I’ve wanted to write about my 2008 excursion to Georges Island for a while. However, I learned one of the travel writing rules is to write about places people can go, and Georges Island has been off-limits for as long as I’ve been in Halifax. For most Halifax residents, this is all we get to see of Georges Island. It is rife with mystery and rumored to be overrun with snakes.
Until this summer. From July 19-29, Nova Scotia is hosting Tall Ships 2012, a celebration of the our historic sea-faring heritage. During the festival, Parks Canada will temporarily open up Georges Island for excursions. On Saturday, there is a sold-out concert in the afternoon, followed by visitation on Sunday, where visitors can wander around the island. For the Sunday visitation, the admission fee includes transportation to and from Halifax. Buy tickets for 2012.
I tell everyone in Halifax, if you have the opportunity to get out to Georges Island, take it. I followed my own advice back in June 2008, when Parks Canada had a trial event to let people “sample” the island. A $17 entry fee included round-trip ferry transportation, entry to the island, interpretative information, and entertainment. The weather was perfect and over 4,000 people turned up to see this little patch of land that is so close, but completely out of reach for the city.
We were loaded up on transit ferries and sent on a quick jaunt around the harbour. On board, the excitement was palpable, and many of us repeated the same thing: “I can’t believe I’m actually going to see it.”
There is really only one reason locals and visitors alike should take the rare opportunity to visit Georges Island when they can. It’s a rare view of our city, but one that is deeply, deeply connected to our history – from the 1700s to the Second World War. During decades of war between the English and French, it traded hands frequently and has been used as a prison as much as it’s been used as a military installation. Acadian deportees were held there before being shipped off to New England during le Grand Dérangement. It’s rumoured to be haunted, to be filled with secret tunnels, and again, full of snakes. They’re Nova Scotia garter snakes, and completely harmless at that.
Short version: the view is wonderful.
The island experience is very simple, it has neither electricity nor plumbing. It does, however, feel like it’s relatively untouched, which is pretty amazing with the hurly burly of activity just a few hundred metres away in both Halifax and Darmouth.
Our return trip included a loop around the island, to check the fortifications from the waterside.
The trip was far too short and far too long ago, I’m really looking forward to my return later this week. If only because it’ll give me more fuel in my informal campaign to get Georges Island open on a more permanent basis. I really believe it has the potential to be Halifax’s answer to New York’s Governors Island, which until 2003, had been similarly off-limits. The island was gifted to the city in a property transaction and has now been made a part of the New York’s vast park offerings by being open weekends during summer.
Back 2008, it was predicted Georges Island would be welcoming visitors in three to five years. That time frame may have lapsed in recent years, but I remain cautiously optimistic that one day, we could have our own Governors Island-style Gatsby summer party on Georges Island. With the snakes serving cocktails, of course.