Having a Hoot in Halifax, Canada

By Mary Alice Downie

OtherHalifax0910-3.jpgLucky cousins. They live in Halifax, Nova Scotia , a handsome old city by the sea with lakes and beaches, fishing villages and forests, all within twenty minutes of the other.  Unlike the states, life is less complex and harried in Halifax . If you want to cross the street, Halifax drivers slow to a halt. It’s a wonder more people aren’t killed in traffic accidents when they go to less courteous places. Perhaps the greatest treat of all is watching the garbage trucks munching the occasional stove or dryer left at the side of the street!

During an all-too-short week, apart from pick-up soccer games, a joint cousins’ “un-birthday party,” and hanging out, we made exciting excursions to museums, galleries and gardens which definitely enhanced our visit and gave us a deeper appreciation for this quaint city.

OtherHalifax0910-1.jpgNatural History: Living exhibits as you enter, snakes (harmless) and scorpions (sullen) greet you. The children are entranced by Gus, the gopher turtle, who emigrated from Florida in 1942, This revered senior citizen has been on TV, met the President of Iceland and visited scores of schools Among his achievements: getting lost, getting found, untying shoelaces, hanging out.  It’s traditional to pat his shell.  There are dinosaurs, dioramas – be prepared, the mother bear growls and the whales wail - perhaps the best collection of Mi’kmaq quillwork in the world, displays of native flowers and plants. and a scavenger hunt.  In the Museum Shop you can buy Larvets: the original Worm Snax. For some reason, no one was interested.

Maritime: Original sets from the beloved TV series Theodore the Tugboat on display here for the little ones: Bedford Buoy, Owan the Oil Rig, and chirpy Theodore. Older siblings will be interested in a real deckchair from the Titanic, stories of children in the horrific  explosion that devastated Halifax in 1917, shipwrecks, exhibits from the age of Sail and Steam. The reconstructed deckhouse from a coastal schooner rocks up and down so convincingly that some have been known to turn green and flee (it’s actually an optical illusion.) There’s a popular playground outside in the shape of a large ship.

Discovery Centre: Your hair will literally stand on end here with 170  exhibits that demand to be touched.  Not just children enjoy the Bubble Room with its invigorating soapy smell and gigantic bubbles, Don’t miss the Spinning chair, the Floating Bodiless head, the Biking Skeleton, or the chance to time yourself in a 10 metre dash against a racehorse, a wheelchair sprinter, and Donovan Bailey. 

Art Gallery: Everyone loved Maude Lewis’ tiny house - a gem, alive with joyful paintings made by a woman whose spirit was not crippled by pain and poverty. We also enjoyed the family craft day, (one Sunday a month) making wind chimes and sun dials. In the Cheapside Café, adults can savor a Van Gogh sandwich (fresh shrimp) while Young Artists demolish peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and  carrot sticks.

The Harbour Hopper: Originally used to ferry supplies from ship to shore in Vietnam, now tourists hop aboard for a 55- minute tootle around the downtown and then splash down into the water to admire the fleet and the Dartmouth and Halifax skylines.  Child-friendly talk by a lively university student, history spiced with jokes and anecdotes. Younger children will enjoy puttering around the harbour on the Theodore Tugboat Tour.

OtherHalifax0910-2.jpgPublic Gardens : You’ll think you’ve stumbled into world of Mary Poppins as you pass through the magnificent iron gates into  this 17 acre  Victorian  urban oasis with its fountains, lavish flowerbeds and  octagonal band shell ( free Sunday concerts in the summer)  Ducks of all sorts, swans, seagulls and and two young Toulouse geese named Flora and Finnigan. A renovated historic kiosk serves “hand-paddled” ice cream, uber-cinnamon buns and sandwiches. 

The Citadel: This National Historic Site is a star-shaped example of a nineteenth-century fort with defensive ditches, ramparts, musketry gallery, powder magazine and signal masts, manned by the seventy-eighth Highlander Regiment. Children will work off a useful amount of energy, climbing up and rolling down the hill. A kilted sentry stands at the impressive entrance with a feathered bonnet that makes him look eight feet tall. He won’t speak, but, inside, another is willing to answer questions.  In the schoolroom lurks a stern schoolmaster with a big twirly mustache  that curls up at the end.

Cover your ears and prepare for the  boom of the noon gun.  Grassy slopes and frequent wind make a great place for flying kites.

Free Stuff (or almost):

Walk along the historic waterfront (many  takeout places to sit, eat pizza, hot dogs  or lobster rolls  and admire the view. The ten- minute ferry boat ride (back and forth to Dartmouth) gives another view of the city.   Don’t miss Woozles which  offers a vast range of intelligently-selected books, and toys, and  such inexpensive novelties as boxing ballpoint pens and expanding dinosaurs.


If You Go:

Museum of Natural History : wwwnaturemuseum.gov.ns.ca Tel.: 902-424-7353

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic : wwwmaritimemuseum.gov.ns.ca  Tel.: 902-424-7490

Discovery Centre: wwwthediscoverycentre.ca  Tel.: 902-492-4422

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia: wwwartgalleryofnovascotia.ca  Tel.: 902-424-7542

The Public Gardens :wwwwwwhalifax.ca  Tel.: 902-490-4000

The Harbour Hopper and Theodore Tugboat Tour: www.mtcw.ca/harbourhopperTel.:. 902-423-7942

Halifax Citadel : wwwpc.gc.ca Tel.: 902-426-5080

Call Nova Scotia Tourism (1-800-565-0000) for the Greater Halifax Visitor Guide  with addresses, dates, maps, admissions.  http://www.halifaxinfo.com/


Born in Illinois – on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – to Canadian parents, Mary Alice  Downie lives in Kingston .  She has written and edited 28 books for children and adults.

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