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Halifax Blending The Past With The Present

In Halifax you are always made aware of its past by the elegant 18th and 19th architecture and simultaneously reminded of the present by the ultramodern towers of glass and steel. The center of Halifax is perfect for exploring on foot, with its tree-lined streets, international restaurants, galleries, libraries and museums. In warm weather there are sidewalk cafes, sometimes with a backdrop of the bustling harbor, which handles ship traffic from every corner of the globe.A good place to start your exploration of the city is the Halifax Citadel, designated as an award-winning National Historic Site of Canada. Founded in 1749 by Governor Edward Cornwallis and his company of 2,500 settlers, Halifax has a long history as a British stronghold in the New World. Built to counteract the growing strength of the French in North America, Halifax was recognized the world over for its strategic importance and excellent ice-free harbour.

Consequently, the British were careful to protect it with the most advanced defenses available.The massive star-shaped Citadel was built between 1828 and 1856, it was one of the largest British fortresses on the continent and its hilltop setting provided a commanding view of the city and harbour. This was the crown jewel in the Halifax defense system, with other fortifications located on McNab's and George's islands in the harbour, at York Redoubt overlooking the harbour entrance and in what is now Point Pleasant Park.

With cannons covering every angle of the harbor entrance, it was the major reason that Halifax was never attacked.The Citadel quickens with the sights and sounds of 19th century British military life in the summer months. Period-uniformed soldiers drill and bagpipers play on the historic parade and guards in sharply-pleated MacKenzie tartan kilts stand sentry at the gates. A guided tour includes living quarters, powder magazines and musketry galleries in the ditch from which defenders could pepper the enemy with deadly crossfire.

At midday, cover your ears-the firing of the noonday gun is a Halifax tradition dating from the late 1800s.From atop Citadel Hill, there is an excellent view of one of the city's most famous landmarks, the Town Clock, which was constructed in 1803 upon the request of Prince Edward, a man renowned for his love of punctuality. Beyond the clock the view encompasses the most historic part of Halifax, which for much of the 18th and 19th centuries was a lusty, brawling military town full of soldiers, sailors, privateers and adventurers seeking their fortune in the new world.After leaving the Citadel, crossing the harbour on the ferry is a wonderful way to view the beautiful waterfronts of both cities. Visit the restored Historic Quaker House, the oldest house in Dartmouth.

The Shubenacadie Canal Park invites nature lovers to stroll quiet paths along the Shubenacadie Canal, the ambitious canal system that once linked Halifax with the Bay of Fundy.Back in Halifax again, you'll find the city has many parks, perhaps the best, certainly the best known is the Halifax Public Gardens, a 17-acre tribute to Victorian elegance and beauty. Since it was established as a civic garden in 1867, this has been a haven of meandering paths, fountains, lively duck ponds and formal Victorian flower beds.

A short stroll from the Gardens is the Museum of Natural History on Summer Street. This highly popular facility features displays on the province's flora, fauna and geological history, from dinosaurs to eagles and life on the ocean floor. The museum also presents traveling exhibits and displays on the history of indigenous peoples.One of the city's favourite parks, the Sir Sandford Fleming Park, overlooks the sailboat-dotted Northwest Arm.

The land for the park was donated to Halifax in 1908 by Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915), who was the creator of Standard Time, designer of Canada's first postage stamp and lead civil engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The park's distinctive tower, locally known as "The Dingle", was built in 1912 to commemorate the first elected assembly in the British Empire, which was first convened at Halifax on 2 October 1758. The park features walking trails, canteen facilities and beaches.But Halifax is not all about museums, parks, fortresses and the past.

There are excellent theatres and sensational music, from blistering Celtic beats to superb symphony, which typify an entertainment scene that is more vibrant and varied than that of a city twice the size. The city also offers top-notch shopping, from the specialty stores and exclusive boutiques of Spring Garden Road to some of the largest malls in Atlantic Canada.All in all, Halifax is a city with an interesting history and with an even more interesting future. But with container shipping increasing every year, oil and gas exploration off Nova Scotia's coast and the increasing numbers of tourists who are arriving by every means, including the largest cruise ships, it is a vital city that has a strong hold on the present. It welcomes visitors any time of the year and very few ever leave disappointed.

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Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Canada Vacation.

By: Michael Russell



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