Canada’s charming colonial city by the sea holds a secret: despite its small size, it’s home to a thriving gay community fuelled by a large and diverse student population, the city’s status as Maritime Canada’s regional hub and, ahem, the city’s largest employer, the Canadian Navy. There’s plenty here for the gay traveller to enjoy, and the welcoming Maritime attitude will make you feel at home right away.
On a summer day, Halifax’s bustling port is where the action is. The pleasant boardwalk features the usual touristy shopping and buskers, but it is a great starting point for a trip into Halifax’s seafaring history. Historic ships line the harbour, and guided tours can be arranged at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Down the harbour, you’ll find the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, the port through which more than a million immigrants entered Canada in the 20th century.
Hali-fact: Along the stroll, you’re sure to spot some of Canada’s finest uniformed men.
Some of the best views of the city are from the water. The cheapest option is to take a ride on the ferry to Dartmouth, a part of the public transit network. Several boat tour operators offer minicruises around the harbour and into the ocean, with routes focused on historical vistas, whale watching, deep-sea fishing, dinner cruises and even tall-ship sailing. If you’re more adventurous, you can rent canoes from St Mary’s Boat Club and paddle around the harbour by yourself.
Hali-fact: Before buying your whale-watching ticket, ask the attendants if you’re likely to see whales on that day — certain morning weather conditions cause the whales to hide, which can make for a disappointing cruise
For a city of its size, Halifax boasts an enviable gay scene. The annual Pride celebration has evolved into a week-long cultural festival (July 18–28), welcoming up to 50,000 visitors from all over Maritime Canada. The queer-friendly sex shop Venus Envy (venusenvy.ca) is a local institution, as is the nautical-themed bathhouse SeaDog’s; there’s no sign on the street — look for the anchors painted on the entrance (seadogs.ca). There’s even a respected queer theatre company, Plutonium Playhouse. Queer nightlife is found at Reflections, for a younger dance crowd; Menz Bar (menzbar.ca), for a more casual atmosphere; and The Company House, for ladies.
Hali-fact: The monthly queer mag Wayves recently ceased publication but maintains a website (wayves.ca) with up-to-date local listings.
Food and drink
Don’t pass up a chance for fresh-from-the-ocean lobster. Seafood is ubiquitous in Halifax, and the halibut, cod and clams are among the best you’ll taste. Splurge on a nice restaurant like The Press Gang or The Five Fishermen. The pub scene is centred on the pedestrian mall on Granville Street, and many pubs feature live local musicians, including traditional fiddlers and bagpipers. Beer fans will enjoy a tour of the Alexander Keith’s brewery, which is capped off with a couple of free pints. The traditional late-night snack in Halifax is the donair — you’ll see shops everywhere — and they are delicious.
Hali-fact: In the summer, McDonald’s offers up a monstrosity called the McLobster. Avoid.