Halifax’s Historic Harbour

A mix of old and new; stone and glass, side by side. With 18th century stone and brick buildings standing beside modern office buildings, a walk through the streets surrounding Halifax Harbour lets you see the city’s history and its future at the same time.

Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia and the largest capital in the Maritime provinces. Even though the Halifax area was settled by indigenous Mi’kmaq before being taken over by the Acadian French in the 1600s, it wasn’t until the early 1700s that the British established a town. The British built a citadel on top of a small hill not far from the waterfront. From the top of this hill you can see the water below providing it with a good vantage point to protect the harbour. Eventually the much larger Fort George was built on this strategic spot. Today it is called Halifax Citadel National Historic Site and is operated by Parks Canada. It is open to visitors and is a great place to begin your tour of Historic Halifax.

In its early history, the village of Halifax filled in the space between Citadel Hill and the harbour. Today 18th and 19th century heritage buildings are intermingled with modern office buildings, but the history of Halifax can still be seen. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon wandering up and down the streets of downtown Halifax admiring the architecture, as you slowly make your way to the waterfront.

There is a wide range of architectural styles in the churches in the historic district. They range from the delicate spire of St. Mary’s Basilica to the stoic brick front of The Presbyterian Church of St. David. For a more somber site visit the nearby Old Burial Ground. It’s fascinating to walk between gravestones that date as early as 1749. Many important Haligonians in Halifax’s history were buried there. A Haligonian is not a hooligan as it sounds, but is the term for a resident of Halifax.

Closer to the harbour you’ll find centuries old wooden and brick buildings that were once warehouses and shops. Today they are a part of the busy tourist centre and are used as restaurants and craft shops. The area has retained its historic charm though. It’s easy to imagine the boardwalks filled with crates of cargo while merchants and traders made deals in the the old wooden shops.

Follow the boardwalk to the busy waterfront. On one side large cargo ships are docked at the many piers of Halifax Harbour. If you’re lucky you may even see a tall ship. Patios and craft stores line the other side of the boardwalk and provide a lively atmosphere to the waterfront.

On the other side of the inlet is Dartmouth. It used to be a separate city, but is now considered a part of Halifax Regional Municipality. Two suspension bridges connect the two centres. Unfortunately tall smoke stacks spoil the view of the bridges.

Looking toward the sea from Halifax Harbour is picturesque Georges Island and its pretty lighthouse. The island’s location at the entry point to the harbour was ideal for defending the harbour. The British realized this and built Fort Charlotte on the island. In the 1700s, during the Seven Years’ War, this small island imprisoned an astonishing 1,000 French sailors. Georges Island is now a National Historic Site that you can visit. It is operated by Parks Canada and ferries are available from Halifax Harbour.

If you have time it’s worth it to drive south-east of Halifax and follow the Number 7 coastal highway. There are lovely views as the road meanders along the convoluted shoreline. Most traffic takes the Trans-Canada Highway toward Cape Breton, or visits the western end toward Peggy’s Cove, so this scenic drive doesn’t have much traffic.

Coming Next – Captivating Views of Peggy’s Cove

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