Halifax is the beautiful capital city of Nova Scotia. As it is one of Canada’s eastern port cities, it is the hub of the east. International flights go in and out of here, as well as the Halifax Naval Yard. Halifax is on one of the deepest and largest ice free harbours in the world, making it the most important commercial port on the Canadian Atlantic.
The community of Halifax was originally Mi’kmaq land and inhabited by the Mi’kmaq peoples. The French arrived to settle this area in the early 1600s followed by the British in 1749. Forts, such as Citadel Hill, were erected around the area by the British in their attempts to protect against Mi’kmaq and French attacks. The habitation of this area was one that was highly sought after and fought over for years to come. The Mi’kmaq and British fought violent and deadly battles for 75 years over this area. On June 25, 1761, a “Burying of the Hatchet Ceremony” was held to signify the end of the war between these two people groups.
The Halifax port was used as a base for many warships, for staging attacks, trading goods, receiving immigrants and refugees, and various other things. There was also a pre-Confederation military school in Halifax where men could receive training in various types of skills needed. After confederation, a military school was found here as well.
The city is ripe with history, both well known and lesser known, such as the Halifax Explosion and being the closest port to the sinking Titanic. During WWII, supplies were sent out of Bedford Basin to help the British forces in Europe.
All of this rich history and more makes Halifax a very interesting and educational city to visit. There are many wonderful places to visit; here are some of the ones that are most historically focused.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is the oldest and largest museum in Atlantic Canada. It is located down on the Halifax waterfront. The museum collects and displays various artifacts of Nova Scotia’s marine history. Visitors get to see models of steamships, small craft, navy vessels, and World War convoys. There are displays throughout showing intricate and detailed models of these different vessels as well as artifacts recovered from different ones.
A large portion of the museum is dedicated to telling of the Halifax Explosion, which happened on December 6, 1917. One of the coolest parts of this display is an interactive table where you can see a map of Halifax and see the two ships coming towards each other and then see them collide. It was such an informative part of this exhibit. If you don’t know what this event in history was, this video gives a very brief overview.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
At one point in history, Halifax was one of the main overseas naval stations of the British Empire. Due to this, a fortification system was put in place to defend the harbour and its surrounding coastal areas. The Halifax Citadel was used as the command base for this system, as well as fended off any land based attacks. British units were posted to Halifax and used the Citadel as their headquarters.
The Citadel as we see it today was not the original structure but is actually the fourth fort to overlook Halifax from the top of the hill.
There are a variety of different tours you can take of this historical property, given by a tour guide in costume. You can even be a soldier for the day! Homeschool groups can take advantage of their school programs for a unique field trip! Children under 17 get free admission!
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
When we know each other's stories, we can understand each other better. The purpose of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is to tell people’s stories. This museum is located at Pier 21, which is the site at the Halifax seaport that welcomed nearly one million immigrants between the years of 1928 and 1971.
Each of these groups of people to land at the Halifax seaport came for a different reason and have a different story to tell: some of hope, some of fear, and many of resiliency. People were fleeing persecution, economic devastation, and varying forms of environmental destruction among other things. As vast as their reasons for coming are the welcomes which they received; some helped and encouraged while others discouraged and shunned.
All these stories deserve to be told, to keep their memories alive, and to help us learn about and from our past. The Canadian Museum of Immigration does this through various permanent exhibits as well as special exhibits. You can visit on your own or take a guided tour. You can even sign up for a virtual tour at their website. You can even read about, and view, many of the oral testimonies on their website.
Naval Museum of Halifax
Historically, The Naval Museum of Halifax was the residence of the Admiral and other important people in the British Royal Navy. During World War I, it served as a naval hospital. Staff continued to care for patients here even when the roof was blown off in the Halifax Explosion. The building was repaired and used to aid in the recovery of those surviving the explosion. It was next used as a Royal Canadian Naval Base and then office space. Currently, this museum houses the history of the Canadian Navy, from its inception in 1910 until now. The walls are full of artifacts highlighting both war and peace such as weapons, uniforms, models, art, and official documents. There is a very neat place outside to see different types of weapons, like cannons and missiles, used at this time. There is also a large library that holds more than 50,000 books.
There is also a garden which holds plaques commemorating navy personnel and a Wall of Valour to recognize specific Navy personnel for their bravery.
There is no admission cost to visit the museum, but a government issued ID is required to be shown.
While the Africville Museum is small, its presence in Halifax is important. Africville began in the early 1800s as members of the black community began to arrive in Nova Scotia, at this time mostly as former slaves being freed by the British. These people came to Canada under the promise of land and equal rights. The residents made quick work of establishing a church and school here, but the community was neglected in terms of the services offered there, even something as seemingly simple as safe drinking water.
The city continued to show its lack of respect for this community with the railroads it built throughout. Many undesirable structures were built in Africville by the city, including a prison, a fecal waste station, and a dump. While other areas of the city were given finances for improvement, this community was left on its own. Eventually in the 1960s, the city began to demolish the houses in Africville and move tenants and their belongings using garbage trucks. This left some residents without affordable housing and out of work. That is the very brief overview of the history of this community, and it’s why this museum is important. Even as an Atlantic Canadian, I had not known of this until I started researching it. It is always important for us and our children to learn how other people groups have been marginalized so we can better understand and learn from past mistakes.
The museum is open Monday - Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Who knew Halifax was so rife with Canadian history? If you live in this city, there are many opportunities to experience and learn about Canadian history. It’s also a great place for a little school trip if you are able! Some of these places even have virtual tours on their websites!
If you want to know more, you can read about the province of Nova Scotia as a whole!
This article has been written by homeschooling staff writers of The Canadian Schoolhouse (TCS). Enjoy more of our content from TCS contributors and staff writers by visiting our themes page that has a new theme topic added every month!