Ah, newbies. Welcome to the city. I was like you once. A born-and-bred Toronto girl, I moved to Halifax to take an eight-month post-graduate degree at the University of King's College. "No worries!" I told my big city friends. "I'll check out what's happening out east, and I'll be back in no time!"
Four years later, I'm still here.
The key to getting away cleanly is to resist putting down roots at all costs. The warm Halifax community will do what it can to lure you in, but you must resist. Your best bet is to observe carefully from a distance, admiring the friendly Haligonian demeanour the way you would a fluffy puppy at a strip mall pet store---it's cute, but do you really want it cozying up to you at night? Making friends with people who actually call Halifax home will only make it harder to slip away when you're done with school. "Don't go!" they'll plead. "We need you here!" They'll be very convincing. Ah yes, my fellow come-from-awayer: beware.
Though it will be tempting to peruse your academic tomes over coffee among the locals, tread carefully. Avoid lingering in places like Steve-O-Reno's, Java Blend or Just Us!---places where you're more likely to strike up conversations with fellow caffeine imbibers. Before you know it, you'll have a frequent-buyer card and the baristas will have your brew ready before you ask for it. Sure, the energy cookies at Steve-O-Reno's might be great, but resist. Sure, they'll let you sit in a comfy chair and take advantage of their free internet all day at Just Us!, but that doesn't mean you have to do it. At all costs, just avoid becoming a regular. Staying anonymous and unattached will ensure you get more work done---and let's face it, isn't that why you're here?
If you've come to this city armed with abilities---you play an instrument, you organize events, you fight for causes---beware. When Haligonians get wind of your interests and talents, you may be required to haul them out and make a contribution to the city's cultural fabric. There's no surer route to getting ensconced. Before you know it, you'll be volunteering your time at the Ecology Action Centre, fundraising for Feed Nova Scotia, jamming in a kitchen in the north end or hosting your own radio show on CKDU. Don't know anything about hosting your own radio show? Too bad you came here because this is the kind of place where you can still get access to that sort of thing. This is a city where it's easy to try new things because it's full of generous people who are willing to help you do it. Want to make a film? The Atlantic Filmmakers Co-operative can hook you up. If it's video or new media you want to pursue, make for the Centre for Art Tapes. And if it's screenprinting, zine-making or a good ol' stitch-and-bitch you're after, get thee to the Roberts Street Social Centre.
Oh no, wait. Don't go. You'll only be more conscious of the vast possibilities. It's a slippery slope.
Halifax's size makes it an easy place to get involved. If you want to dance, for example, this place has plenty of options. You could try kicking up your heels at a Friday night African dance class (nothing shakes off school stress like it), or give flamenco a try. Get your hands dirty at a pottery session, take an extracurricular painting class or take up a new sport (my friend Lola swears by dodgeball---and she joined her team without knowing a thing about the sport...including the fact that she would be hit frequently by a hard foam ball). But know that each time you try something new, you'll get a little more confident, and meet a few more great people. And that will just make it a heck of a lot more difficult to wrench yourself away when your time is up.
Here's another tip: don't get a bike. If you do, you'll realize that you're only a quick jaunt away from lake swimming and I-feel-like-I'm-in-the-country hikes. Then it'll be really hard to get away. Wandering through Point Pleasant Park at dusk won't help you either. You'll be amazed to find you can visit it again and again and still find new paths, still meet new dogs. An oceanside bench is the perfect place to contemplate the waves (once the sewage problem is under control) and watch container ships cruise past.
If you like drinking beer, you'd be advised to avoid learning what a "growler" is. If you like gin and tonics, tucking yourself in at Tom's Little Havana to drink them will not do you any favours. Nor will pints at The Henry House. Avoid the burgers, too.
If it's local food you love, avoid the Halifax Farmers' Market. The weekly produce-pinching, coffee-sipping, friend-greeting, cinnamon roll-munching ritual will only dig you in more deeply. Soon you won't be able to function without goat's milk feta cheese and "all-dressed" smoked salmon. And then you're really doomed.
The key to getting away cleanly is to avoid getting attached to the quirky details that make Halifax what it is. If you're walking along North Street near Agricola, avert your eyes when you get to the house that has a sidewalk-level chalkboard. Its messages will do nothing but brighten your day.
Don't listen too closely when you walk past the city's talented buskers. Don't smile at people on the streets---they'll only smile back.
When you walk past Citadel Hill at golden hour, don't linger, admiring the curve of the hill against the sky. And whatever you do, don't plunk yourself down on its grassy slopes with a picnic. You may never want to get up again.
It's going to be a challenge, friends, but I know you have it in you. This is a city perfectly situated to help you get that degree you're after, but take my advice: keep yourself insulated. Taking advantage of everything Halifax has to offer will only make your life richer and more interesting. And that will make it awfully tough to get away when you're ready to blow back to wherever you came from.
After four years, I am finally packing my bags and getting out of this godforsaken town. I'm bound for Kingston, Ontario, where I will no longer have to deal with salty fog, bagpipes and hurricane threats.
But oh, Halifax, it's breaking my heart.
Places and things to avoid(If you don’t want to love it here)
1536 Brunswick Street, 429-3034
Java Blend Coffee Roasters
6027 North Street, 423-6944
Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-Op
1678 Barrington Street, 422-5651, 5896 Spring Garden Road, 423-0856
Historic Properties Espresso Bar
1869 Upper Water Street, 423-8823
Tom’s Little Havana
5428 Doyle Street, 423-8667
The Henry House
1222 Barrington Street, 423-5660
Halifax Farmers’ Market
1496 Lower Water Street, 492-4043
Ecology Action Centre
2705 Fern Lane, 429-2202, ecologyaction.ca
Feed Nova Scotia
213 Bedford Highway, 457-1900, feednovascotia.ca
6136 University Avenue, 494-6479, ckdu.ca
Atlantic Filmmakers Co-Operative 5600 Sackville Street
Centre for Art Tapes
5600 Sackville Street, 420-4002, centreforarttapes.ca
Roberts Street Social Centre
5684 Robert Street, 446-1788, robertsstreet.org
African dance classes are held friday night at DANSpace, 1531 Grafton Street, 454-5418, drumdance.ca
Maria Osende Flamenco
El Viento Flamenco School of Dance
Turnstile Pottery Co-Operative
2733 Agricola Street, 431-2529, turnstilepottery.com
NSCAD School of Extended Studies
1107 Marginal Road, 494-8185
Halifax Sport and Social Club