Summer of love

How a band called the Harbour Sharks sparked my love of Halifax 

I recall the exact moment I fell for Halifax. It was a summer afternoon in 1999. I had recently graduated and was beginning my journalistic career. I lived in the South End for most of the previous four years while attending university, but you don’t really experience a city while in school; you’re always in your bubble. The settings might change, but you mostly spend your time doing the same things with the same people. 

That summer was like discovering a new city. On the day in question, my friend Dylan and I were aimlessly ambling around the downtown, stopping periodically for a bite or a beer. 

Amid the clamour of Spring Garden Road, we heard a live band, cranking out a funk-rock sound that made us exchange delighted looks. The song eludes my aging memory, but Rick James’s “Mary Jane” seems right. 

We ventured down a flight of stairs to a subterranean bar called the Tickle Trunk. A band called the Harbour Sharks was on the tiny stage, playing their guts out for a crowd of about six people. 

This was the beginning of a long meandering journey through the city’s musical scene for my roommates and me, which continued for the next few years, hitting a fever pitch each summer. 

The Tickle Trunk was our base, and we became big fans of the open-mic night, where a rising guitarist named Matt Mays played weekly, interspersing songs like “City of Lakes” with rambling monologues about how famous he’d be some day. 

We ventured all over. Sometimes the bars were packed, sometimes they were deserted. But there was always local talent or a touring act on hand. It seemed we could go out any time, day or night, and find a live show. 

We saw the legendary Dutch Mason and Carson Downey at Bearly’s, Jimmy Swift and Dr. Yellowfever at the Attic, 54-40 and Bif Naked at the Marquee, and countless others that are now lost to the mists of time. 

And it was a particularly glorious time to be a rock fan. An edgy new alt-rock scene had taken hold in the city, earning it a “Seattle North” nickname that some of us still aren’t letting go. Bands like Sloan and Thrush Hermit (the incubator of a young Joel Plaskett) were exploding the fiddles-and-jigs stereotype. 

We were hogs at a buffet, feasting on every live show possible. We were living in a blessed city at a blessed time, and we knew it. 

In her history column for this issue, Katie Ingram takes us back to those glory days of Halifax’s live rock scene. And to embark on your own summer of discovery, see Janet Whitman’s story. No matter your pandemic comfort level, she has expert advice to help you make the most of summer in the city. 

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