An April 2005 trip
to Halifax by moatway
Quote: Halifax is a favorite weekend destination for Maritimers and the premier city in this part of Canada. When John Keats opened his "Endymion", he wrote that, "A Thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases"; he could have been thinking of present-day Halifax.
Add to all that the fact that the city is not only relatively safe (Although the tourist should avoid night excursions to Gottingen Street and the area near the naval dockyard.) but it’s not particularly large--a great destination.
For the shopper, there are Bayers Lake and the Halifax Shopping Centre, but in town, the place to go is Spring Garden Road. You’ll find it busy with shops, restaurants and bars... great atmosphere. There is some pay-parking behind it and possibly in Park Lane mall. There is also an eclectic variety of stores up and down Barrington and in the Historic Properties down at the waterfront.
If the cost of the various harbour cruises is too much for you and your family, take the ferry to Dartmouth and return. Great views of Halifax, and it may be the only cruise you take this year.
The Waverley was built in 1866 as the home of the Chipman family. Edward Chipman’s house was designed to reflect his success as a merchant, but, unfortunately, he went into bankruptcy and his house was sold at auction in 1870. It became the Waverley Hotel, a fine establishment that would attract notables such as Oscar Wilde, P.T. Barnum, George Vanderbilt and many Nova Scotian luminaries. It passed through a number of hands, but for most of its life, the Waverley has operated as a first-class hotel. Today, it is a 3½-star inn.
In booking the Waverley, you will find that there are a number of different price levels attached to the various rooms which range from luxurious to utilitarian. Having stayed at three different rooms in the front of the establishment and one at the back, I can say that they will all have antique furniture and a great ambiance, but I can’t guarantee anything. On this last trip we got the P.T. Barnum room. It was quite nice, with some wonderful furniture and the bathroom had been redone recently with a ceramic-tile floor and a new tub surround as well as a new Victorian pedestal sink. Needless to say, we slept like logs, perhaps encouraged by the hike up the stairs to the third floor (and that is something you might consider when you’re booking--there are three floors and no elevators). Another caveat may be whether or not you are devoted to level floors. There is often a bit of a "pitch" to the floors here.
The Waverley features a number of nice touches--there are cookies and coffee/tea in the lounge from about 4 until 9pm, and a typically European complementary breakfast is served in the Friendship Room in the morning. There seems to be no end of complementary newspapers and in the very-Victorian lounge there is a very un-Victorian computer with web and email access for guests. The "welcome" is always friendly, and the parking is free.
Needless to say, I like the Waverley, and I am very pleased to see that it is being kept up. The front entry, and my room for that matter, featured new birch strip flooring and the elegant stairway to the second floor from the lobby has also been redone. As much as I like Halifax, I find that it is getting a little "pricey". The Waverley is a way to keep it reasonable and still have a nice time. Go to The Waverley.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 6, 2005
1266 Barrington Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J1Y5
On this trip, traveling with our daughter, we chose the one-bedroom suite. It features a bedroom with a king-sized and very comfortable bed, a small but full bath, and a kitchenette with microwave, toaster, coffeemaker and bar-fridge, and selection of dishes and utensils. The living area has a couch/bed, a comfortable chair, and a table with two chairs, one of which is an office-type swivel chair. There is a second work area as well with Internet access. The living room and bedroom share the television, and there is a slider between them, so real privacy is somewhat limited, but it was sufficient. The studios offer the bed and the couch, but with no privacy, so they’re suitable for a couple of people or people traveling with a child.
The hotel’s amenities include two levels of a parking garage, and on the sixth floor, there is a reasonably well-equipped exercise room with a hot tub and sauna. Off the exercise room is a large outdoor patio with great views over Halifax. On Wednesdays, guests are invited to a manager’s party in that area, with snacks and cocktails. There is also a modern restaurant/lounge, Dofsky’s, just off the lobby. In the morning, there is a complementary breakfast offered in the restaurant offering fruit, cereals, muffins, croissants, bagels, and toast. In other words, the hotel has everything the business or leisure traveler needs, including bell service, a grocery shopping service, and an excellent and helpful staff.
What else is there? Location! It is close to everything. It is an easy walk down the hill to the harbour and the historic properties, and the citadel is just up the street. Halifax’s main thoroughfare, Barrington Street, is just 3 blocks down, and there are quite a number of good pubs, wine bars, and restaurants close by, including Maxwell’s Plum, The Keg, The Shoe Shoppe, Opa!, Ryan Duffy’s, Il Mercato, and Seven. There is also a surfeit of pizza at "pizza corner" just 1 block from the hotel, and Halifax’s main shopping area, Spring Garden Road, is 3 minutes on foot. If you’re looking for a hotel in the center, the Cambridge Suites is a good choice.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 28, 2005
Cambridge Suites Hotel
1583 BRUNSWICK STREET
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J3P5
Atmosphere? There are different levels here… in the Portofino Room you will find dark wood contrasted with exposed brick and stone coupled with a few murals. The tables are nicely set with white and dark red cloths and enormous wine glasses. Much of the rest of this rambling restaurant features blond-wood furniture and murals… all very pleasant.
