“REMEMBER THAT HAPPINESS IS A WAY OF TRAVEL–NOT A DESTINATION” ROY M. GOODMAN
Summer is the season of travel, to let your wanderlust take over. Sharing our family summer road trip of 2017 to the Maritimes with its stunning scenic beauty and nature reserves.
Canada of geography books was a cold faraway land of Caribous, Grizzlies, Moose, Bison.. joining humans in snow-play on endless indomitable mountain ranges and prairies. Then in 2014 this perception somersauted when I visited the country for the first time. We traipsed the Rockies with its resorts and lakes (Alberta, British Columbia), the National Parks (Banff ), watched the Athabasca Glacier, the ‘toe’ of the Columbia Icefield, gracefully slide towards the oceans and visited cities, islands, lakes dotting this vast country.
June 10-18, 2017…road tripping from Halifax, Nova Scotia crisscrossing the previously unknown (to me) land past idyllic countryside, coastlines, national parks (Cape Breton) and settler cities, Pictou, Victoria-by-the-Sea to Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, Anne Of Green Gables fictional home, Confederation bridge..the link between New Brunswick and fantabulous experience at the Bay of Fundy. (will be writing more about this). Prince Edward Island is from where it all began and as Canada celebrates its 150 years I can say I have been a witness to its birth.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island: The soothing grandeur of the terrain transformed into personal awe moments in the eight days road journey alongside the collage of myriad images of the tiny Maritime Provinces, their size defying their political and natural splendour and metamorphosing into an unpretentious dazzling largesse. In the vastness Marco Polo’s words echoed ‘if there is a paradise on earth it is this…it is this….’. The magnificent coastal vistas, water bodies and landscape unraveled culinary, cultural and ecological marvels that had lured seafarers over centuries. Perched on an inimical cliff along Peggys Cove Lighthouse (Nova Scotia) I could visualise the Vikings braving the cold choppy waters of the North Seas in search of new lands way before Christopher Columbus discovered America.
On land, the stretched out vistas reverberated to the footsteps of the Miâ-kma-kiâ, the First Nations tribe till the Europeans staked claim to their lands. Eventually, it was the British who emerged victorious sharing the rich natural bounty with the French, the Scots, the Italians and East Europeans. The Scots named the land Nova Scotia or New Scotland when King James 1 of England (1621) granted ownership to Scottish colonizer Sir William Alexander.
The Europeans were followed by Asians, Africans, people from different corners of the world creating a Canada, a dream nation, for those who landed and are still arriving on its shores.
Halifax: It is a clear sunshine day when we land at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, from Toronto. Our eight-day road trip was preponed to June 10-18 to beat the tourist inflow of first week of July, with Canada celebrating its 150th anniversary. We checked in at Homewood Suites by Hilton, Halifax-Downtown, booked in advance, a walking distance from the Waterfront and heritage buildings. Fresh and afflicted with the cool, unhurried Halifax disposition, its the ambiance, we were on way to wine and dine in this ancient commercial and maritime city lapped up by invigorating sea breeze from across the cold Atlantic north.
A friend, an Halogian, had told me about the ‘aura of happiness’, a Halifax disposition. On our ‘walk of discovery’ along the serrated winding coastline, through cobbled lanes, manicured parks nestling between heritage buildings, past thriving arts and culinary scene, the scenic placement of the waterfront and ferry rides, the bustling craft-brew culture… the city came across as a welcoming artistic abode painted in strokes of jouissance.
Arrival Day: Halifax is a city of pubs and clubs and the best way to know a city is to visit the watering holes. Our first evening was dedicated to this.
Andrew Keith’s brewery… a Jewel in the crown of Halifax and a popular tourist destination. Took a conducted tour of this original 1820 brewery on Hollis Street, downtown. An hour in interactive session with costumed guides recounting stories via songs of the journey of Andrew Keith’s legacy to the brewing industry. Satiated on ‘India Pale Ale’ and dinner at Stags Head,the historic pub in what was once the ageing cavern of Mr. Keith Brewery, we ambled towards the waterfront for the next assault.
The setting sun is a signal for revellers to congregate towards the Waterfront with amazing restaurants, pubs, breweries, cafes offering fresh fish, and chips to traditional lobster experience.We weaved our way past statuesque Halifax City Hall (1890) overlooking Parade Square (Argyle Street) with its picnic tables and Adirondack chairs and the north-facing clock permanently set to 9.04 time, the time of Halifax Explosion of 1917. It is working now.
