ended in the northern Atlantic Ocean, some 700 miles to the east of Halifax, and a number of local vessels were chartered to retrieve the bodies of those that had not survived. Over 150 were recovered and taken back to the city to be buried, mostly in the Fairview cemetery. The sailors also managed to collect some artefacts from the wreckage, including a host of passengers’ personal belongings. Many of these can now be found at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, located on the city’s harbour front. It has one of the world’s foremost Titanic collections and is an absolute must-see.
Only a few years later, in 1917, Halifax had another large-scale tragedy to deal with when a collision between two boats in the city’s harbour – one of which was fully loaded with explosives on its way to the Western Front – resulted in the largest man-made explosion in history prior to the development of nuclear weapons. The effects of the blast were incredibly destructive: 2,000 people died, 9,000 were injured, 12,000 structures were damaged and the shock-wave smashed thousands of windows, even in cities as far as 15km away. All but a few buildings within a half-mile radius of the blast were completely obliterated and it also caused a tsunami to sweep up the river, destroying an indigenous community that had existed for decades.
The explosion caused almost $500 million of damage and is remembered as one of the darkest days in the city’s history. Fortunately, Halifax was able to rebuild and the remainder of the twentieth century was a far more peaceful affair. The city now enjoys a reputation as one of Canada’s most vibrant cultural and economic centres, and it is widely regarded as one of the country’s top tourist spots.
But what to do once you’re there? Well, you can stroll along the harbour, visit the famous farmer’s market or clamber up Citadel Hill to admire the views. All excellent options, but my top pick would have to be a visit to the Alexander Keith’s brewery, established in 1820. The organised tour is a ludicrous showcase of kitschy entertainment and history lessons, but the beer is tasty and it’s good fun.
Another interesting destination is the Pier 21 museum, which gives an insight into Canada’s long history of encouraging immigration. Over 1 million immigrants came through the city’s port during the twentieth century, with most heading off to settle in one of the country’s large urban centres. A handful have remained in Halifax, though, including some of the tour guides at this very museum. How very quaint.
If you have a few extra days in the area then I would also recommend taking the time to visit Peggy’s Cove, a pretty fishing village that offers fantastic views out across the ocean. It is also home to the famous Peggy’s Point Lighthouse (pictured at top), a quintessentially Nova Scotian spot. This is the place to come to buy souvenirs/gifts/postcards (Hello, mum!), but be warned – this is one of the busiest tourist locations in the region and it does get crowded.
So there you have it. Come to Canada, ignore the pull of Toronto and Montreal, forget about Vancouver, don’t even consider the US. Leave it all, and focus instead on Halifax, Nova Scotia. Wouldn’t that be nice.