Halifax Citadel & Downtown

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The Halifax Citadel is the centerpiece of the city, and a visit to Halifax just wouldn’t be complete without exploring this historic landmark.  There has been a military outpost on this location, overlooking Halifax Harbour, since the mid-1700’s.  This one was completed in 1856, and has been restored to resemble the Victorian era by Parks Canada.

Location

You’ll have no trouble finding the Halifax Citadel – it’s on top of a hill in the middle of downtown.  Finding your way into the parking area inside the compound is trickier.  Here’s my suggestion: take Highway 111 into town — it turns into Connaught Avenue.  Follow Connaught to Quinpool Road.   Turn left on Quinpool, and follow it to the big intersection with Robie Street.  You’ll want to go slightly right onto Bell Road, then turn left onto Ahern Avenue. At this point, you’ll be directly behind the Citadel.

Follow Ahern until just before the roundabout, and watch for a right turn into the Citadel.  If you go all the way to the roundabout, you’ll have to loop around again, because Ahern is one-way.  Once you’re on the Citadel property, the perimeter road loops around the fort.  At one point, you’ll see an oddly-placed traffic light, which controls traffic into and out of the parking area, which is located inside the fort’s moat. Wait for the green light, then drive down into the parking area.  As of 2016, parking was $3.15.

My Visit

While you might expect most visits to the Halifax Citadel to begin at the fort’s front door, mine began in the back — in the moat.

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The park service found a place for a small parking lot in this gap between the fort’s inner and outer walls.  From here, you can enter the fort through the back door, and start exploring.

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The fort is star-shaped on the outside, but more rectangular once you’re inside the main court.  This big open area is where you’ll find some old cannons and other military equipment…

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… and it’s where you’ll get to watch sentry changes (every hour) and rifle fire demonstrations (several times a day).

via GIPHY

You’ll probably want to be a the Citadel at 12 o’clock, when, instead of the chimes of a clock, Haligonians mark noontime with the loud boom of a cannon.  The Noon Gun has been fired at the Halifax Citadel since at least 1856.  I captured the blast from the upper deck, looking across the courtyard.  If you want to see and hear the whole thing, here’s a link to the video and a slo-mo version.

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Speaking of the upper deck: there are several staircases and a ramp that you can take up to the top of the fortification…

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… where you can walk around the entire perimeter of the Citadel…

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… while enjoying occasional views of the city…

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… and seeing some of the guns up-close.  These cannons don’t have a clear view of the harbor, like they did 200 years ago.

On your way around…

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… you’ll discover a couple of staircases that drop down into the depths of the fort…

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… allowing access to some very unpleasant-looking places.

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In the southeast corner, you can check out the giant radio antennas at the signal post.

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The big building in the middle of the courtyard is the barracks, which now houses the visitor center and gift shop.

The Halifax Citadel has a number of exhibits, but the one that really impressed me can be found in the moat, on the opposite side from the parking lot.  Here…

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… the park has set up a very lifelike World War I trench…

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… and it does a great job of illustrating the miserable living conditions endured by Canadian and American troops.  Certain local men and women who served in the war are also profiled – making the display feel very personal.

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Once you’ve paid your admission fee, you’re allowed to leave and return to the Citadel whenever you please.  So, step out the front door…

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… and take in the view of downtown Halifax from the perimeter road.  That’s the Angus MacDonald Bridge in the distance, connecting Halifax to Dartmouth.

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From there, take a few minutes to explore downtown Halifax — starting with the town clock.  It dates back to 1803, and the original mechanism (which includes a 13-foot pendulum) is still in use.  Parks employees wind the clock twice a week.

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Carmichael Street lines up perfectly with the town clock.  At the other end of the street, you’ll find the Grand Parade park…

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… which is filled with memorials like the Cenotaph, which was built to remember soldiers killed in World War I.

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The park is flanked by St. Paul’s Anglican Church…

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… and the Halifax City Hall.

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… you’ll also spot some colorful murals on the surrounding buildings along Barrington Street.

After exploring a bit of downtown Halifax, I walked back up the hill, through the Citadel, and back to my car.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive into the Citadel…

… and out:

The Bottom Line

If you visit Halifax and you don’t check out the Citadel, you’re missing a big part of the city’s history.  Try to find at least an hour or two to walk around and enjoy the views, and the history of this military treasure.

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