Our destination was the 4km Boardwalk to browse the shops, indulge in an ice cream (this we did next day afternoon), checkout the restaurants or just sit and people watch.
The Waterfront stretches from Seaport Market to Historic Properties and though a leisurely walk area too much time is spent stopping at every interesting point till we realise that this way we will be glued to the Waterfront. There is more to see & do in Halifax . The Seaport Farmers Market is a continuing market, offering world cuisine, Nova Scotian wine, soaps to hot sauces, fresh sea food, fruits and vegetables everything in between. Evening time it was closed and we proceeded towards the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The Pier was the gateway to Canada for immigrants who changed the country’s history. Finally sighted the Broadwalk and beeline for shops & restaurants at Bishop’s Landing, and the scenic Halifax Harbour. This was Pre -pre Covid scenario and the area was bustling with late evening holiday revellers. We looked around for a waterfront cafe on lower deck, with fast moving waiting line and finally our turn came. Somewhere to lounge about, to stare across waters dreaming of ‘Ancient Mariners’ as they braved the cold waters. The flight and the drinks were taking its toll and a leisurly dinner and we retraced our steps to the hotel.
Day 1: ….Bright and chirpy as we walk past the Historic Properties area refurbished into an attractive pedestrian precinct of 19th century with stone warehouses and old wharf buildings flaunting glittering gift and coffee shops, arty studios, restaurants immersing this vehicle free area in a fizzy ambience. Not interested in shopping I watched the artisans at NovaScotian Crystal craft the pieces. This is Canada’s only mouth-blown hand-cut crystal store. Another stop was Amos Pewter to admire pewter ornaments, jewellery, home decor.
Historic Properties is also known as Privaters Wharf with warehouses constructed during Napoleanic Wars (1812) by Nova Scotian businessmen defying Napoleon’s blockade to bring American products to the British Commanders. The properties aided trade and commerce and at same time used for smuggling and privateering.
The area lists 10 of the city’s oldest buildings with seven designated as National Historic Sites. We did not visit any, time limit, though it felt good to be in historic settings.
We went searching for THE FIVE FISHERMAN (1740 Argyle Street), advised by friends for sea food, but as luck would have it the restaurant was undergoing renovation for the days we were in Halifax. Your Father’s Moustache (5686 Spring Garden Rd) was the second choice, guided by the quirky name and the decor, than the menu. It was ‘more bar scene’ than your typical restaurant,
No trip to the Waterfront is complete without a lick of COWs ice cream and stood in queue patiently waiting for turn.
History is a fascinating subject and thanks to Google learnt that this part part of Canada is more than ‘nature’s showpiece’. Halifax was a prominent player on the East Coast, between the two World Wars, First and Second, when ships crossing the Atlantic sought protection against attack from German U-boats. In 1917, the French munitions ship, “Mont-Blanc,” which had arrived to join one such convoy, collided with the Belgian “Imo”causing the world’s worst explosion said to be on par with the 1945 Hiroshima atom bomb explosion. The northern end of Halifax was razed to the ground killing about 1,400 people and injuring about 9,000. The impact was felt as far as Truro, some 100 miles away.
Staying in downtown helps as historical structures are within walking distance. The first or closest is the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site. This 19th century British fort, officially referred to as Fort George after Britain’s King George II, was constructed in 1856, the fourth in a series of forts to sit atop Citadel Hill.. It was possibly a cosmetic deterrent, never experienced an attack, for invaders from the sea or land and a safety vanguard for the strategically important Halifax Harbour and Royal Navy Dockyard. The distinctive star shape is typical of many 19th century forts built by the British military and gave the garrison sweeping arcs of fire. From its deep defensive ditch and its stout walls soldiers could fire in all directions. Walking on the ramparts with strategically placed canons it is easy to see why no enemy force ever dared to attack the Halifax Citadel.
A steep road leads up to the Fort, we preferred driving to the gates, and a selfie break with the kilted guard and we step inside a massive courtyard. The ramparts offer excellent views of the city, the harbor, Dartmouth, little Georges Island, the Angus L Macdonald Bridge and the Old Town Clock, a Halifax icon. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the then Commander-in-chief of the military of British North America had commissioned the clock to resolve the ‘tardiness of the local garrison’.
