Halifax is the next big thing

According to a recent article, Halifax is going through a bit of a boom and it has a lot more to do with its desirable lifestyle than with the proliferation of (building) cranes on the waterfront. As major Canadian cities become increasingly unaffordable and unliveable, this is a city that knows how to look ahead to the future without sacrificing its heritage and way of life.

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Although we loved Nova Scotia, we left after five years for a number of reasons. We could not see a future for our boys here and we could not shake the feeling of being CFA’s (come from aways). I remember my heart breaking a little when a lovely new neighbour told me we couldn’t be friends because “I don’t have time for any more friends.” It wasn’t a brush-off – it was her reality – extended family on both sides, combined with friends she and her husband had known since grade school left no time for new acquaintances. We did meet wonderful people and made friends, but since we were not surrounded by our own circle of multigenerational family with roots here, we often felt quite alone.

Twelve years later, much has changed. CFA’s are moving here  attracted by affordable houses, small-city charm, and a half-hour drive to the beach. And jobs…there is a steady demand in the construction trades and the tech sector is bringing in Ontario refugees. As the article said, “The spotlight is on Halifax.”

With good reason – this is the house we lived in – it would probably sell for around $400,000 right now.

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The Regional District of Halifax is Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and surrounding suburbs. Halifax and Dartmouth square off across the harbour, and Dartmouth possesses the same leafy streets and gorgeous homes as Halifax for even less money. We’ve been staying with our friends Harriette and Mike, who live in a charming home right on Lake Banook. Stephen worked with Harriette at NSCC (Nova Scotia Community College) and we’ve remained friends ever since. They have been treating us to their very own brand of maritime hospitality, including a ride in their convertible, which is way more fun than our station wagon. Here, Mike striking a pose.

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We’ve been having a grand time discovering Dartmouth. On Canada Day, we walked a 3- km. pathway that skirts Lake Banook. Not sure how necessary the Moose Crossing signs are, but we kept our eyes peeled, just in case.

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Lake Banook has a very active rowing club – this was taken on a misty Canada Day.   Right now it is bright and sunny and I am watching kids puddling around on little kayaks and leaping in and out of the water.

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Further down the street – a veterinarian with a sense of humour.

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And beyond that a former school turned into loft apartments with a sense of style:

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The Dartmouth Saturday market on the waterfront was a delicious diversion.  Wineries, cideries and craft breweries are exploding in Nova Scotia, along with scores of new restaurants. With such a healthy marketplace, food entrepreneurs are testing the waters at their local markets, before going bigger.

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Riverview Herbs has been around since 1988 – cheeky comments are free with all purchases.

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The thing we enjoy most about the people here is their humour. Maritimers have humour in spades and if they’re not naturally funny themselves, they still love to laugh. If you can’t take a joke at your own expense, don’t come here, but you will be expected to give as good as you get.

We dropped by to see Cheryl, another dear friend of Stephen’s from the NSCC days. She and her husband visited us on Gabriola a few years ago after a cross-country motorbike ride and it was like no time had passed.

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That’s been the case with the rest of our Halifax friends – the catch-up and connection has been immediate.

We stopped by for a delicious dinner with Deb, her sister Dianne and her niece Lauren. Deb is a chef instructor at NSCC – she and Stephen also worked together.

While we lived here, I went back to school and became fast friends with two young women, Teri and Jennifer. We have kept in touch over the years and met up at Jen’s place for dinner to meet for the first time in a decade. In that time, Teri met and married Jordan, and Jen and Glenn had two kids, Ava and Carson. It is so satisfying to meet up with friends years later and realize you like their partners and families as much as you like them.

Jen, me and Teri.

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And finally – my friends Joan, Louise and Helen.  I had the opportunity to teach communications at NSCC and I had never been so terrified in my life.  These three women were my stalwarts – reassuring, sensible and funny. I don’t know if I would have survived without them. We met up for coffee and once again, the years peeled away. They are as dear as ever.

Louise, Helen, me and Joan

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So now – on to Halifax. We did as many tourist-y things as possible. Ten days here is not even close to being enough time, but I’ll take you through a snapshot of our time in the city.

Bud the Spud – don’t miss this food truck. They have been in business for three decades, and are a Nova Scotia institution. Their french fries defy description.

