Hometown travel: Georges Island in Halifax Harbour – so near, so far

Update: I went back to George’s Island twice during Summer 2012, read more about the concert I attended, then the walking tour I did the following day.

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.

Georges Island Halifax Harbour Nova Scotia
Looking at Georges Island from the roof of the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market

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.”

Ferry to Georges Island Halifax Harbour Nova Scotia

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.

Georges Island Halifax Harbour Nova Scotia

Georges Island Halifax Harbour Nova Scotia

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.

Georges Island Halifax Harbour Nova Scotia

Georges Island Halifax Harbour Nova Scotia

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.

Have you been to Georges Island? How did you like it? If you’re not in Halifax, are there places that are off-limits where you live? Tell all in the comments!



  1. I am 100% on board with a George’s Island Jazz Age party. It would literally be ah-mah-zing.

    I got to go over about ten years ago for an industry event when I worked as a summer temp. I was dressed like an 1800s bar wench (funsies!). Despite my unfortunate attire and the island being overtaken by corporate golf shirts (seriously corporate types – new outfits are needed), it was awesome. I’d love to go again.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s