The menu items are not all run-of-the-mill. While there may be a spaghetti Bolognese or a pepper steak, there is also a gnocci rabbit confit. In other words, you will have to think. We started off with a Caesar salad which was absolutely excellent (for two people, or three, $12.) Around the table we ordered a "Penne Italiano" (penne with a tomato sauce and fennel sausage and heavens knows what else.), Ravioli di Chianti (That was mine and it was absolutely incredible--ravioli stuffed with cheese in a wonderful sauce--okay, it was to-die-for) and my daughter’s salmon (The most expensive dish at $22, and she loved it.).
The wine list? A bit pricey, but there was a selection of house wines available by the half litre ($17) or by the litre ($33). For the connoisseur, there was quite a list, with prices escalating into the hundred-dollar range. We chose a litre of the house Sangiovese and were completely content.
In the final analysis, it was a great experience--good food and good service in a pleasant atmosphere. Really pleased.
1241 Barrington Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 1A2
Restaurant | "Opa! Greek Taverna"
Our first visit to Opa!, on the corner of Blowers and Argyll Streets, could not have happened on a worse night for weather, but the experience more than made up for nature’s wrath. We were a relaxed group of 11 in a busy restaurant, and in some establishments, that can be a disaster, but our server was very helpful and the evening went extremely well.
The menu is Greek and extensive, and descriptions of the dishes make it easy to navigate. At the table, the range of dishes chosen ranged from lamb and lamb shish kebabs to haddock, steak, and moussaka (vegetarian and with meat), and the universal reaction was simply, "Wow!" I chose mushroom caps stuffed with Greek cheeses as a starter (C$8) and lamb with roast potatoes as the main dish(C$20). It was a wonderful meal: the helpings are generous, well-presented, and well-priced. My wife is still talking about the moussaka, and between the atmosphere and the food, we found the experience rewarding.
The diner will find that most of the array is priced similarly to my order. There is an extensive wine list with prices starting at just over $30, and the house wine, which we chose, was quite good and priced at $30/litre. It is also available by the glass or half-litre. Among the other things I noticed was that there didn’t seem to be "bad tables" near kitchen doors or washrooms. The layout was excellent. I think that if you’re looking for an enjoyable Greek meal, this is a good choice.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 27, 2005
1565 Argyle St
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 2B2
+1 902 492 7999
Attraction | "Henry House"
And it lives on in very fine fashion. Henry House is one of Halifax’s more memorable pubs. In the dining room, the visitor is greeted by cream walls over dark-green wainscoting. There is also considerable exposed stone, a fireplace and massive moldings. Downstairs in the pub is a beamed ceiling, exposed stone walls, a couple of dart-boards and a wonderful fireplace. The windows upstairs have interior shutters which speak of the massiveness of the stone walls. The entire effect is warm and welcoming, and usually busy.
The menu is available in both rooms--there are starters, soups, salads, sandwiches and "Old Country Fare" – Scotch pies, shepherd’s pie, and fish and chips, among others, at about $8. The house favorites include things such as pepper steak, lamb chops, salmon and haddock at about $13. There are also the usual burgers, tacos, and quesadillas, and I have to say that the food is good; the serving sizes are just fine, and almost everyone who drops in seems to take something from the menu. But for me, it’s all about the beer. The Granite Brewery, which was once on-site but has moved down the street, puts out several English-style offerings: the Best Bitter, Peculiar, Irish Stout, and a couple of blonde ales: Ringwood and India Pale Ale. They are the best beers available in Halifax (and Halifax often seems awash in beer). An 18-ounce offering comes in at $5.80, and I’m always shocked by how many times I drop in for a pint or two and a bite to eat when I’m in town for the weekend. "Got an hour to kill... let’s go to Henry House." There are lots of other things available at the bar, but why?
I could go on about the friendly service and the convivial atmosphere, but apparently, everything may not be what it appears. There seems to be a ghost. Now it’s been checked out by the paranormal experts, and the verdict is still out, but there have been sightings or an awareness of the ghost of a child in the house. Research has found that a child died of whooping cough in the building at one time, but of course, none of us believe that stuff. Do we? I think you’ll really have to check it out.
The Henry House
1222 Barrington Street
Attraction | "Halifax Farmers' Market"
Additionally, the market is quite popular (and a bit crowded at times) with young people, old people, and all the variations in between, all of them sure that they, above all others, have found the perfect place to spend some time. As a former-industrial building, it is also a bit of a maze, and you are never quite sure that you have seen it all.
