She is young, she is bright and she is an entrepreneur. Twenty four year old Sarah Craig decided to forego a government career in CO2 calculations (who can blame her?) and decided to start a bike rental shop on the board walk in Halifax. Really, how many people, fresh from university start a bike shop? I decided to visit Sarah on a crisp Friday afternoon. The place is not bigger than roughly a 150 ft2 but rents out 15 Townies, with helmets (mandatory for everyone in Nova Scotia). Sarah also has a collection of T-shirts, bells, claxons, magazines and alcohol free drinks for sale. The Townies (see picture) all come with a basket and a helmet.
It is already a feast to listen to Sarah, before I even rented a bike: brimming with ideas, you’d nearly want to give up your own job and do something similar along the canal in Ottawa. She opened up shop this summer, has her bikes outfitted with some advertising to pay for the bikes, has a great map with routes printed to guide you around town, including some watering holes and restaurants and even organises a lunch basket if you desire one. And all without a penny of support from the government and still owing student debt. You’ve got to be pretty passionate about cycling.
So the Urban Commuter, no slouch if it comes to cycling in windy places, decided to rent a bike and cruise through town, if only to say “I cycled in Halifax” to the next Haligonian I will meet and who will assure me that Halifax ain’t no biking place. It is not Ottawa for sure, but you can easily spend a few hours on a bike in the city.
I headed out to Blackrock Beach in Point Pleasant Park, passing container terminals along the way. The park has a really nice crushed stone path where you can cycle. There is an old defense bastion that was built to keep the Germans out and there is the Halifax Memorial. (Dedicated on November 11, 1967, the Halifax Memorial stands in memory of the men and women of the Navy, Army, and Merchant Navy who lost their lives and have unknown graves). For the record: over 3000 in two World Wars.
Cycling back towards the city on very quiet Tower Road, I passed rows of older houses, with histories going back to as far as the early 1800’s I estimate (although most of the buildings must have been replaced somewhere down the line). Passing the citadel without actually circling it was no option. The road towards the top looked a little daunting, but in the end it took probably a minute or two at the most. I did a little loop through the moat (now parking lot), a dry loop I guess, and continued further west, winding my way through Maynard St. and ending up at North. Traffic was building up on North St. as the street leads up to the bridge.
One of the things you have to do in your life is crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but the MacDonald Bridge in Halifax is just as magnificent if you have to bike it. Unfortunately, it is hard to actually get on the bridge by bike. An odd loop drops you eventually to the start of the bike lane (the west side is a bidirectional bike lane, the east side a bidirectional one for pedestrians). First you have to go all the way down, then al the way back up: large fences stop you from taking a shortcut.
Stunning views are your reward. All the way behind the second bridge (The A. Murray MacKay Bridge) is the Bedford Basin, where the Navy and merchant ships gathered in WW1, before they set sail in convoys across the Atlantic to Europe. It must have been quite a sight. Nets in the water kept the German submarines at bay.
Across the bridge, in Dartmouth, I badly needed to go for a pee, and where else would one go than Tim Horton’s (no bike racks). I turned back after seeing an unsightly road with malls and dropped back into downtown Halifax, through Gottingen Street, which feels like it is transforming into a nicer hood, but isn’t quite there yet. If it were a sauce, I’d call it ‘Memories of Hintonburg’.
Brunswick St. at the foot of the Citadel has an odd bike lane as you can see in the pictures below.
Finding my way back to the board walk, through streets such as Hollis and Lower Water St, I noticed a nice mural for a change. Normally, I am not fond of murals; I associate them with towns which can’t think of anything else to cover up ugly concrete walls. Athens, ON is big on murals:
“Our small tourist town is famous for its large outdoor murals. Enjoy our warm hospitality while touring the peaceful, historical Village of Athens, with its splendid mix of stately homes, historical buildings and vibrant businesses.”
They are probably in better shape than their European namesake though.
Anyway, back to the board walk. Sarah was nearly closing when I dropped of the bike again. She told me that she is banking on cruise ships visitors, who want to get a little further than the board walk and its gift stores. And where there ever cruise ships. In the three days I was there, five ships came and went.
At 9 bucks an hour, renting a bike is very affordable. Sarah is not open in winter time for obvious reasons and will have to find another way to make money (she might consider counting CO2 molecules after all) but she will be back next year in spring. Her company is called I Heart Bikes and you can find her on iheartbikeshfx.com
I finished the day at Elements, a local restaurant that sources its food no further than 50 miles from their kitchen. In theory, the restaurant could have everything delivered by cargo bike. Great food, great service and very reasonably priced. Some of the plates made me think of an episode of Gordon Ramsay: The Fenwick Arms (scroll to 11:20):