If you count public art galleries, Halifax museums cover a great variety of attractions where you can spend a rainy day (this is the Maritimes, after all!), or a chilly winter’s afternoon. Rich with inspiration, information, and entertainment, Halifax museums are carefully curated and user friendly.
Coming and Going at Pier 21
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 on the Halifax waterfront not only commemorates the roughly one million immigrants who passed through during the years from 1928 to 1971, it was also the launching point for half a million Canadian military troops during the Second World War. The influx was huge post-WWII as Europeans and Britons, seeking a return to normalcy, flocked to Canada for greater opportunities. A substantial amount of their homelands were reduced to rubble or otherwise damaged, and Canada, as well as the U.S.A., was regarded as a place for a fresh start.
Before the common use of commercial airliners, people got across the Atlantic in ships, which docked at Halifax harbour. Some stayed, and others took the train to points west, settling in Toronto and beyond. The museum has a logbook of names. Even those who are second- and third-generation Canadians can find family names in the register.
The museum at Pier 21 has proved useful in the current
“ancestry” hobby. It is a National Historic Site, open seven days a week from May 1 to October 31. It houses immigration documents, artefacts, models and displays.
Halifax Citadel Army Museum
In 1953, the Army Museum opened within the grounds of the Citadel, Halifax’s long-time hilltop fortress that protected the city; it is a National Historic Site. The Army Museum is part of the Citadel, and there is one admission fee that covers both; it is open from early May to the end of October, and from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. only on Remembrance Day, November 11th. Group and educational tours can be arranged during the off-season period.
With 70,000 permanent exhibits, the Army Museum features memorabilia and artefacts from both World Wars, as well as conflicts before and after, with an emphasis on the involvement of Canadian soldiers. A serious sort of museum, its detailed, sometimes sobering collections include:
- stories and documents
- war art
On the lighter side, it houses an exhibit of “trench art”, items crafted by soldiers in their downtime, to calm their nerves, and made from items such as metal helmets and bullet casings. These are true works of art, and make the museum more amusing.
Halifax is a walkable city and the Citadel is easy to get to on foot, by bus, or by car, but there is limited parking.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Nothing can get locals and tourists in the seafaring mode like the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Just in case you forgot that you were in a historic port city directly on the Atlantic Ocean’s western shoreline, this museum reminds you of the great seafaring history of Canada, and sets the tone for the east coast lifestyle.
Located right on the waterfront boardwalk the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is fun, informative and entertaining. Its exhibits take a run through marine history, offering the Days of Sail and the Age of Steam, complemented by artefacts like fabulously detailed ship models and portraits, and collections of small watercraft, even a section on the Canadian Navy. One of the most popular permanent exhibits is the RMS Titanic display with its collection of wooden artefacts from the ship, including a deck chair!
The collection of shipwreck treasures will delight the pirate – we mean, child – in you, as will:
- photos of boats and ships of all sorts
- old navigation charts (before GPS!)
- tales of the sea depicted in art and words
- rare books
- a public reference library
- the Halifax explosion of 1917
- the CSS Acadia, a 1913 steamship used in hydrographic surveys
Established in 1948, and thereby the oldest maritime museum in Canada, the new permanent building was erected in 1981, and is so close to the water that restoration projects are undertaken right there in the harbour next to the museum.
Discover the Discovery Centre
Got kids? The Discovery Centre is the place to amuse them. Along with several other attractions along the Halifax waterfront, the 4,000-square-foot Discovery Centre is a science-palooza of fascination, fun and, of course, discovery. It operates on the “steam” principle of involvement in learning:
- S = Science
- T = Technology
- E = Engineering
- A = Arts
- M = Mathematics
The innovation lab provides the hands-on inspiration, tools and techniques to help your imaginings become real things. Kids and adults will want to test the viability of their ideas. No imagination? Then head to the Dome Theatre for magic sent down from the universe. Featuring films and star shows, it’s all you need to feel connected to the heavens and the planets.
The Discovery Centre is divided into galleries so that visitors can spend more time in areas of personal interest to them. Here you will find:
- Just for Kids!
While there is no dedicated on-site parking, The Discovery Centre is close to parking lots in the immediate area. Have lunch at the Bird’s Nest Cafe and buy a science souvenir at the gift shop. Make a day of it and expand your brain! Open year-round except for statutory holidays; open late on Wednesdays. The entire centre is wheelchair-accessible. And it’s affordable. A day pass for a family of four is about $40; there is a small extra fee to enter the Dome Theatre.
The Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
Nature and science do intermingle, so there is a little overlap with some aspects of The Discovery Centre, but the Museum of Natural History’s focus is on archaeology, ethnology, mammals and marine life, not the newest scientific wow factor. More mushrooms and reptiles, sea creatures and fossils. Maybe a little more nerdy that the bustling Discovery Centre, the focus is on nature and animals.
Located on Summer Street, downtown, the Museum of Natural History is open 9 to 5, seven days a week. Given that Nova Scotia is mostly rural and natural, it’s a study in what the province has outside of the two main cities. A key element to this is the early natives of Nova Scotia, the Mi’kmaq, featured at this museum. See an eagle’s nest and a huge whale skeleton. And say hello to Gus the Gopher Tortoise! He’s been hanging around waiting to chat for 70 years!
And here’s a little insider (exclusive!) news about natural Nova Scotia. In August of 2017, yours truly, writer, encountered a cougar (yes, a cougar!) in the wild near the Bay of Fundy coast near Mount Hanley (north of the town of Middleton). This meeting (very friendly eye contact and mutual respect) was reported to the Museum of Natural History, as well as conservation authorities (federal and provincial) as it was believed cougars no longer lived in Nova Scotia. The museum was most helpful! Visit and learn why it was believed the cougars were gone.
The Museum List Goes On…
While in Halifax, be sure to visit the main public gallery, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Not technically a museum, per se, its art tells of past and present creativity. It features a wide variety of art styles and forms, and not just Canadian. Old masters paintings, nautical works, new and daring sculptures, ceramic art, abstract and even electronically inspired. Check out the highly popular “Maude Lewis” exhibit that includes the actual house in which she created her folk art paintings.