HALIFAX – Great food. A beautiful harbour. Super-friendly people. And, just for good measure, a tour of the city in a motorcycle sidecar.
There’s something very cool about Halifax. The weather is unpredictable. But the city’s other attributes make up for what might be lacking in the meteorological department.
I’ve written in the past about the city’s great food scene, and I had a chance to try a couple new spots this time around. We had dinner again at Press Gang , which is an old building that dates back to 1759. There are exposed stone and brick walls and low ceilings and wood beams galore, and the food is mostly spectacular. They consistently serve some of the best scallops on the planet, but I also sampled fabulously fresh oysters and lovely lamb this time around. They also had a jazz trio playing, which was a great touch.
I spent a couple nights at the Westin Nova Scotian , which has a superb location down on the waterfront that’s a short walk from the farmers’ market and also close to a large supermarket and liquor store, just so you know. The Westin has nice rooms with wood and leather backboard, a cool wood screen behind the TV, a good-sized bathroom and lovely black and white photos of Nova Scotia. It’s an excellent business hotel with all the desk space and extra power outlets in good places; an important factor on the road. And the staff is very helpful.
The author getting ready to head out on a tour with Bluenose Sidecars.
The Westin has a café and restaurant and a nice bar, but you’re also a short walk to such places at Two Doors Down (nice spaghetti carbonara with broccolini and excellent salmon), The Wired Monk café and the sleek but unpretentious Morris East, where they serve a great breakfast frittata and other treats to start your morning off right.
I’d seen many parts of the city on prior visits. But I got to see several new parts of town (for me, anyway) on my tour of the city with Bluenose Sidecars . It’s a company that started a few years ago by Vicki Gesner and Kevin Wile. They use Ural motorcycles built in Russia that are modelled after World War II Germanh motorcycles and sidecars, and it’s a fun way to see the city.
Just so you know, the sidecars are easy to get in and out of (I thought so, anyway) and they can fit people up to 6-5 in height. I felt a little out of control when Vicki, my tour guide for the day, hit the corners of some curvy streets at 70 km/hour, but most of the time I didn’t even think about it. It was very cold outside but she gave me a leather jacket to wear, and of course a helmet, as well as gloves. So it was just fine behind my windshield.
Since I was somewhat familiar with the city and only had 90 minutes instead of the usual two and-a-half hours for my ride, Vicki concentrated on areas I wasn’t familiar with. We toured Fairview Cemetery, where 150 of the Titanic victims are buried. We also got out to the Hydrostone district, where homes and businesses were quickly built with cement blocks following the Halifax explosion in 1917.
I hadn’t realized the extent of the explosion, but Vicki told me it levelled an area roughly four square miles wide. Amazing.
Vicki was a deejay and news broadcaster in her former life, so she knows history. And she knows how to tell a good story.
She showed me the Little Dutch Church downtown, a church for German immigrants now nearly swallowed by high-rises. We also saw St. George’s, known as the Round Church, which was designed by Prince Edward.
As we headed towards Point Pleasant Park and skimmed past the beautiful homes of the south end, Vicki told me that “this part of the city is what my aunt calls ‘the swishy part of town.’”
She tells me that the British government still owns the park but that the city (or perhaps the province or federal government, she isn’t sure) still pays a schilling a year in rent, despite the fact we don’t have any schillings lying about. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a good story.
Vicki also points out some cool Victorian homes and some downtown stables I hadn’t noticed before.
“Occasionally a horse escapes and slows down the morning rush hour,” she tells me with a laugh.
The very cool Hydrostone area of Halifax.
I also was given a series of trivia questions to answer. As we passed the Halifax Common, Vicki told me how Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones have played to massive audiences on the grass, but that one person drew more fans than either McCartney or Mick Jagger.
“The Pope,” I answered. Easy.
Later, she pointed out the main arena downtown, which opened in 1974. She told me an iconic Canadian performer was the first entertainer to play in the building.
“It probably wasn’t Burton Cummings,” I said. “Paul Anka’s not big enough. Must have been Gordon Lightfoot.”
Finally we pass the small but attractive City Hall. Vicki explains that the clock on the south side of the building works but the one facing north is frozen at 9:05. Why?
“Probably the time of the Halifax explosion,” I answer.
The visitor from Toronto goes three for three, notwithstanding my initial out-loud wondering on the Lightfoot question.
I leave the tour feeling secure in my limited knowledge of Halifax history. And content with another great visit to a very cool Canadian city.