Although we were done with Titanic-related places in Halifax, we weren’t quite through with historical sites. We made our way from the cemetery up to the Halifax Citadel, which displays life at the fort in 1869, a time when Canada had only been a country for two years. The pipers, the relics, and the drill demonstrations all added together to create a realistic and immersive atmosphere.
The Citadel sits atop a hill in the midst of the city. It’s only a short drive away from the Harbourfront, but on the bright sunny day we visited, we were glad not to be walking there.
Despite being built in 1749 as a base for the British Royal Navy, the Citadel was never besieged. The Citadel there today is not the original; the site has actually undergone four Citadels since it was first constructed. It wasn’t until 1815 that it was built using stone instead of logs. The Citadel was also functional during both world wars before finally being transferred to the control of Parks Canada in 1951. Nowadays, the Citadel is a National Historic Site, complete with a museum. If you’ve read my dream National Parks post, then you’ll know how excited I was to cross off a must-see!
There are plenty of areas to explore within the Citadel, and we started with a great one – Fortress Halifax, a series of rooms showcasing the history of the area and the Citadel defenses through the years.
The Citadel didn’t shy away from talking about Canada’s murky past in dealing with internment camps during World War II, though as with many museum displays, it glossed over the true conditions of the suspected spies. People who had immigrated from Axis Power countries (or those allying with them) were immediately regarded with suspicion and tossed into camps where they were kept in brutal conditions and starved. It’s a dark time in Canada’s history for sure, and one that should never be overlooked. During that time, part of the Citadel was dedicated to one such camp.
On the upper floor of the Information Centre is an impressive museum dedicated to various wars. Each room spans a different time period with a different war, and is filled with remnants of the battles fought, with an emphasis on Nova Scotia’s role in each.
The first room was one of my favourites, largely due to the impressive small-scale replica of the Vimy Memorial in France, a site I hope to one day see in person.
One of the stories I couldn’t help but find slightly uplifting amidst the sad tales of grief and death dealt with this bottle of champagne. This bottle was given to Major Weston Keating as part of the celebration of VE Day, when Japan officially surrendered during World War II. Instead of cracking it open to celebrate, he decided to keep it sealed and use it as a celebration of the birth of his first son. Despite that hope, he and his wife had four girls, and the champagne bottle remained closed.
By far the most impressive area of the Citadel is the life-size World War I trench in the back, complete with duckboards and replicas of common items and messages found in the trenches during the war. One room at the top of the tunnel contained an impressive display of No Man’s Land, the space between opposing sides during World War I. The display provides a new understanding of how much space separated the fronts, and all the places you could die while trying to cross to the other side.
Once you make your way down the path and into the trenches, you’ll come across several unofficial stations, at which point a helpful staff member will fill you in on a bit of the history. This is optional, but I highly suggest listening to them and asking questions, as all of the staff were knowledgeable and friendly.
With the sweltering sun beating down on us, we stepped with caution, trying our best not to trip up our feet in the slats of the boards. It was unsettling to imagine the terror the men must have felt in such cramped conditions with the boards being the only thing separating them from wet, muddy feet as shots were fired overhead and they never knew what moment would be their last.
Along with that, it was both interesting and depressing to see what passed for the toilet and the sleeping quarters. Even more disheartening were the examples of the initial gas masks and learning how little protection they initially offered. Although the design improved over the years, seeing the progression was jarring.
By far the saddest part of the entire Citadel was sprawled on the walls in the trench bunks. Plenty of names were written there, and they were all men from Nova Scotia who had been killed in action during World War I.
After the Citadel, we were at a bit of a loss for what to do next. We had timed it all a bit too well and still had just over an hour and a half until we had arranged to check into our Airbnb. After grabbing a quick bite downtown, we strolled along the street until we came to the Public Gardens. The area might have seemed small, but it sure was pretty.
Although not originally on our must-see list, we used the remainder of the time to check out Pier 21, sometimes referred to as Canada’s Ellis Island.
So what is Pier 21? For over a million immigrants, it was their entry point into Canada and the new life they were seeking there. It was the chance for freedom or adventure or a better life. For others, it was the place they were denied entry.
The museum at Pier 21 was fascinating. There are countless past recollections of people who immigrated to Canada through Pier 21, their stories emotional, moving, and sometimes harrowing.
The next morning, we woke up bright and early to head out to Peggy’s Cove. We had one more stop in Nova Scotia before beginning the arduous drive up to Quebec City. After all our lighthouses in PEI, we were basically going through a lighthouse withdrawal (joking), so having that be our final Nova Scotia site felt fitting.
It was rainy and miserable and the wind was incredibly strong as we walked out to the lighthouse. Even on the sunniest days, the rocks can be slippery, so we made sure to tread carefully. Still, it’s an unmissable site, and is a consistent favourite among sightseers.
The village itself is absolutely stunning, and on a sunny day the bright colours bring the quaint place to life. In this weather, the colours were softened and the lighthouse had a haunting appeal to it.
Peggy’s Point Lighthouse was built in 1915, and to this day remains one of the most photographed lighthouses in Canada. Even from pictures, it’s not hard to see why, although being there in person can’t be matched.
The remainder of our day was taken up by a tense drive through terribly windy and rainy conditions. Our plans to check off a few more New Brunswick sites fell by the wayside as we made our way as quickly as possible to Quebec City, our stop for the night. With just half a day of our trip left after our arrival, it was starting to feel like we were inching back to reality.
What Nova Scotia site is a must-see for you?