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Nova Scotia Duck Toller – cutest dog ever. We ran into this one on the waterfront –  her owners were besieged by admirers of 12-week-old Belka.

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Pier 21 – the site where over one million new Canadians arrived by ship. A National Historic Site and  a must-see for any visitor. Staff is available to help trace your ancestors. Soon all immigration records will be housed here, regardless of point of entry.

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The exhibits are touching – Ariella’s small suitcase of clothes on display with a pictorial account of her family’s arrival from Naples.

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Many exhibits are wrenching reminders of what people left behind. This young woman, an ethnic Albanian, is saying goodbye to a family in a Macedonian refugee camp that she may never see again.

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Most importantly Pier 21 informs us that, with the exception of First Nations people, we are all immigrants. All of us arrived here from somewhere else.

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is another important stop.
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The Halifax Explosion and the Titanic are prominent events in Halifax’s history and both are well displayed. Intricate models of Cunard ships as well as full-scale models of typical boats can be found here. The waters off Halifax’s coast are a diver’s delight – filled with hundreds of shipwrecks and treasures that still lay hidden beneath the waves. Every red dot indicates the site of a shipwreck.

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The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has Maud Lewis’ tiny home and paintings on permanent display.  She was a beloved and well-known folk artist in Nova Scotia, who was extremely prolific in spite of her crippling arthritis and challenging life. 

Her home was moved from its site and reconstructed in the art gallery.

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The artist posing with one of her paintings.

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Part of the exhibition of Inuit art from Labrador.

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Street art depicting a cross-section of Haligonians.

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And…the Public Gardens.  Halifax is filled with green space, including the huge Point Pleasant Park, overlooking the ocean at the southern tip of the city. The Public Gardens are right in the centre of the city, providing Haligonians with an easy and instant nature fix. Surrounded by wrought iron fences, and encompassing four entire city blocks, the Public Gardens are one of my favourite Halifax destinations. It is a showpiece of specimen plantings, dozen of benches and seating areas and twisting pathways.

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A pond filled with ducks and turtles.

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And plenty of shady, quiet spots to read.

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Our last image of Halifax is the iconic Citadel,which dominates the downtown sightlines.  It is well worth the climb up the hill for the visit and the view.

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Our last Nova Scotia posting will be the Bay of Fundy coast, with stops in Wolfville, Halls Harbour, Annapolis Royal and Digby.

 

The Doer and Dreamer’s Guide to Nova Scotia

For a number of years before we moved to Halifax in 2000, we sent away for the NS Tourism annual guide, “The Doer and Dreamer’s Guide to Nova Scotia.” It was better than the Christmas catalogue, filled with activities, events, festivals and photos of lobster suppers, lighthouses and crashing ocean waves. It’s the crashing waves that got to us and changed forever the way we want to live.

We’re fascinated by the treacherous power of the North Atlantic, with its long history of shipwrecks, fishing disasters, hurricanes and rogue waves, to say nothing of epic tragedies like the Titanic and the Ocean Ranger.

Our ocean visits this year have been quite benign – even Peggy’s Cove was like a millpond the day we stopped by. I feel faintly sheepish being part of the throngs of tourists who invade this tiny fishing village on a daily basis. There are two huge parking lots and hundreds of people spill out from buses and cars and start clambering over the rocks. Millions of photos are taken. A gift shop engorged with fridge magnets and saltwater taffy can barely keep up with the demand.

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And yet, we are all here for the same reason:

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The setting is expansive and in spite of the crowds it is possible to find your own quiet moment here and savour the view. It is always a mesmerizing sight, but even more exciting if the wind is up and the waves roll in. There are archly-worded signs warning people to keep a safe distance.

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The poor old lighthouse is in need of a fresh paint job and a little TLC. When the Harper government declared a number of lighthouses to be “surplus”, Peggy’s Cove was among them. An eleventh hour private buy-out saved the lighthouse, but it doesn’t seem right that such an iconic tourist attraction does not fall under some governmental jurisdiction to ensure enough funds are in place for regular maintenance.

