Literary Tourism: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada may not be a terribly large city—around 400,000 people—but it certainly packs a punch. It’s got lots of history, an amazing art and music scene, excellent restaurants and bars/pubs, and, of course, lots of literary ties. And it’s on a harbour. If you love the ocean (which, I argue, you most definitely should), it’s a really pretty spot to stroll around.

I’ve been told that Halifax is like Boston’s smaller cousin. I visited Boston in the fall and, gotta say, they do have a similar vibe. Halifax also happens to be my hometown. I could write pages and pages about all the things you should do and see there, but I’ll try to stick to the highlights.

Libraries

As with any city worth its salt, Halifax boasts many different library branches within its limits. The latest addition, and certainly a modern gem, is the Halifax Central Library. This beauty sits on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Queen Street and has a sleek glass exterior. It’s meant to resemble a stack of books, but if you ask me, that requires really using your imagination.

Halifax Central Library. Photo from A as Architecture.

The Central Library opened in the winter of 2014 and its design has received international attention and acclaim. It has two fancy cafes, a garden terrace, a beautiful atrium, and a bunch of other top of the line stuff. If you’re in Halifax, this is a must see. Even for muggles. Furthermore, if you happen to pop up to the local history section, you can see three remembrance books that recognize the lives lost in both World Wars, and the Korean War.

If you’re a hockey fan, you might want to check out the Cole Harbour library as well. This library can be found in Cole Harbour Place, a recreation centre that, yes, has an ice rink. This is where Sid the Kid got his start. Here you can see jerseys and awards from Sidney Crosby’s hockey career.

You also can’t miss Province House. This building is brimming with historical significance and houses a gorgeous library. The legislative library is in an ornate room that was previously used for the Supreme Court. It was in this room that politician and journalist Joseph Howe was on trial for libel and gave his historic speech about the importance of the freedom of the press (a really important event for the evolution of the freedom of the press in Canada). Outside Province House you can take a selfie with ol Joe Howe himself in statue form. There’s also a plaque here that commemorates British North America’s first printing press. If you want to see that too, you can head over to the Nova Scotia Public Archives.

Legislative library in the Nova Scotia Province House. Photo from Expedia.

Bookstores

Halifax is a city that loves everything local. If you’re on the peninsula (downtown), you will not see a lot of chains. There will be a few, of course, like your typical McDonalds, but most shops and restaurants are of the boutique/indie variety. This goes for bookstore as well. And every single one of them is amazing.

Woozles. Woozles is an incredibly adorable and amazing children’s bookstore. And it’s the oldest one in Canada! Woozles sells new books and bookish knick knacks for children and teens. They also host a book club for adults who read YA.

Woozles Children’s Bookstore. Photo from Atlantic Books Today.

Trident Booksellers & Cafe. This delightful shop sells delicious coffee and treats, and has a great selection of used books. This is a beautiful place to hang out, grab an espresso, meditate (if you are so inclined), and, of course, browse for books! Fun fact: remember how Halifax is like Boston? Boston is home to Trident’s sister store—though both are independently owned and operated.

The Last Word Bookstore. The Last Word is in the West End of Halifax and sells rare and used books. It’s a maze of store with books piled high.

Bookmark. This independent bookstore is great. I love to get my Out of Print knick knacks from there. The Halifax location has been going strong on Spring Garden road since 1989, and the original location in Charlottetown, PEI, has since 1972.

Bookmark Halifax. Photo from The Coast.

Strange Adventures Comics & Curiosities. This gem of a shop is the best of its kind in the Maritimes, and some go as far as to say in Canada. This indie shop has three locations: it’s flagship store in Fredericton, New Brunswick, along with two in the Halifax municipality (one in Halifax and one in Dartmouth). They’ve got weird hours though, so maybe check before you head over.

History

Halifax is the resting place of many of those who lost their lives aboard the Titanic. You into that? Go to Fairview Cemetery. It’s right in the middle of the city, which is totally normal. You can also pop over to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. They’ve got lots of stuff from the Titanic.

Fairview Cemetery. Photo from Expedia.

What about the largest man made explosion pre-nuclear weapons? The Halifax Explosion (1917) killed 2000 people, injuring another 9000, when two ships collided in the Narrows, the strait between Bedford Basin and Halifax Harbour. This was the inspiration for the famous Canadian novel Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan. Other works about/touching on the Halifax Explosion include Black Snow by Jon Tattrie, Until I Find You by John Irving, The Birth House by Ami McKay, and Shattered City: The Halifax Explosion and the Road to Recovery by Janet Kitz.

If you have access to a car, drive out to Terrence Bay. This area of the Halifax Municipality is picturesque. Here you’ll find the S.S. Atlantic Heritage site, the final resting place of over 200 of the people that lost their lives when the S.S. Atlantic was shipwrecked. The book The Gravesavers by Sheree Fitch is based on this location when, several years ago, the gravesite was being eroded by the sea.

 

Other Literary Sites

Head over to NSCAD—the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design—and pop into the Anna Leonowens Gallery. This gallery is in memory of its namesake, co-founder of NSCAD. Fun fact: her memoir, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, is the basis for The King and I. The gallery has some pretty dope art, too. So, there is also that.

Check out the University of King’s College on the campus of Dalhousie University. King’s is home to the oldest college literary society in North America—the Haliburton Society. Kings is also known for its Foundation Year Programme—an intense interdisciplinary study of the evolution of western thought through the “great books.” While at King’s, don’t forgot to look around Dalhousie. I mean, why not? The  lovely L.M. Montgomery went there.

Festivals & Events

The Atlantic Book Festival (May)
“The Atlantic Book Festival is a week-long celebration of books and authors, with events held in all four Atlantic Provinces in the week preceding the Gala Awards ceremony. The 2017 Festival will run from May 10 – May 18, culminating in a gala at the new Halifax Central Library.”

Word on the Street (September)
“Since 1990, The Word On The Street has proudly hosted the finest talent in Canadian literature… Participate in numerous author readings, discussions, and activities, and shop in a marketplace that boasts the best selection of Canadian books and magazines you’ll find anywhere. There’s plenty to see and do at Canada’s largest FREE book and magazine festival!”

Dartmouth Comic Art Festival (August)
“The Dartmouth Comics Art Fest (DCAF) is a FREE all-ages event celebrating comics & cartooning! Come meet dozens of artists and vendors as they display and sell their wondrous wares at this annual event.”

Before you leave…

After you’ve looked at all the great bookish stuff Halifax has to offer, you’re probably ready for a drink (assuming you’re 19+). What better place to wind down than The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse? This building used to hold the offices of The Daily Echo, a paper that L.M. Montgomery worked at.

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