Sweet ’n’ Salty: an Ontarian’s humble observation of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Last night, I returned to Toronto (well, Hamilton, actually, via the “Swoop” airline — which I probably won’t use again anytime soon) from a most wonderful trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Despite living my entire 31.5 years of life in Canada, the only other time I’ve been out to the east coast of our beautiful country was to attend the wedding of my cousin, Philip, which took place on Prince Edward Island.

At that time, I had only just begun my MBA program at Rotman (I remember hastily finishing an essay that was imminently due, hung over, while members of my relatively large family coincidentally came through the very same coffee shop — making it feel like we had temporarily taken over Charlottetown.) I completed that MBA program this past June and upon the generous invitation of Patrick, another cousin on the same side (there are quite a few of us) I decided to return to the east coast and experience, first-hand, the picturesque landscapes and ultra-nice people I’ve always heard so much about.

I was not disappointed.

Sitting in Stanfield Airport last night, leisurely sipping a glass of wine (despite arriving a mere 60 minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off), I felt so much gratitude towards Patrick (and his parents who had just fed me yummy prawns, ribs and wine) that it would be morally wrong not to express it.

I feel very fortunate in general to have a lot of cousins. They’re like automatic friends who behave, sound and look somewhat like you (which, in my case, makes them hella likeable……right?) Even more so, I am fortunate to have a lot of cousins who are smart, funny, thoughtful and just all-around fantastic human beings. More specifically, fantastic human beings who are willing to host me when I randomly decide I want to visit.

Within the last few years, I have been hosted by cousins in Luxembourg, Berlin, Ottawa, Calgary and now Halifax. In every single instance, I have enjoyed my stay and benefitted from their hospitality immensely.

As of yesterday, however, Patrick Grimbly, Mr. Salt-of-the-Earth, reigns supreme as The Ultimate Host. The appointment of this weighty designation boils down to two factors:

1. Patrick put up with me and my incessant stream of thoughts and corny jokes for the longest period of time

2. Patrick crammed the greatest number of truly exciting activities into my visit. He really took it to a whole new level…

· We went sea kayaking, jet skiing in the harbour and tidal bore rafting.

· He freely lent me his bike and truck to explore downtown Halifax on the few days that he worked while I was there.

· He arranged for us to spend two separate afternoons on the wakeboard boat of his very good friend, Kirk, on Lake Charles in Dartmouth. (A place which, by the way, looks like a digitally-enhanced postcard was bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’d into existence.)

· He planned a party at his house that involved many-a-drinking-game and many of those very friendly east coast people we Ontarians are shamed by all too often.

· At the very tail-end of the party, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Patrick even pulled out a treasure chest (read: cardboard box) of family artifacts and memories that blew me away.

But the very best thing Patrick did for me was introduce and expose me to the truly wonderful community and lifestyle that is Halifax. This article you read now is a summary of my personal, “onterrible” observations of and tribute to that sweet and salty paradise.

The Places.

The aesthetic of Halifax is truly sweet. Each house on the tree-lined streets follows a similar style (and probably exactly the style you’re picturing in your head right now): coloured paneling — often bold, saturated hues — with white trimmings. Although most homes shared this exterior style, no two homes were the same. In general, the neighbourhoods I biked and drove through had a diverse mix of houses in terms of the size and structure but all exuded a quaint cuteness.

(What’s with the orange fire hydrants though? Why deviate from red? Firetrucks are red! I need to know…)

As you may already know, Halifax is located on the Atlantic Ocean — which is, of course, salty (get it?) But beyond the obvious, the spaces and venues Halifax has to offer are “salty” in the sense I found getting to them requires some gusto. In addition to the challenging hiking trail I explored and wavy roads I biked, on two or three occasions I found myself climbing a series of disjointed staircases to eventually sit down and dine at a local watering hole. I do admit that it added a little adventure to what would otherwise be a straight forward evening of beer and pub grub. It’s almost like you’re “earning” the food and drink you’ve about to devour. (I wish I could say all this leg work made up for all the eating I did. But, alas, I cannot.) Which brings me to the next topic…

The Food.

