Summer in the city

Halifax revs up for a return to fun and sun 

After two-plus years of lockdowns, bubbling, and keeping a distance of nine donairs apart, government has rolled back most COVID-19 public health rules and most Nova Scotians are vaccinated. 

The pandemic isn’t behind us but Halifax has no shortage of fun and safe things to put on a city staycation agenda. 

“It’s funny because so many of us are reacquainting ourselves with the city,” says Laura MacNutt, owner of KingsPier Vintage in Historic Properties. “And it’s also transformed over the past couple of years with the new waterfront development … Getting to know the city again, and with a fresh perspective, is really quite remarkable.” 

Besides exploring the “new” all along the Halifax waterfront, MacNutt is looking forward to the old. “We’re all wanting to get back to the days where there was a nice, intimate Busker Festival and all that,” she says. 

Her daughter Emma Bent and workers at her luxury vintage shop agree that the essentials for a perfect Halifax summer day include the age-old picnic at Public Gardens, a stroll through Point Pleasant Park or along the waterfront to browse kiosks, a stop at a beer garden, lounging in an Adirondack or flopping in a hammock overlooking the water, then taking a trip across to Dartmouth to do more of the same. 

Emma Bent (left) and Laura MacNutt.

“What is pleasantly surprising is that the really meaningful things that Haligonians of all ages love are the things that are a result of geography and topography: our central fort on the hill, harbourside, islands,” says MacNutt. “They are all accessible, unique to Halifax, cherished by most, and relatively unchanged over generations.” 

Rhys Waters, a podcast pro who immigrated to Nova Scotia from Wales with his family four years ago, is happy to see Halifax coming back to life. 

“I saw the city go from a deserted, zombie apocalypse to gradually everything starting to feel like normal again,” says Waters, whose podcast studio is across from rejuvenated summertime hotspot DeeDee’s Ice Cream near the Halifax Common. “The turnaround’s been amazing.” 

His family is adopting a 12-year-old girl and he, along with his wife and three sons (aged 10, seven, and five), are excited to show her all the fun stuff they’ve discovered around the city. 

“With the kids, we love going to the beaches and lakes,” Waters says. “They love Fort Needham Park. It’s a nice place to go with a bit of a breeze on a really hot day.” The Dingle is another favourite, with its mix of beach and play area. “My kids call it the ‘Tower Park.’ As soon as they see sand, they rip their shoes off and run wild.” 

If Waters and his wife manage to score a babysitter, they like an evening summer stroll on the waterfront. When the couple first moved here, the city had no shortage of places to eat or get a fancy cocktail, but the options have exploded, he says. “I don’t think I’m going to be around to try all the places we’d like to.” 

Wondering what to do this summer? Read on. 

Feeling crafty?
Try your hand at making something at the Art Cart, a fully stocked, mobile art class on wheels in front of the Craig Gallery in Alderney Landing on the Dartmouth waterfront. 

“Folks just have to sign up and show up,” says Ryan Fraser, who heads up marketing for Alderney Landing. “All of the materials are taken care of.” 

Over the summer, the Art Cart will be open for three or four sessions a month. Classes include screen-printed patch making, card-making, and rug hooking among others. While its main target is the seven-to-16 age bracket, the cart has an option for those 19 and up and feeling crafty: Tuesday evening “Drink and Draw” classes in collaboration with the Brightwood Brewery Beer Garden. Enjoy a beverage or two while sketching uniquely curated still lives.

Cinema under the stars
For two decades, Fin Atlantic International Film Festival has delivered epic outdoor film experiences with a giant inflatable screen. After a two-year pandemic-inspired hiatus, Fin Outdoor is back. This year’s theme is the “Summer of Sarah Polley” featuring the talents of the Canadian actor and director. Weather permitting, the four-flick Friday eve series starts July 8 with My Life Without Me, followed by Away from Her, Take this Waltz, and Stories We Tell. Showtime starts at dusk in downtown Halifax’s iconic Public Gardens. Benches between the café and gazebo fill up fast, so bring a blanket or folding chair. Admission is free but capacity will likely max out at 500 and advance tickets are required

Looking for more outdoor movie options? Out by the Halifax international airport, Speedway Drive-in has room for 600 cars, making the new venture at Scotia Speedworld the largest drive-in east of Montreal. No wheels? Stay put with a projector and host a backyard or street-side movie night of your own.