There are countless ways to photograph Peggy’s Cove – everyone who has visited has variations of the following scenes:

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Just up the road is a memorial to the 229 people who lost their lives in the 1998 Swissair 111 plane crash, in the waters offshore from Peggy’s Cove. The crash location is roughly the mid-point between the arches. Just right of this photo is Bayswater, an area where a number of fishermen first responded to the rescue call.  There is a memorial there as well, with all the victims names engraved.  The locals and the families of the victims wanted the memorials to be exactly what they are:  simple, sombre and moving.

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Peggy’s Cove is not all about the lighthouse. This road is perfect for a bike ride.

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A familiar sight in Nova Scotia are the lupins –  roadsides painted in broad strokes of purple and mauve and pink. They can be found just about everywhere, but especially close to the sea.

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Lawrencetown Beach was one of our favourites when we lived here. After a scenic 45-minute drive from Halifax along the eastern shore, this was the dramatic entrance:

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The view heading back is equally striking.

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You don’t come here to swim. The water at Lawrencetown Beach is unimaginably cold – there are no coves or bays to shelter from the wide open Atlantic. The “beach” is made of large flat rocks that are challenging to walk on without turning an ankle. And yet, this has become a major surfing destination.  The day we visited the surf was quiet, but that did not deter this young man; especially since he had the beach to himself.

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Just waiting in the wings was another young man with a van full of wetsuits and boards; another week or two and his business will be brisk.

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Closer to home, our encounters with the ocean have been our outings on Halifax Harbour. We are staying in Dartmouth with Mike and Harriette, so there are two choices to get over to Halifax: take the little 10-minute ferry across or drive over the bridge.  Either way, the views are fantastic.

The Halifax waterfront is a reflection of the city –   a mix of old and new, historic and under-renovation – one foot in the past and one in the present.

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Walking along the boardwalk is a treat for the senses. Great people-watching, good food, a harbour full of marine traffic, and funny little moments.

This wave has been a kid-magnet for years – our boys climbed it when we first visited here. There is a sign that makes a limp effort to show some level of concern – it is soundly ignored.

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Segways are a popular attraction – they make covering the length of the boardwalk a breeze, especially  now before the weather gets too hot and the summer crowds hit.

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Of course, boats are the big attraction. This is a very busy working harbour, with coast guards, ferries, container ships and tugboats plying the waters. In addition, cruise ships, the Tall Ships, and international ships are frequent visitors.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in Halifax harbour a few days ago to great fanfare. It is one of the largest aircraft carriers in the US arsenal,  at over 333 metres long, with over 6000 men on board and the capacity to carry 60 aircraft on board.

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Keeping it company were two massive cruise ships docked at Pier 20. The ship with the blue hull was quite luxurious: visible from the rear were two-storey staterooms.

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Less luxurious and quite controversial was a Tall Ship, the 400-ft. Chilean Esmerelda, reportedly used as a floating prison and torture ship during Pinochet’s regime.

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The marina at one end of the boardwalk is always a delight – tiny boats, big yachts, sailboats – fun to check out the flags to see who is in town.

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Halifax used to dump their raw sewage right into the harbour; making a boardwalk stroll far less pleasant. Ten years later, the water is clear and clean; the transformation has been remarkable. This is water you can now paddle in, as demonstrated by this crew on their way to the launch.

If you look closely, you can see Theodore the Tugboat just over the top of the kayak.

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And finally – Canada 150.

IMG_0034Like the rest of the country, Halifax was all dialled up and ready to go – concerts, fireworks, pancake breakfasts and parades planned and most of it washed out by steady downpours. The rain has subsided now, but I’m writing this to the beat of a steady fog horn.

We celebrated Canada Day by  going to the Dartmouth farmers market in the morning, walking around Lake Banook in the afternoon, stopping to listen to some blues (with about 12 other soggy souls), munching on a bag of Halifax’s famous and incomparable Bud the Spud french fries, then heading back to the dry cover of Harriet and Mike’s deck to listen to Canadian tunes. We led out with Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah sung by k.d.lang. We tried to get a rousing discussion about all things Canadian but gave up as it felt a little too earnest. We were polite about it though. Harriette treated us to an exceptionally fresh and delicious haddock chowder for dinner.

A fantastic way to celebrate being Canadian, being with friends and having the freedom to do what we do.