Halifax museums offer a wide variety of unique experiences that inform and entertain visitors who are interested in military and marine history, art, culture and natural history. Tourists in Nova Scotia can’t go wrong in dropping in to one or all of the museums I have mentioned below. They all are great fun for the entire family offering special programs for the little ones as well as adults.
You can’t miss Halifax Citadel because the city surrounds it. Although accessible by car there is no better way to approach the Citadel than on foot. This way you get a clear picture of the daunting prospect facing any hostile forces that might have attempted to take the fort.
The Halifax Citadel dating from 1828-1856, now a National Historic Site of Canada was built to defend the port of Halifax, one of four major naval stations in the 19th century British Empire. In the First World War the Citadel served as a detention camp and in WWII it was used as an army barracks.
Today a visit to the Citadel includes interacting with costumed soldiers who act as guides and reenact life in the 19th century fort. The will show you their barracks, the tailor and engineer stores, the orderly room, schoolroom, powder magazines, defence casemates and garrison cells. An exhibition traces Atlantic Canada’s military history.
Pier 21 is a museum that celebrates the history of immigration to Canada. It is housed in a building on the Halifax waterfront through which more than a million people passed between 1928 and 1971 on their way to a new life as settlers in Canada. Exhibits take you back to the days when the pier was bustling with crowds of passengers as they disembarked from their voyage across the Atlantic. On a sobering note the museum has a touching memorial called The Wheel of Conscience designed by the celebrated architect Daniel Libeskind. It commemorates the shameful turning away of the ship St. Louis by Canadian authorities on the eve of the Second World War sending Jewish refugees back to Germany.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the Halifax waterfront has a permanent exhibit tracing the history of marine activity in the port. The displays include objects from the great age of sail, the era of steam ships, the Titanic and the explosion in 1917 of a munitions ship in the harbour that destroyed much of the city.
One of the gems in downtown Halifax is the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. It is here that one can explore the history of art in the province and discover the rich tradition of Nova Scotia folk art. Be sure to see the fabulously decorated little house of Nova Scotia’s most prolific folk artist Maud Lewis. The meticulously restored cabin is tucked into a room in the gallery. Temporary exhibitions focus on the work of contemporary Nova Scotia and Canadian artists.
The Museum of Natural History in Halifax is the centre for education, display and research on the natural environment of Nova Scotia. The galleries of botany, geology, mammals and birds and marine life give a comprehensive view of the natural history of Nova Scotia. If you are planning on hiking or canoeing in Nova Scotia this is a good place to get to know some of the species of wildlife you are likely encounter and learn about the topography of various regions of the province. Interestingly the museum also houses a fantastic collection of archaeological material and beautiful decorative art of Nova Scotia’s First Nations, the Mi’kmaq (or Migmaw) and Malecite.