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On The Waterfront

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the ‘top point’ of many cruises that make their way up the eastern seaboard of the North American continent. This outpost of eastern Canada is out on a limb – Nova Scotia sticks out into the Atlantic like a long finger pointing at Europe, several thousand miles away across the water.

In a way, that’s appropriate – because Halifax is the meeting point of two immensely tough and endlessly fascinating cultures. The city was established by the British in the late eighteenth century and extensively settled by those perennial builders of the British Empire – the Scots. ‘Nova Scotia’ is simply the Latin for ‘New Scotland’. The original colonists must have felt rather at home. The cool, maritime climate and sea mists of this part of Canada would have been very familiar to them. The culture they met there – that of the Mi’kmaq Canadian Native Americans – was (and remains) just as hardy as the tough Europeans. Something of a meeting of minds seems to have gone on, and the two ethnic groups have interbred extensively over the years. Even today in the faces of many Nova Scotians you can see wild highlander mixed with the almost Asiatic features of the Mi’kmaq.

Cold Morning in Halifax
Cold Morning in HalifaxEuropean colonists have left an big footprint on the modern city. A walk around Halifax harbor, or the historic downtown area, is a step back in time. The beautiful Georgian buildings that were among the first to be built in the colonial city must have seemed strangely out of place on the wild coastline. Halifax has always been a center of the fishing industry. It’s relatively close to Newfoundland, Grand Banks and other great fishing grounds of the North Atlantic. But it has also served a defensive role in the past. The fact that Halifax was founded by a General – Edward Cornwallis – gives a clue to the real reason for its existence as a colony. It is very close to the main sea routes between Europe and the major centers of the eastern seaboard – something that came in very handy when competing with other European nations for supremacy on the continent. If it hadn’t been for places like Halifax and the people who settled there, the dominant language of the US might be French! Even today the tough and good-natured people of Nova Scotia seem in some ways to be a bridge between the old world and the new – both North American and European in outlook, they are a very tolerant and friendly folk.

The Scottish cultural heritage shows through in a number of ways – you don’t have to stay in the city long before you come across a Scots dialect word thrown into conversation, or even a display of tartan-clad dancers. The Scottish heritage of the city is reflected in the inhabitants taste in food and drink, too. Halifax is home to many restaurants, and, as you would expect in a modern western city, you can eat food from nearly every cuisine in the world. But the marked local preference seems to be for the kind of ‘traditional’ fare that would go down equally well in Edinburgh or Inverness. Venues like the Ardmore Tea Room and the Argyle Bar and Grill reflect the innate Scottishness of the city’s food and culture. If you enjoy a fine Aberdeen Angus steak you should find plenty of cafés and restaurants in the city where you can fulfill your desires – Nova Scotians take their meat-eating very seriously! Vegetarians should not be put off, however: there are lots of meat-free alternatives available.

Halifax’s drink can be pretty Caledonian, too. Nova Scotia is home to North America’s only producer of single malt scotch. The Glenora Distillery is close to Cape Breton on the eastern extremity of Nova Scotia. Although it’s a working distillery, the Glenora is open for tours and even has its own pub and bed and breakfast accommodation. It’s a bit of a long day trip from Halifax, but if your cruise schedule permits it’s well worth a visit. Finding out the ancient arts of whisky production – and, of course, trying a few samples – makes for a great way of spending a day!

Many cruise lines that run tours as far north as Nova Scotia let their guests spend a days looking around Halifax– which is a good thing, because it’s a unique place. Experienced cruisers might find a voyage along the Nova Scotian coast into the city rather similar to a trip up the western coast of Norway. The weather can be similar, as can the warmth of the welcome you can expect when you make landfall.

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