As Nova Scotia reopens, Halifax’s most popular summer destination welcomes people back—with lots of changes

T

he Halifax Waterfront is always busy in summer, and with another lockdown behind us, 2021 is likely to be no exception.

“We’re quite excited to welcome folks back to the waterfront this season because we think there is some great stuff to experience, new things and also old favourites,” Jennifer Angel, CEO of Develop Nova Scotia, landlords for much of the space. “We’ve been focused over the past couple of years in particular on bringing new performers, new businesses, and diverse programming so that more people can see themselves on the waterfront, feel comfortable there, and a sense of belonging. I hope that resonates with people.”

One of the new developments is a public space at the Foundation Seawall adjacent to the Salt Yard. It spans 40,000 square feet and is a timber-built space that allows boats to berth, businesses to set up shop, and a place for people to hang out and enjoy by the water’s edge.

Additionally, a new Halifax Harbour tour features a unique environmentally friendly vessel called the Violet Mac.

Halifax Watercraft Tours & Adventures co-owners Ossama Nasrallah and Omar Hassan are looking forward to this summer because they embark on a new endeavour with their four-year-old business. Their latest venture, Sea Halifax, has been in the works for a year, and it is the first Jet Ski tour in the city.

“Sea Halifax tour is an hourly tour, and we’re making it as affordable as possible,” Nasrallah says. “Our lowest rate is $40 per person. We have our sunset tour, a two-hour tour, and then we have Boardwalk by Night moonlight tour … We will take people around the boardwalk on a boat at night with live music and with the waterfront being lit up, it will just add to it. We’re doing it bubble by bubble. If you go with your family it is only your family: there won’t be any other people.”

With this new venture, there is a lot of flexibility for customized adventures. The captains can take passengers anywhere on the harbour, including McNab’s Island, where they can stop so you can have a barbecue on the beach.

Nasrallah plans to offer Sea-Doo rides (guided rentals) and sea kayak tours. This summer, adventure seekers will have an opportunity for the first time to Georges Island as part of a three-hour tour.

He hopes to build on last summer’s success, when the company sold about 3,000 trips.

“People has us on their bucket list saying, ‘I am going to Halifax, I am doing Jet Ski on the harbour,'” Nasrallah says. “People made us feel that something is missing, and providing this experience makes us happy … Our job was to connect more people with the harbour and the water, being out there. It is where our vision came from. Families would come, people would go out together under the bridge, discover our harbour.”

People will find some new vendors on the waterfront this summer. Develop Nova Scotia announced that Brawta Jamaican Jerk Joint will bring unique flavour and heat this summer with its new venture Brawta by the Water. And the owners of Stubborn Goat Bear Garden are opening Salt Yard Social, a “more elevated” experience on the waterfront (in late June, if all goes as planned).

Photo: Develop Nova Scotia

“As much as I am a fan of lots of beer and a little bit more rustic food like sausages and some burgers, there’s that clientele that was looking for a real glass of wine in a real glass and some mixed cocktails,” says co-owner Geir Simensen. “I have been on many waterfronts and sitting on one in Halifax—if I ever saw that anywhere else, I know it would be a location I would return to day after day while I was on that trip.”

One of the venue’s unique features will be a walkway four metres high that connects the Social to the Beer Garden. On the second storey of each business will be brand new patios.

“It’s going to have a lot of openness, flow, the viewpoint of the plank will be great as you will be able to see some of the big boats coming in and just the feel of what’s going on the water,” Simensen says. “There’s going to be the hustle and bustle of Jet Skis flying around, the tall ship Silva out there—I expect that there is going to be a lot more activity on the water, and it’s going to be a great experience for everyone.”

Simensen hopes that Haligonians who will rediscover the waterfront will appreciate it as much as he does.

“I just love our waterfront,” he says. “We’re proud to be a part of just what’s going on.”

Also coming this month are the Salt Yard Sessions, an annual partnership between Develop Nova Scotia and Youth Art Connection.

“Develop Nova Scotia approached us about being a part of that and providing all these opportunities for many young artists to have opportunities to perform and present outside,” says Youth Art Connection executive director Ryan Veltmeyer. “It’s been fabulous for the first couple of years. Even without the cruise ships last year, we played in front of audiences, which was fun.

In 2012, Youth Art Connection formed to help artists grow their careers while building their skills to gain employment. The group also engages youth with social impact goals and takes an active role in community issues.

“These are always very passionate, amazing singers, poets and dancers,” Veltmeyer says. “They do stunning performances … It’s such a beautiful thing to watch them all performing. These are passionate dancers with a chance to dance and perform. They always bring 100% energy.”

Another new program this summer is Waterfront Plus, presenting smaller pop-up events. Develop Nova Scotia has already received 18 submissions and will announce the selections soon.

Vendors hope that the opportunity to rediscover the waterfront will build on the support-local movement.

Photo: Develop Nova Scotia

“People will be thirsty to do something fun on the waterfront, so we will be there for them,” Nasrallah says. “This year, we have 11 employees, and this is the most we’ve hired in four years—all from boating to kayaking to Sea-Dooing. Our team is ready … to get the ball rolling and get Nova Scotians on the water and let them have the best summer they could after this past month.”

Simensen adds that it’s a critical time for those waterfront businesses, who face an already-shortened season.

“Our window of opportunity is not very large,” he explains.

Locals often see the waterfront, especially in summer, as a tourist destination. Angel wants to change that.

“We are not building the waterfront for tourists,” she says. “We’re trying to create a place where Nova Scotians can feel a sense of belonging and pride … There’s always something new to see and experience, whether on land or by sea. I hope that they’ll see a really strong reflection of the diversity of Nova Scotia and strong articulation of Nova Scotian culture and pride there.”

Halifax Magazine