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Brad Dykema: Urban Family Adventures on Foot
Small joys: Taking the kids on foot-powered city adventures.
Halifax fits a lot of city into a small space. In a short stretch of the Halifax peninsula you can visit shops, restaurants, galleries, museums, theatre, public squares, playgrounds, and the entirety of the Halifax waterfront boardwalk. This density is what makes Halifax such a great place to explore on foot. Yes, even when you’re walking with kids!
My wife and I and our two kids live car-free just west of downtown Halifax. So on a nice weekend day, when we take the kids to one of their favourite downtown destinations, it’s a given that we’re going to walk there. Which turns a functional ten-minute trip into a memorable four-hour adventure.
The kids have their favourite spots. The funhouse atmosphere of the candy store Freak Lunchbox on Barrington Street; the more “exotic” imported treats at Underground Snax, just a few blocks down; brunch at Your Father’s Moustache on Spring Garden Road; and every ice cream, pastry, and treat shop on the Halifax waterfront—our most frequent destination. On the way, we stop whenever the kids find something worth pausing for.
We’ll pause during our walk through Camp Hill Cemetery. This historic cemetery next to the Public Gardens is the resting place of both Viola Desmond and Alexander Keith. The kids are fascinated by the names and dates on the rows of old headstones and they talk about the world events that certain people were and weren’t alive to witness.
We’ll pause during our walk through the Halifax Public Gardens. The kids love it when we give them each a few coins to toss into one or more of the three grand fountains we come across. And it’s endless fun to watch the ducks dive to the pond bottom.
We’ll walk the few bustling blocks of Spring Garden Road—peeping into shop windows along the way—and pause in front of the old central public library. Next to the larger-than-life statue of Winston Churchill are a garden of flower-shaped percussion instruments the kids hit with the dangling mallets.
We’ll slow down and pause on the three block-long pedestrian-only stretch of Argyle Street. The small joy here—of being able to walk or dance down the centre of the street safely—is matched by the people-watching, as the patios of bars and restaurants on this street can be packed on a sunny day.
After popping into Freak Lunchbox, we’ll pause in Ondaatje Court—the public square between the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s two buildings. Here, the kids comment on the grand architecture of the Dominion Building—the northern of the gallery’s two buildings—and walk through the four tines of the sculpture, “Origins”.
Once on the waterfront boardwalk, we’ll pause…often. But the two longest stops are the simplest pleasures. First, they descend the massive granite steps at Queen’s Marque down into the harbour to get their feet wet—and watch other kids do the same. Second, they crawl up and all over the old anchors and propellers on display next to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
It’s a cliche that life is about the journey as much as the destination. But we live this truth all the time in Halifax. So if you’re in the city with kids, remember, the city is their playground. Get where you’re going on foot, and you’ll discover more than handfuls of wonderful little moments. You’ll discover a deeper, more meaningful connection with each other built on the joys of impromptu discovery.
Brad Dykema (he/him)
Brad is a freelance writer, fitness enthusiast, and armchair urbanist. He and his wife have lived car-free for the past 20+ years in central Toronto, Vancouver, Amsterdam, and now Halifax, where they live with their two kids. Here, they enjoy aimlessly exploring as far as their feet will take them, with the odd bus ride or CarShare trip thrown in.