Hidden gem 
Micou’s Island attracts a mere 2,000 visitors a year. Tucked away near the eastern shore of St. Margarets Bay, the nine-hectare tidal island at the tip of Indian Point is accessible on foot over a sandbar at low tide. While open to everyone, the ecological oasis feels almost undiscovered. There’s plenty to explore with a mix of rocky and white sandy beaches, grassy fields, and rugged forest. 

Hot ticket 
Georges Island and its maze of cold, brick tunnels only became a tourist destination for the first time in summer 2020, when Parks Canada opened the National Historic Site to the public. The small Halifax Harbour island is open only on weekends and some Fridays. Parks Canada admission is necessary, whether doing a tour or travelling solo. Tickets, which usually sell out fast, are available from Ambassatours Gray Line. Admission is free for people 17 and under. To get there, take a 10-minute ferry operated by Ambassatours or go by private boat, canoe, or kayak. 

Photo: Balint Vekassy

On the water 
Dartmouth’s Lake Banook is hosting the most powerful paddlers on the planet for the International Canoe Federation (ICF) Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships from Aug. 3 to 7.

Want to paddle for yourself? Head to Shubie Park and tour the historic Shubenacadie Canal and beautiful Lake Charles by canoe, kayak, or paddle board. Family-owned Wildwood Water Sports has rentals near the Fairbanks Centre. Or catch an ocean wave with a surf at Lawrencetown Beach. East Coast Surf School offers daily surfing lessons with certified instructors. 

Pack a picnic 
Enjoy a picnic spread in one of the city’s parks, the waterfront, or catch a boat to McNabs Island, a hot spot for picnickers since the 1800s. Pick up supplies at one of the city’s farmers markets. No time or inclination to make sandwiches? Takeout is always an option.

Or kick it up a notch with a picnic box from Rudy’s Catering on Granville Street in downtown Halifax. Looking for something extra special? Book a luxury feast online with Picnics with Love Hfx, which sets up a waterproof picnic blanket and a fully decked out miniature picnic table setup with comfy pillows to relax and hang out with family and friends. 

Dig in the dirt 
Give your mental and physical health a boost by hanging out or helping out at one of Halifax’s many community gardens, or even get a plot of your own to putter in and grow some veggies. Most of the city’s community gardens have common areas, where everyone is welcome to visit. 

Common Roots Urban Farm has two locations: one on the grounds of the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth and another off the Bi-Hi (Bicentennial Drive) at the bottom of Bayers Road. “Both sites currently have waiting lists for plots,” says Hillary Lindsay, who coordinates the Dartmouth operation. “If people are interested, they can email to be notified of upcoming volunteering training.” 

Months of music 
After taking in Halifax Jazz Festival (July 13 to 17), hit the road for other multi-day music fests around the province. Canso’s Stan Rogers Folk Festival, AKA Stanfest, runs from July 22 to 24 with a 2022 lineup true to its grassroots roots with George Canyon, Catherine MacLellan, Madison Violet, Reeny Smith, and more. 

If country’s your jam, head to Aylesford for the Fox Mountain Country Music Festival from Aug. 5 to 7. Or rock out at the Jubilee in New Glasgow from July 29 to 31 at the town’s outdoor amphitheatre on the East River. This year’s roster includes Serena Ryder, Glass Tiger, Sloan, and T. Thomason. 

Nova Scotia Summerfest, a two-day shindig starting Aug. 19 on Columbus Field in downtown Antigonish, has Jimmy Rankin, Walk off the Earth, the Trews, and Neon Dreams among others on the bill. 

Back in the city from Sept. 2 to 5 is the Halifax Urban Folk Festival. Touted as a celebration of songs, the people who write and sing ‘em, and the stories surrounding them, the festival takes place in venues around the city. This year’s acts include Christina Martin, Zamani, Erin Costello, Matt Mays, and Carleton Stone. 

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