Finding a Piece of Home in Halifax
Written by Issa Breibish » Monday, October 22nd, 2012
So we are, for the first time, in a foreign city without our bikes. Nestled somewhere in the belly of Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s massive MV Toronto, the kids are getting locked down and ready for a three and a half week journey of their own across the North Atlantic. Nita and I have a week to kill in Halifax and we’re looking forward to it. In my university days I travelled here to visit some exceptionally talented friends and fell in love with the creative energy that pervades this city.
People are such an important piece of the travelling puzzle. Meeting Jean and Kelley in Hubbards has made this part of the country feel like home for us in many ways. When we tell people what we’re trying to do, there’s often an excitement around it – which is incredible. Yet, while we understand this journey can be inspiring, we’re also aware that it’s one of challenging self-discovery. Even in the “easy countries” an extended absence from friends and family, the daily physical toll, the act of being somewhere different constantly – they’re all aspects of what we’re doing that only become acutely apparent once we’re underway.
It’s what makes meeting folks like Jean and Kelley so important. There are people who seem built for solo travel and we can happily admit that we’re not them. While, in a romantic way, I love the idea of travelling solo, I know that I love travelling with Nita more. She’s my rock, as I am hers. And a place without a human connection somehow feels empty for us.
Dartmouth and Halifax are connected by toll bridges or a quick ferry ride which is our favourite way of crossing the harbour. Getting off in Halifax we’re excited to meet Jean and Kelley for lunch and any number of the excellent restaurants here. In fact our week in Halifax is mostly spent meeting our friends, catching up on the website work, and walking the town. Halifax is, for Canada, an old city filled with great architecture and plenty of sites rich with history. It’s also a city of contrasts where we could walk past a site like Citadel Hill, a hill-top fort built by the British as a stronghold for the port, then within five minutes be tossed into the hustle that is Spring Garden Road – a mix of shopping district meets Jersey Shore.
After the bikes are dropped off at the dock we decide to move into a more central location for walking. The Commons Inn is the spot we choose and provides a large room at a reasonable rate. In preparation for the flight home we acquire some “new” used-luggage from Jean and Kelley, and pick up a couple of collapsable cases from the Mic Mac Mall (just “Mic Mac” to the locals). In our comfortable little home at the Holiday Inn, we have to pack everything – our drybags, panniers, helmets and riding gear. It’s the first time we really see the extent of everything we’re hauling around with us. And it’s shocking! Still it makes for some good conversation as we’re heading out the door to a waiting taxi.
The Citadel is an easy walk and a day is spent within it’s walls is a walk some two-hundred and fifty years into Halifax’s past. It’s another historical place filled with period actors who are happy to tell you how things were during this particular iteration of the fort. Quickly loading a rifle, one actor has the happy duty of firing off a few rounds to wake up some sleepy visitors.
Another fantastic historical visit is the Maritime Museum. A current exhibit that showcases Halifax’s involvement with the Titanic disaster has the museum flooded with folks looking for more information regarding Jack and Rose with some appearing upset to find out it’s fiction. Still, the story of the Titanic doesn’t need fictionalization to make it more interesting or heartbreaking. A walk through the exhibit imposes a sense of loss on even the most hardened viewer.
But there’s more to the museum than just the Titanic. As a child I loved building models (though I was never anywhere as good as my cousin Tad when it came to that) and this place is packed with some of the largest and most amazing scale models of historical ship I’ve ever seen. It’s a joy to walk through and marvel at the detail.
A stroll down to historical Pier 21 is another eye-opener. The boardwalk along the harbour is a great way to spend a lazy day in Halifax and the weather here has completely cooperated. People are bustling, ice-cream stands are packed and starlings are hovering around people who are enjoying a snack by the water. One starling looks particularly bedraggled; he’s got a limp and one shoulder that’s raised to the side of his head in a way that alludes to an old injury that hasn’t yet healed.
“Oh. That poor little guy probably doesn’t get any food with these other birds about.”
Surely Nita’s not wrong as the little guy looks completely unable to fend for himself. We hunt for something to feed him and, when he realizes that we’ve nothing to offer, suddenly looses his limp, drops his shoulder and trots off quite annoyed with us. What a little scammer!
He’s not the only scammer at work here.
Sitting on the wall of the dock a woman in her sixties asks if we’d like to have our picture taken. We’re delighted and give her our camera. After taking a few hastily composed shots she returns the camera and asks if we’d like to make a donation to her! We’re taken a bit off-guard but kindly decline. This boardwalk is cheeky.
