Halifax full of attractions, history and great food

On any day, you can visit the Fairview Cemetery in north Halifax where 121 victims of the tragedy rest and you won’t be alone. Though it’s been nearly 100 years since the RMS Titanic went down in the North Atlantic, still the visitors come — by the busloads.
Shortly after we arrived at the cemetery one September morning, a motorcoach unloaded about 50 tourists with British accents. They gingerly walked between the granite headstones that marked the resting place of the Titanic passengers, then listened as their tour guide provided a narration laced with some false facts. We knew they were incorrect because the day before we had visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the Halifax waterfront. Among so many excellent exhibits it features one dedicated to the events of April 15, 1912.
A story board provides an excellent time line of that night’s fateful events, and artifacts from the ship bring the story more alive than is comfortable. On display is the only deck chair to be recovered from the Titanic, a cribbage board, a tiny child’s shoe and more. Having seen these made our cemetery visit all the more poignant.
My husband, Jerry, and I had arrived in Halifax a few days earlier after exploring Prince Edward Island and much of coastal Nova Scotia. After the many picturesque seaside towns and villages, my expectations for Halifax were not high. I was glad to be wrong. The provincial capital is full of history, attractions and really good food.
The waterfront offers multiple places to dine, but walk a half dozen blocks west of the harbor to The Five Fishermen Restaurant and Grill on historic Argyle Street and you’ll find superb dining. I confess: I’m not a fan of mussels. However, this restaurant changed my mind about these mollusks. Served with fabulous flavored butters, the mussels melt in your mouth. I stopped eating them only because we had to move on to the pork loin with apples and white beans, and the grilled leg of lamb with rosemary spaetzle & chevre cheese. We finished with homemade apricot ice cream, blueberry sorbet and a French apple puff pastry that was so light it almost levitated.
The Five Fishermen also offers a new prix fixe menu every month (three courses for $42) that features entrees like peach brandy-glazed pheasant breast and seafood strudel.
Nearly as fun is the restaurant’s history.
The building originally served as a school — the first in Canada to offer a free education. Eventually Anna Leonowens opened an art school there. Before coming to Halifax, Leonowens was governess to the children of the king of Siam. She later wrote a book called “Anna and the King of Siam,” which became the well-known Broadway musical and movie, “The King and I.”
During the next incarnation, the building served as a mortuary where several wealthy victims of the Titanic disaster were brought.
Today the staff claims that ghosts inhabit the restaurant, as demonstrated by shifting cutlery, jumping glasses and self-opening doors. Ask any of the servers and they are likely to recount one or two ghost tales.
Another not-to-be-missed attraction is the historic star-shaped Citadel, a British fortification completed in 1856 that affords a spectacular view of the city and harbor. Such a formidable defense, the fort was never attacked.
Visitors to this national historic site see and experience some of a soldier’s life in the mid-19th century. Our docent led a 90-minute tour that included walks to the defensive ditch, the ramparts, musketry gallery, powder magazine and signal masts. As luck would have it, our tour ended with the firing of the Noon Gun, a reverberating experience created by a reproduction of a 12-pound, muzzle-loading cannon used in the 18th century.
Except for Christmas, the gun has fired every day for 148 years.
To every photographer’s delight, most summer days include a historic re-enactment of the colorful pageantry of the 78th Highlanders Regiment. Students portray the soldiers in full dress — kilts, feather bonnets and bright red doublets. Don’t be afraid to chat with them; they love to give impromptu history lessons.
Plan to take most of the day to see all the Citadel has to offer.
For more information on Halifax and environs, visit novascotia.com; destinationhalifax.com; pc.gc.ca; and museum.gov.ns.ca.


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