Museum of Natural History and Halifax Public Gardens
Shore Excursion Review: Museum of Natural History and Halifax Public Gardens
Halifax, Nova Scotia
August 19, 2014
By Lisa Plotnick
Halifax is among our favorite cities, and we enjoy exploring areas that are new to
us. Even after multiple visits, we still have several places on our to-do list –
and on our recent port call in Halifax, we visited two of these, the Museum of Natural
History and the Halifax Public Gardens.
As was the case with our more recent visits, we opted to go this one on our own.
By my count, it was our seventh visit to Halifax. The others were on Splendour of
the Seas (1999), Carnival Destiny (2000), Carnival Victory (2006), Maasdam (2004,
2011), most of which formed the basis of my port review of Halifax a few years ago.
We left the ship at our leisure (I did not note the time), and found a taxi fairly
quickly. The fare to the Museum of Natural History was CD$10. We gave the driver
US$20 and got back CD$10, experiencing the new plastic bills for the first time.
I loved the Museum of Natural History. It was small, just one level plus an extra-fee
($2) attraction one floor below, the Little Ray’s Reptile Encounter. One item of
note – I did not see a museum map at the entrance – not that one is really needed
– so I’m glad we printed one from the Internet page while still at home.
The most famous inhabitant at the museum is Gus, a gopher tortoise, who was born
in 1922, making him 94 years old at the time of our visit. He looks great. His office
– as he is considered a staff member – is near the reception desk and a framed certificate
honoring his 70 years of service. He joined the museum in the early 1940s. He’s very
active and seems to move toward the human faces in his windows.
There was an amazing photo exhibit on the horses of Sable Island, by Roberto Dutesco.
Sable Island was the site of many shipwrecks in its history, and its only terrestrial
animals today are horses. The photos captured these beauties traveling together,
running, showing affection, and more. This exhibit was to be a temporary one open
from June 6 through October 13, 2014, yet signs in the museum indicated a permanent
Sable Island exhibit opening in fall 2014. It was under construction during our visit.
I also enjoyed the exhibits on the history of the Mi’kmaq people that included many
surviving artifacts, including some amazing quillwork used to fashion clothing and
chair cushions/upholstery. I wasn’t as into the exhibits on archaeology, but that
is personal preference. A highlight for me was the large globe that was part of the
“Our Amazing World” exhibit. Similar to the one we saw in the Alaska State Museum
in 2012, the globe was used as a screen onto which was projected currents, weather,
geography, and the world at night. A brief movie described how the earth is always
seeking equilibrium. Fascinating.
I’m glad we spent the extra money for Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo. As it was one room,
my initial thought was that the fee was extreme. That changed when we met the zookeeper,
Lacey, who shared her expert knowledge in an understandable way. She explained how
the exhibit is the Nova Scotia franchise of the reptile zoo. We saw several animals
in recreated natural habitats, including frogs, crocodiles, and bearded dragons.
From there, we walked to the Halifax Public Gardens, established 1867, and perhaps
the most beautiful Victorian gardens I’ve seen. The park occupies 16 acres in downtown
Halifax, and includes many varieties of trees, shrubs, and flowers. A number of statues,
fountains, and other structures complement the vibrant colors of the artfully arranged
Highlights for us included the gazebo and fountain that honored, respectively, the
Golden (1887) and Diamond (1897) jubilees of Queen Victoria. Flower beds, including
one designed by students at the University of King’s College, were stunning. And
a manmade pond, Griffin’s Pond, was home to ducks and a model of Titanic. This city
loves its history – and I love that it does.
Above: Bandstand, Golden Jubilee (1887)
Below: Victoria Jubilee Fountain (1987)
This was a full day and we were pleased to have seen a part of Halifax that was new
to us. Getting around town was very easy by taxi and on foot, and I believe our total
tab for the day – excluding lunch – was less than $50 for three people ($18 family
rate for the museum, $2 per person for the reptile zoo, two taxi rides, and an optional
donation for the public gardens).
If you have the time and inclination, these two spots can be combined with a visit
to the Halifax Citadel located a few blocks away. In either case, I recommend taking
a taxi on the way there to avoid the steep uphill climb on city streets.
We still have lots more to see in my Halifax. Lunenburg next time?