Pier 21 is home to the giant cruise ships that call Halifax a port of call. On this day there are two in dock and we’re both amazed at the size of them. Emerging from behind the Halifax Farmers Market, the ships tower like massive buildings. Their size is seriously impressive. Along the pier we discover a fantastic “Italian Soul” restaurant called The Bicycle Thief and we’re instant believers. The food here is fantastic, and the service is even better. Our waiter takes the time to compose a list of his favourite spots in the city and we’re happy to use it as our guide.
Jean and Kelley, true to their word, have again offered to have us in their home and we’re happy to accept the generous offer. For our last night by the Halifax Common, Nita and I meet up with an old friend who’s been living in Halifax for the past few years. Ron and I worked at a record store together in the early nineties and he’s as good now as he was then! We spend the night catching up at Atlantica while watching some of his friends play a wonderful show.
Early on Saturday morning, we meet up with Jean, Kelley and their daughter Maya. Well, we *try* to meet up! Like the Three Stooges, Nita and I walk down one street while our friends walk down another. After a couple of texts we reverse streets and miss each other again. Finally we meet up and are introduced to Maya for the first time. At twelve it would be easy to assume Maya is just a kid but that would be a mistake. I mean, she is, technically, a kid, but she’s such a bright light. Smart, eloquent and so immediately caring, it’s a joy to be around her. We grab a bite for breakfast and then head out for an all-day road trip.
Returning to Pier 21, we stop in for a coffee before walking around the Halifax Farmers Market. The building that contains the market is massive, beautifully designed and environmentally responsible. It’s quite amazing to see a facility that, as you enter, offers a completely live-updated screen showing it’s performance at maintaining a neutral environmental impact. The market itself is filled with clothing vendors, butchers, fish vendors, sushi stands, green grocers and any other manner of seller you can think of. After browsing the wares and picking up some treats for the road, we head back to the car.
Jean’s a descendant of the Acadians; the French inhabitants of Acadia – now New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia who were deported to various parts of the world by the British between 1755-1763 during Le Grand Dérangement. Families were torn from their homes, their land and many were split apart never to see each other again. While some were moved to British colonies, others were deported to England and France. Famously, many were moved to Louisiana where Acadian eventually became “Cajun” and represented their French roots and culturally unique identity in that region.
As in New Brunswick, there’s a pride in the Acadian folks that we’ve met that’s hard to miss – and Jean’s no exception. He’s a strong, passionate man and when he tells us the history of the area it’s hard to not get completely lost in it’s telling. Jean drives all of us out to Grand Pré, whose lanscape has just been added as a UNESCO Heritage Site. It’s signifigance for our friends is much deeper though; it’s the site that commemorates the deportation of the Acadians, and is famous for its depiction by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem, Evangeline.
But our weekend with our friends isn’t all history and education. There’s a healthy dose of pool, music, wine and our first home-cooked meal in over two months. Cooking is one of those things we miss the most on the road and Nita and I eagerly jump in to help put together a feast. We repeat our Iron Chef performance for breakfast.
Our second last night in Halifax is spent with Jean and Kelley at The Carleton. An intimate room that’s built around music, The Carleton offers a unique experience for both musician and audience: a restaurant that’s silent while the music is playing. Dreamt up by Mike & Mike (MuchMusic alumni from the 90′s), the folks who attend are asked remain quiet while the musicians are playing and it’s something that creates some beautiful moments this night. The artist, Jeremy Fisher, is an amazing talent. His ability to weave a song effortlessly through fields of complex phrasing could be completely lost on a crowd in a noisy club. Here, it’s not. His voice easily drafts across the room, and his beaten up guitar has a warm round tone that fills us up. Between songs his banter almost always makes us laugh; he’s a true artist and an incredible example of how one person can move a room of strangers.
It’s a fitting end to not only our time in Halifax, but also our journey across this great nation. All of us relive the time we’ve shared together over a wonderful dinner at Cut, where we sit for over five hours taking in all that’s happened. Jean, Kelly and Maya are a part of our lives now, whether near or far. They’re the kinds of people who are so rich in humanity it’s hard to understand a life lived any other way. During our visit, inspired by the idea of doing more with less, Kelley, Maya and Jean collected over twenty boxes of household items, garments and other useful things that they weren’t using and donated them to vaious families and organizations in their area. Maya herself has been working hard to help other kids who are less fortunate than herself and is an inspiration to us both.
Early the next morning, we get up, leave the comfort of our basement bedroom and say goodbye to our dear friends. Loaded with far too many bags, we make our way to the airport. New York City is calling.
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