Travel Happiness: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Every fall I am reminded of the beauty around me with the trees coloring up and my thoughts turn to New England and Nova Scotia, which enjoyed the reputation of untold beauty. Thousands flock both by tour and cruise to this area from mid-September through October to catch a glimpse of this beauty.
A number of cruise ships sail from New York during this time. The wonderful thing about cruising is your don't have to worry about finding a hotel room and you have tours available from the ship to see, enjoy, and explore the ports of call. I like the idea that one can sail from New York on a one week cruise and enjoy stops at Boston, Portland, Sydney, and Halifax, Nova Scotia--all without unpacking. I almost forgot the fact that all meals are included on the ship as well as nightly entertainment.
I would like to share a little more details about Halifax to wet your appetite to visit. In entering Halifax Harbour, the container port appears to the left, followed by the cruise ship berths and the city center, while forested McNabs Island is to the right; on the far shore is the city of Dartmouth, noted for its shipyards, and linked to Halifax by both passenger ferry and the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge. Just beyond the city center, the harbor narrows; farther inland, past the MacKay Bridge, it opens up again into Bedford Basin--the world's second largest natural harbor.
Docking alongside Halifax, the piers are within easy walking distance of the city center, so unless you plan to take a shore excursion down the coast to Peggy's Cove or Lunenburg, you can plan a completely independent day ashore. A visitor's kiosk, car rental desks, and Canadian craft shops are located inside the pier-shed providing a sheltered place to browse before embarking.
Head for my favorite destination, Pier 21, Canada's superb immigration museum located either adjacent to your ship or one pier away. The depot operated from 1928 to 1971 to process one million immigrants, wartime evacuees, war brides and children, and returning soldiers. The exhibits, one flight up, include artifacts, photographs, plus online access to ship arrival information and passenger lists. Perhaps most poignant are the memories of those who came though here many of whom are still alive today. Their stories are told in a dramatic theater film presentation and in video cameos set up in a row of compartments of a mock up of a Canadian National Railway sleeping car. Other memorable takes, such as school-age kids who were evacuated from Britain to Canada to escape the wartime bombing raids, can be heard while seated on the gallery benches facing the harbor.
The pedestrian-friendly Boardwalk ziz-zags from the cruise-ship piers to the city's waterfront restaurants, cafes, shops, and attractions. The first major destination encountered is housed in a group of early 19th century ironstone brewery buildings that provide a tour of the workings of the former brew house plus a marketplace.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, about a 15-minute walk from the piers, displays passenger, cargo, and train-ferry ship models plus Titanic artifacts including a deck chair, a bench, some wooden paneling, and a condensed wireless log of the tragic liner's distress calls. The most dramatic sections tells the story of Halifax Explosion, a World War I era disaster that leveled much of the city when the Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship, exploded in Bedford Basin on December 6, 1917. A video shows the devastated landscape, and taped remembrances bring to life stories of those who survived--some, when trying to locate their street and home, often found their neighborhood completely obliterated.
From the waterfront, a passenger ferry crosses to the smaller city of Dartmouth, and during the 10-minute trip, there are good views of the waterfront and the shipping. With a half-hour between departures, walk up the hill for the city's park and gardens, its half-dozen churches, and the main street's galleries and collectible shops.
Back in Halifax, just beyond the ferry terminal, are the Historic Properties of Privateers Wharf. This complex of 10 19th century buildings, which once housed a bank, shipping companies, and a warehouse, are now occupied by shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
Most of Halifax's commercial streets are inland and up the hill behind the waterfront running parallel to the harbor. George Street, for example, slopes upward past the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Province House (1811-18), the Victorian City Hall (1889), and St. Paul's Church--built in 1750, the oldest building in Halifax, and Canada's first Protestant Church.
For first-time visitors who like to explore on foot, the city of Halifax has more than enough to occupy an entire day, so choosing what to do and what might be set aside for another visit can be a major undertaking.
I would encourage early planning for this seasonal trip and facilities as ships fill up fast. We already have such a cruise planned for September 23, 2006.
Art Richards is the owner of Richards World Travel, Inc. in Hagerstown. (www.richardsworldtravel.com)