The three-tiered octagon clock tower is built atop a one storey white clapboard building on the east slope of Citadel Hill facing Brunswick Street. It is an enduring memorial to the punctuality of a strict disciplinarian.
The Citadel is open all year round (will have to find out Covid restrictions), with conducted tours, or self-tour, to watch the audio-visual presentations at the Museum, listen to the Scottish bagpipers, the booming daily ceremonial firing of the noon gun or the animators portray the 78th Highland Regiment stationed between 1869 and 1871 at the Citadel. Closer India connection… Nova Scotia had a role to play in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 when one William Hall (VC) and Sir John Eardley Inglis participated in the Siege of Lucknow (North India) and who were later posted at the Citadel (Fort George).
Two days are insufficient to see and do everything and few places we missed were the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the largest art museum in the Atlantic Provinces on Hollis Street. Going by the brochure the museum ‘features a permanent collection of visual arts from the Maritime and around the world, numbering more than 13,000 pieces; The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, located near the Discovery Center, presenting permanent collections of The Titanic, the Halifax Explosion and Shipwreck Treasures; Halifax Central Library, one of CNN’s 10 eye-popping buildings of 2014, corner of North Park Street and Cogswell Street; the Halifax Public Garden one of the finest surviving examples of a Victorian Garden in North America replete with exotic and semi-tropical ornamental species, trees, shrubs, statues, and fountains. Somehow I never subscribed to rushing around for sake of ticking places seen and focus on few. Always hoping for a return visit.
What I bee-lined for was the Old Burying Ground with rare 18th century graves. Founded in 1749, this was Halifax’s first burial ground for several decades for the locals, the Haligonians. The Ground was restored in the 1980s and today there are 1,200 headstones, some having been lost and many others being buried with no headstone. I later read that the most notable among the interred was British Major General Robert Ross, leader of the 1814 Washington Raid and who had burned the White House before succumbing in the battle of Baltimore few days later.
The Triumphal Arch at entrance of the cemetery was constructed in 1860 to commemorate British victory during the Crimean War. This second oldest war monument in Canada and the only monument (North America) for the Crimean War is named after two Haligonians. This monument was the last grave marker in the cemetery. The Old Burying Ground was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1991. A walk around admiring the juxtaposition of ancient and the modern.
Day 2: We were back to the Waterfront Broadwalk to board a ferry for Dartmouth, popularly referred to as City of Lakes, located on the eastern shore of Halifax Harbour. Dartmouth is a three minute ride away via the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge. We preferred the ferry for a more pleasurable entry.
In 1750, the sailing ship Alderney arrived with 151 immigrants who were settled in what then was a Mi’kmaq settlement called Boonarmoogwaddy. This sounds more romantic than staid Dartmouth, the new name for the settlement. Halifax and Dartmouth are one autonomous region of Halifax Regional Municipality.
The ferry berths at Alderney Landing showcasing a convention center, art gallery, market (weekly Farmer’s Market) restaurants, shops and theater facilities. A brief round of the place and we were walking past the Events Plaza towards Ochterloney Street lined with locally owned shops, galleries, cafés, restaurants, and pubs and the Quaker House. The house is a reminder of the early European settlement of 1700’s and its whaling industry. In 1785, at end of the American Revolution, a group of Quakers arrived in Dartmouth, from Nantucket, to set up industry and houses, a wharf for their vessels and a factory to produce spermaceti candles and other products made from whale oil and carcasses. But within a decade (1795) the Quakers moved base and a residence is preserved as historical reference. At time of our visit the house was closed..opens during tourist season that starts from July onwards.
Dartmouth is a ‘City of Lakes’ with its parks, hiking and biking facilities, the Shubenacadie Canal, historical monuments and museums.We walked past Evergreen House,(Newcastle Street) a historic home and temporary headquarters of the Dartmouth Heritage Museum administration. It is open to the public but need prior reservation.
By now hungry, and not much of seafood aficionados, walked into Yeah Yeahs Pizza, (Ochterloney Street) a preppy place serving thin crust pizza (yummy) and coffee amidst an arty setting.
A gratifying day…cobbled uphill lanes, antiquated houses, natural spaces… linger on as we return to Halifax and another slurp of COWs ice cream.
Second Part… Road trip begins….…