Australians and Canadians seem to have quite a bit in common and like to think of themselves as distantly related in some way – kind of like cousins. While our geographical similarities are pretty limited, one thing our respective countries do have in common is size. We both have enormous, wide countries – a fact which was driven firmly home to me last week when I flew from Vancouver in the west to Halifax in the east. It’s a big day of traveling, not assisted by the significant time difference, but is well worth the effort for Halifax is a fascinating city and I was excited beyond words to be visiting Nova Scotia.
Halifax has always been a seafaring town and is the permanent base of the Canadian navy. It has a rich history stretching back to 1749 and has played significant roles in many military engagements including the American revolution, the American civil war, WW1 and WW2, as well as being the main launching point for rescue missions when the Titanic hit that fateful iceberg. History buffs will be in heaven here, but the rest of us can find plenty to fascinate and of course, being a seaport, means that those who are fond of a feed are going to be pretty happy here, too. Here are my top three picks.
Do Not Miss – Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
This is the oldest and largest maritime museum in Canada and, because of its impressive location on Halifax waterfront, is regularly used for public events – even hosting some meetings from the 1995 G7 Summit. It has a large collection of small craft, is currently displaying a remarkable collection of articles from Arctic expeditions of 100 years ago and has a substantial collection of scale model boats that were built through the years by the shipping lines as prototypes and which have been lovingly restored by local aficionados. It also has gathered a collection of artifacts from the Titanic, including one of the few surviving deck chairs, menus from first second and third class and a poignant pair of child’s shoes. It also has a fully restored and kitted out ships chandlers, full of ropes, tools and blokey things – sure to keep the boys happy.
For Titanic Tragics – Fairview Cemetery
The public transport system in Halifax is easy to use and seems very reliable – handy, as the resting place of over 100 souls from the Titanic is just a quick ten minute bus ride out of town. I love an old cemetery and try to visit them wherever I go, but this one has become quite famous since that movie. Nearly all of the graves are marked with a plain granite stone, paid for by the White Star line. As many of the bodies were unidentified the graves are unmarked, but over the years some of these identities have been established and the families have added their names and details to the stones. One of the most touching is that of ‘The Unknown Child” (subsequently identified as 19 month old Sydney Goodwin) whose grave was paid for by the sailors of the ship which recovered his body. There are several small tributes of toy cars, which have been left on his gravestone.
When You Get Hungry
I was only in Halifax for two nights (including the first, when I arrived at my hotel at 10 pm), but still managed to fit in a satisfactory amount of eating and food-spotting. I paid a visit to Sugah, a locally based candy manufacturers. Making a lot of their products on-site, they stock a desirable range of hand-crafted chocolates, ice creams and a beer and pretzel brittle which would probably do away with the need for any other food source for some. Right next door is a wonderfully scented bakery called Rum Runners. They specialize in booze soaked cakes which are buttery rich and utterly divine. These chocolate rum cakes, rum cakes and single malt whisky cakes are baked on the premises by the charming James (using a recipe that was taken from the cold, dead hands of an ancient mariner/cook – actually, I made that bit up) and they are completely portable, so can be bought to take home as souvenirs – if they were to last that long.
Being a seaport, you would be right in thinking Halifax is pretty big on seafood. They do a lot of it and do it superbly. My colleagues and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at the historic and very charming Henry House. This hotel is the perfect cosy nook, with a warm fire in the grate, characters at the bar and a fine line in brews. The fish and chips received particular praise for the light batter and the freshness of the fish.
On our second evening the media group I was traveling with were taken to local seafood specialists, The Five Fishermen. Housed in yet another beautiful, historic building (the city really is full of the most charming and notable buildings), restaurant has more than just a seafood reputation as a claim to fame. The building has had many incarnations over the years and at one stage was home to Snow’s Funeral Parlour, where most of the recovered Titanic victims were brought to be readied for either transport or burial.
Still with many original fittings and some stunning stained glass, it was of no concern to any of us that our long table was positioned exactly where the bodies were laid out and displayed for identification. We were completely absorbed by the splendidly prepared and displayed food which was set before us. I’m afraid that my inner greedy girl broke through the moment I saw the lobster on the menu, although the mussel bar and desserts scored pretty heavily with all of us, too. There’s nothing like travel to help work up an appetite.
Lambs Ears and Honey was a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Nova Scotia Tourism, but all opinions are fearlessly her own.