Halifax: A Great Small Town
A little-known fact about the city of Halifax is that its nickname is the “City of Trees.”
The capital city of one of Canada’s smaller provinces is known for its beautiful foliage and for its setting, perched by the Atlantic Ocean. But don’t let this rather innocuous sounding nickname deter you from what Halifax is all about. Halifax remains, without a doubt, one of Canada’s best kept secrets!
This bustling metropolis of over 400,000 people is the largest city in eastern Canada. It is the business centre and economic hub of the region and boasts one of the deepest harbours in the world, making it a major transportation centre on the Atlantic Seaboard. Government and military are the largest employers in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), with the Port of Halifax and supporting industries a close second. Home to the Canadian Coast Guard Base and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, the sea remains an incredible resource and point of interest. Halifax Shipyard is home to the Canadian navy and recently underwent a $300 million-dollar revitalization. While primary industries surrounding HRM remain that of fishing, mining, and forestry, growth has taken place in other sectors including manufacturing, service, and tourism. Several beer companies, including Alexander Keith’s, manufacture beer locally and export, as well as several up-and-coming craft brewery companies who do the same. The Bank of Nova Scotia and Maritime Life are headquartered in Halifax. Technology firms, call centres, and a plethora of other types of businesses occupy space in Halifax proper. Economic growth of the region is expected to continue, including growth in offshore oil and gas exploration and supporting industries. It is expected that in 2018 we will see a jump of 2.2 percent growth, with local manufacturing increasing partly because of ongoing expansion at the Halifax Shipyards (Conference Board of Canada, October 2017).
Another interesting fact is that Halifax calls itself “Canada’s Smart City,” as 63% of Halifax residents have a university degree or trades certificate, the highest percentage of any city in Canada (per CMHC). Check out the internationally known Dalhousie University, with it’s highly ranked law school, or consider the “Mount” – that is Mount St. Mary’s – “a small university with a world of opportunities.” Saint Mary’s University, or SMU, boasts an average class size of 40 students and a vast array of course selection. Those interested in a more hands-on approach and focused learning might think of attending Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design or Nova Scotia Community College. Not to be forgotten is Canada’s oldest college, University of King’s College, established in 1789. With a tiny enrollment of under 2000, this school has leading journalism and fine arts programs, and strong interdisciplinary programming. For those who may wish to study outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia itself is home to 10 universities and an extensive community college system. A little smaller than many of the “big schools,” these schools strive to create enriching learning environments.
Let’s be honest, housing prices have increased exponentially across Canada, Halifax included. Yet it remains dollar for dollar a much cheaper place to live in comparison to other Canadian cities. According to “Living in Canada,” Halifax ranked 7th out of 8 major cities in housing prices, with the average price at $300,000 compared to just over a million in Vancouver, and $750,00 in Toronto. As per “Numbeo,” the cost of a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Halifax is just over $1,000, with the same apartment outside the downtown core costing $814.00. Halifax is a city of neighbourhoods and many of the more popular ones include Bedford, Clayton Park, Fall River, Dartmouth, Kingswood, and Timberlea. With these options, including living downtown itself or in slightly more distant communities like Cole Harbour, there is plenty of choice for those considering Halifax as their next home.
Since we’re being honest, let’s talk numbers in terms of cost of living. While housing may be cheaper, other amenities can be more expensive, including the cost of food. However, local transportation is quite a bit cheaper. Local bus fare is $2.50 on Halifax transport, while it’s well over $3.50 in Toronto. Check out this great website for a cost of living comparison between the two cities:
In this fine city, quality of life is second to none, with a healthy arts and culture scene and festivals galore such as Afrifest and the Halifax Lebanese Festival. If you prefer something truly “down east,” you can partake in locally staged kitchen parties or participate in a ceilidh – that is, a social event at which there is Scottish or Irish folk music, singing, traditional dancing, and storytelling. A healthy downtown core and bustling waterfront, laden with craft brewery enterprises, boutiques, and bakeries, make Halifax an enjoyable city in which to live. There is much to explore and enjoy, whether as a tourist in the city or as a regular Haligonian. Visit the historic Citadel Hill and reflect on the battles that saved the city, stroll the beautiful gardens at the Halifax Public Gardens, or spend an afternoon at the Halifax Centre Library, named as one of the topic new buildings in 2014. Stop at Pier 21, the original entry point for thousands of arrivals to Canada, where they were processed for immigration. Hear inspiring stories of immigrants as they embarked on their new life in Canada.
Sports and recreation nuts and leisure addicts won’t be disappointed either, as Halifax is home to a wonderful green space and park system, with gardens, walking, and biking trails and plenty of outdoor spaces. Walk the Halifax Boardwalk, jog on the Frog Pond Trail, or bike the Shubie Canal. Hockey and basketball aficionados can cheer on the Halifax Moosewoods or the Halifax Hurricanes, or participate directly in the local sports leagues. No matter the season, there is always something to do!
European settlers arrived in Halifax in the 1600s, displacing many of the original Mik’Mag peoples, but the British officially founded the city in 1749. The region has historically been under both French and British control, and today both cultures remain entrenched in the city and, indeed, the province of Nova Scotia. The French Acadian language and culture is thriving with dedicated schools, communities, and local festivals. Irish, Scottish, and English influences are evident in Halifax and surrounding areas, from the style of government, to different kinds of food, to everyday day life in general. There is a renewed dedication and focus on ensuring indigenous heritage is protected and enhanced. In 2017, the Nova Scotia government released its first ever culture plan to promote the province’s culture and creative economy. With a heavy emphasis on aboriginal culture and diverse communities, the government acknowledges: “Not everyone’s experience over those 400 years has been positive...but...I want every Nova Scotian to see themselves in this plan and to see themselves in this province” (Premier Stephen McNeill, February 22, 2017).
Halifax and the Province of Nova Scotia have a long history in Canada. Nova Scotia is one of the four original founding provinces of Canadian confederation in 1867. A significant part of Nova Scotian history is that of the African Nova Scotian. Many blacks arrived during the 1700 and 1800s to escape slavery, with more than 2000 arriving just after the War of 1812. Although the “Free Blacks,” as they were called, had come to Nova Scotia for freedom and opportunity, they suffered from a lack of opportunity and hostile treatment. Despite these difficulties, however, the community contributed tremendously and helped shape the cultural fabric. Today, there remains a vibrant community and many proud African Nova Scotians. The Halifax Regional Municipality states: “Diversity matters because it is our beautiful reality.... Inclusion matters because it is the right thing to do.” Wise words for the future!
We can’t have a report on Halifax without talking about seafood. If you’re a seafood lover, this is the place to be, whether its enjoying a beer and chowder at Salty’s, or doing some fine dining on lobster and steak at The Five Fisherman. You might choose to catch your own fish with some of the local fisherman, such as Murphy’s or Four Wind’s Charter. You might just see a whale or two when casting your rod!
We started off with a fun fact, so what better way to end than with a few more quirky ones:
- Halifax is closer to Dublin, Ireland, than Victoria, British Colombia.
- It is always one hour earlier than Eastern Standard Time in Halifax because they are on Atlantic time!
- The Halifax Explosion in 1917 was the world’s largest man-made explosion after Hiroshima.
Whether you plan to move to “The City of Trees” or just pass through, you won’t forget your time in Halifax! Someone once called it a “great small town.” Truer words have never been spoken!