Lots of ways to explore the history, boats and beers of Halifax

HALIFAX – You don’t have to read about history in Halifax – you can live it instead.

The 266-year-old city offers many ways to experience its past in person this summer.

Visitors and locals alike can start by exploring Halifax’s harbour, which is one of the largest and deepest in the world, aboard the Tall Ship Silva.

The 40-metre schooner was built as a coastal cargo vessel in Sweden in 1939, at the tail end of the Age of Sail. After being used by the Swedish navy in the Second World War, the Silva was refurbished and towed to Halifax, where she is currently the most chartered vessel in Nova Scotia.

“For Maritimers and for visitors, there’s sort of that feeling of, I guess, wanting to get back on the water. Kind of recapturing the Age of Sail, because it’s very much part of our history here,” said Terri McCulloch, communications manager at the vessel’s parent company Ambassatours Gray Line.

“(The Silva) helps people participate in the romance of that period, because it feels like a historical vessel.”

Passengers on any of the ship’s daily cruises can help the captain and crew hoist sails and coil ropes as they hear about the harbour’s significance, past and present.

There’s even a pub on board.

“Another part of our history we’re very proud of here in the Maritimes,” McCulloch said with a laugh.

It’s true – Halifax likes to boast it has the highest number of bars per capita in Canada. Whether or not that’s the case, it does host one of the oldest breweries: Alexander Keith’s, founded in 1820.

Visitors are transported back to the brewery’s 1860s heyday on hour-long theatrical tours through the brewery, which was also Alexander Keith’s first home.

“It combines history, beer, theatre, traditional music: we’ve got it all,” said Jennette White, the tour’s creative director.

Jovial guides in period costume and character lead guests through the ironstone and granite building, describing the history of the building and the city.

If you’re lucky, they promise, you might even get to meet Mr. Keith himself – and you’ll definitely get to sample some of his beer at the end of the tour, in a replicated 19th century pub complete with card games and drinking songs.

But there’s another side to the brewery: a spooky side. To hear how the brewmaster’s spectre is said to haunt the building, you’ll have to take a ghost walk of historic Halifax with actor and tour guide Andy Smith.

“It’s all about the atmosphere,” Smith said, describing his ghost walk as a mixture of scary stories and tales of the city’s past.

“Halifax is very, very rich in history.”

Rich history makes for a lot of ghosts, apparently. The two-hour tour starts at the Old Town Clock and winds its way past eerie spots like the Old Burying Ground cemetery and St. Paul’s Anglican church, the oldest building in Halifax.

They say you can still see the outline of a severed head that flew through the church’s window during the Halifax Explosion in 1917.

But you’ll have to see for yourself.


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