My personal favorites, and there are many businesses from which to choose, are the cheeses offered by That Dutchman’s Farm on the Fundy coast or the "Damn hot pepperoni" from Sweet William’s Country Sausage in Stewiake. I don’t know how "sweet" Bill Parker is, but he makes up quite a variety of cheeses and pork products and his pepperoni is aptly named. The challenge to you is to come down and find your own favorites.
Now this may not be the best Saturday farmer’s market in the Atlantic Canada (our personal favourite is in Fredericton, NB, largely due to the really cosmopolitan flavour there) but it is a great place to spend time. The architecture lends a great deal to this market, exposed stone walls and arches, etc., as well as the crowds of people who come to see and be seen. Hey, if you miss the market, you’re missing the flavour of the Maritimes.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on April 6, 2005
1498 Lower Water Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 1R9
Attraction | "Pier 21 National Historic Site"
This isn’t a museum of static exhibits. There are some, but they are not of paramount importance. This is an aural museum where one listens to the voices of those who arrived in this country often after having faced considerable hardship. There are a quite a number of listening posts. Those on the harbour-side tell representational anecdotes of the lives of the English home children of the 1930s, the 1940s English children sent out of the war zone, soldiers returning from the war, and the refugees of the 1950s, particularly the Hungarians, etc. There are also the stories of the volunteers and officials who worked here. On the other side, a railcar represents many immigrants’ transportation to the interior of the country. Inside are booths in which the visitor can see testimonials from people who came through the facility. Their stories are often incredibly touching, sometimes humorous, but always significant.
In the center of the room is a representational immigration hall where people once waited for the chance to talk to the immigration officers. If you take the time to sit on one of the benches, hidden speakers will broadcast the voices of those who once sat in this situation. A distinctly English woman remarked, "A poor excuse for a country this is--paper money and wooden houses. We should have gone to Australia." I expect she said it again after the first snow storm.
The highlight of the visit is the presentation in the Bronfman auditorium. A 25-minute show features not actors, but holograms. The stage is set up with a ship’s gangway on the left, the immigration hall in the middle and a railcar on the right. Holograms, three-dimensional figures, tell the stories of those who passed through here. It was both technologically extraordinary and a wonderful experience.
I can’t say enough about Pier 21. Both of us found it exceptional… it was an emotional experience even though neither of our families came through here. As a final, and perhaps typical, point… a display documents the 1948 arrival of 347 Estonian refugees in the converted minesweeper, Walnut. The Walnut would have ordinarily carried a complement of 18 men. Although the entry might have been illegal, it was a powerful statement of what this country means and can do.
If you are in Halifax, you can’t miss it. For more information, go to Pier 21.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
1055 Marginal Road
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4P6
(902) 425 7770
The menu consists of a selection of starters, salads, fish-and-chips, Philly cheesesteak sandwich, and a variety of things under the heading of "pub grub:" chicken, burgers, etc. at only C$3.99 per selection. Well, I’ve eaten there in the past, and I tried it once again… but there are few surprises. I had the "premium" steak, a 12-ounce offering that I ordered "blue." Well, it was blue; in fact, it was perfect, but what can one expect at C$8.99? My daughter, who is not so fond of Plum, ordered a salad, which she picked at and rejected as not particularly good, and my wife tried the burger platter, a deal at C$2.99 (plus C$0.75 for onions, and another C$0.75 for mushrooms). So, I guess it’s not about the food.
I do like the ambiance. It is very "pubby." There are now three or four levels with green tartan carpeting, lots of dark wood, a black Victorian ceiling, dark green walls, and loads of brewery paraphernalia. The bar is substantial, though not large, and seats half a dozen patrons. One draw may be the large barrel of roasted salted peanuts near the bar. By the end of the day, the floor and tables are strewn with peanut shells, and I admit that I am as guilty as anyone else.
So what does Maxwell’s have that others don’t? Well, there are as many as 50 imported beers in the bottle at C$6.50 and perhaps 25 imported draft beers at $4.95/12 oz. There are also local drafts and microbrewery selections from Nova Scotia. Add to that all the usual beers and there’s a fairly extensive menu. There is a full bar in this pub. Tthe "well" is complete, but add to it the over 20 single-malt Scotch whiskeys that are available and you may understand the attraction. The average Halifax pub has a very limited selection. Maxwell’s has variety that more than makes up for the menu.
On weekends, they serve a nice breakfast-brunch from 11am until 3 in the afternoon. It’s equally well-priced. During the week, happy hour takes place from 4:30 to 8pm. Well, those are the plusses and the caveats. In a city with so many watering holes, Maxwell’s is a cut above many. For lunch or a cheap dinner, it’s not a bad choice.
1600 Grafton St.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Riverview, New Brunswick