/ Attractions / Halifax, Nova Scotia: Explosive History

Halifax, Nova Scotia: Explosive History

Peggy's Cove - Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Christina Boyes on March 10, 2015 - 3:41 pm in Attractions, Historical, Places to visit

Ranked as one of Canada’s best cities to live in and offering an excellent quality of life, Halifax is a Canadian jewel. Canada is a varied and beautiful place, much like the US, and this municipality is no exception.  The area’s past is gloomier than its present, by far. Memories of incidents like the Halifax Explosion and the sinking of the Titanic intermingle with delights found in the Halifax Public Gardens in this modern port metropolis. From great food to a fascinating history, Halifax is a proud destination on Canada’s east coast.

A Quick History of Halifax, Nova Scotia

In 1749, the town of Halifax was established. The act of its creation was also an act of war – it violated a treaty with local Indian tribes and led to a military response from the French, as well. The modern municipality of Halifax encompasses four former British forts, one of which you’ll read more about in a minute.

Father Le Loutre’s War, the founding of Halifax. Photo via wikipedia.

In 1917, a massive explosion occurred when two ships collided in “the Narrows,” and killed 2,000 people, and injuring another 9,000. It was the largest artificial explosion before nuclear weaponry, and is etched in Halifax’s memory. The Halifax explosion was only one of several tragedies that affected Halifax, however. Thanks to its function as a major port, after the Titanic sunk, ships were sent from Halifax to recover the bodies of the dead. Now, many of the victims of that tragedy are buried in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax.

The only photo of the Halifax explosion in 1917. Photo via wikipedia.

Quick Trivia: Did you know that Halifax, Nova Scotia isn’t a city? It’s known as the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), and encompasses more than 200 other communities.

What to Do in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Canada’s biggest Atlantic Coast city is a bustling metropolis with loads of adventure in store for the whole family. From the Titanic to rum running, it’s a nonstop adventure. The following list includes a few of our favorite stops in Halifax.

Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada

The peaceful streets of Halifax, Nova Scotia were once home to British naval officers and the community that supported them. The citadel is the last remaining evidence of the city’s military role. The current citadel was the fourth British fort constructed on this site, and was built in 1856. Today, you’ll find tales of the Trelawny Maroons and their efforts to build the third citadel, info on the fourth citadel’s role in WWI, and even a ‘soldier for the day’ program when you visit this historic site. Don’t be surprised if you hear bagpipes, either.

Citadel Hill, Fort George. Photo via wikipedia.

Halifax Public Gardens

Haligonians, as Halifax residents are called, love their gardens. Started in 1841 thanks to the Nova Scotia Horticultural Society (NSHS) and Mr. Joseph Howe, this beautiful greenspace in the city is a product of passion. Gardens aren’t cheap, though. Within ten years of opening, an admission price was added and free public entrance was limited to once per week.

In 1876, another big piece of land was made into a public garden nearby. The NSHS’s garden was deeply in debt by this point, and eventually their piece was combined with the new garden. Since that time, Halifax Public Gardens has grown, added services, and is now largely supported by the work of “The Friends of the Public Gardens” – an organization dedicated to restoring, caring for, and making the gardens a beautiful spot to visit.

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Opened in 1948, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is the brainchild of a handful of Royal Canadian Naval officers. Space issues, floods, fires, and other calamities caused the museum to change locations a few times over the years, until it eventually settled in its current location on the Halifax Waterfront in 1982. Inside, the museum is home to Raina the Mermaid, who shares history and educational info with little kids. Exhibits about Canada’s maritime history, naval escapades, and Nova Scotia’s role following the Titanic’s sinking can also be found here.

Sailboat Exhibit at the Maritime Museum. Photo via wikipedia.

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

After a long remodel, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is set to reopen this May. The museum’s exhibits feature the stories and struggles of Canada’s immigrants. Online, you can check out the museum’s Culture Trunks, videos, and tons of other free and informative resources. This isn’t just a place to see history, however. This unique museum is also actively engaged in helping immigrants settle in their new Canadian home, navigate immigration procedures, and start a new life. The facility is beautiful, too. Nice enough, in fact, that it is often rented out for weddings and special events.

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Photo via wikipedia.

Fairview Lawn Cemetery

The resting place of many victims of the Titanic, the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia is a unique destination. It’s not every day that you see droves of tourists flocking to see gravestones. After the release of the movie Titanic, the gravestone J. Dawson (Joseph Dawson) was flooded with visitors and received flowers, ticket stubs, and the like. Why? Because of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jack Dawson.

If you took our suggestion and visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, you may have seen a pair of baby shoes – the right size for a 19-month old. They belonged to Sidney Leslie Goodwin, whose entire family perished in the Titanic. Little Sidney’s grave is also located in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery, along with many victims of both the Halifax Explosion and the Titanic.

Titanic victim’s graves. Photo via wikipedia.

Where to Eat in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Coastal cities are great places to find seafood worth devouring, and Halifax is no exception. The Nova Scotia coast is known for lobster, and it shows up frequently on the menu here. Don’t fret if crustaceans aren’t your thing. We’re sure you’ll love the local rum cakes…

Rum Runners

During the Prohibition, alcohol was hard to come by. Rum runners in Halifax filled a false hull in their ships with barrels of alcohol and made a fortune smuggling them to the US for sale. Many lost their lives or were injured in gunfights with the Coast Guard, but Halifax’s rum running days made many fortunes, as well. One of those rum runners was a man by the name of Gordon Stevens, and the secret to Halifax’s famous rum cake began with his wife.

Today, Mrs. Steven’s recipe is made by the Rum Runner’s Rum Cake Factory in Halifax. And it’s not just for adults – the Rum Runner’s Cake Factory has a historic ambiance and is decorated in memorabilia from the days of Prohibition in the US and Canada that make it easy to teach little ones about the era. While little minds are occupied, the adults can grab a little rum cake or candy.


This kid-friendly seafood restaurant is located on the waterfront in Halifax, with a delightful view of the Atlantic. Salty’s menu might be a little complex for very young palates, but the location can’t be beat. Be warned that the atmosphere is business casual, so little ones who aren’t read for fancy dishes and white linens might not feel at ease here.

Visit the HRM’s tourism site for more information about Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Halifax Nova Scotia Map

Halifax Nova Scotia Map


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