I realize, of course, that both sweet and salty foods can be found in virtually every established community in the world (no need to be a smart ass.) But I wanna tell you about the nom nom’s I stuffed down my gullet anyway…

The oysters that came with our seafood tower at the Agricola Street Brasserie were surprisingly salty. Maybe I should have expected them to be but it didn’t matter, I enjoyed slurping them up anyway! At the same time, I also discovered a “sweet” new cocktail called “Kentucky chocolate” that is dangerously tasty.

There are a number of local vendors serving a variety of food down by the harbour. One such vendor, The Cake Lady, caught my eye on one-too-many occasions. So I gave in and demolished a large, doughy, cinnamon-sugared pretzel. No regrets.

Probably my favourite meal during the trip (because it was both yummy and after two hours of kayaking, especially rewarding) was brunch at The Coastal Cafe. This hip joint serves up some really great sandwiches. Upon recommendation from Patrick’s lovable girlfriend, Caitlyn, I ordered “The Durty Burd” with a mixed side of both home fries and green salad (I love when restaurants offer that option) alongside my salt-ridden-bacon-garnished caesar (naturally.) I do not normally order chicken when I’m dining out because it’s something I regularly eat at home but oh BOY was this the right choice. The chicken was seasoned and cooked so excellently that its flavour stood out against the guacamole, eggs and other yummy things it was wrapped up with. (Thanks, Cait!)

There were many food indulgences, but it’s imperative I move on to the main event of the whole sweet-n-salty show…

The People.

Every person who ever visits the east coast of Canada always concludes the same thing: the people there are sooooo nice! (A guy from Newfoundland once told me that when he came to Toronto for the first time, excited to start his undergraduate program, he naively tried to spark up a conversation with his fellow passengers on the subway. These Torontonians, of course, did not reciprocate the friendliness, probably assuming that he was off his rocker in one way or another. I found this story to be delightfully amusing.)

I fully expected to experience this world-renowned kindness when I landed in Halifax. But beyond the warm welcome I received from Patrick as well as his friends, sisters, Lily and Kailyn, and parents, Mike and Morgan, I also experienced a lot of “sweetness” from complete strangers.

There aren’t many biking lanes in Halifax and sometimes I found myself in the middle of a busy road, temporarily impeding the flow of traffic or maneuvering across lanes after making a navigation error. However, I was never once honked or yelled at. Not once. Not even when I turned left in front of a line of cars waiting to go straight through an intersection. Even though drivers in Halifax don’t have to regularly contend with bikers on the roads (because there aren’t many), they were still conscious of and patient with me.

Although I very much appreciate how nice they are in Halifax, I think I enjoyed the “saltiness” of the people I met just as much (if not more!)

A great example is the woman who rented the kayaks to us. She was sweet and friendly, of course, and told us that the people who lived in the community always helped each other out. That included helping any person who might be in trouble on the water. “However”, the woman warned, “if you blow the whistle and you don’t actually need emergency assistance before the locals reach you on their boats, you’ll certainly need it after they do.” I loved that.

Patrick’s friends did not hesitate to give me a hard time about how poorly I performed at Beer Pong or to shout at me to pull the key out of the jet ski when I was awkwardly and unintelligently trying to dock it. In both cases, I deserved and appreciated the rough handling. Being nice means nothing if it’s a given in all cases. And Patrick’s friends weren’t shy to tell me I sucked when I did.

They also, as I came to learn, aren’t scared of hard work. They work long hours performing highly-skilled but laborious work with unrelenting integrity. And then, after they’ve wrapped up for the day, they renovate their own homes and fix broke things at friends’ and family’s houses. Often, they do this with minimal sleep and a smile on their face. In my opinion, this is what makes the people in Halifax “salty”.

As far as I could tell, the people I met are smart, gritty, adventurous and value the same qualities in others. I certainly valued these qualities in them. The beauty of the “sweet-n-salty” flavour profile is that it balances two opposing extremes for exponential enjoyment. The combination is greater than the sum of its parts. To me, this is the perfect analogy for Halifax, especially in reference to the people I encountered while I was there.

Thank you, Halifax, for showing an on-terrible person like me a truly fantastic time! I hope one day I can return the favour.

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