Northern lights

Is the north end really mad, bad and dangerous to know? Not at all. Knowing what’s cool

King-in-exile of the local music scene, Sloan was the highest-profile band to come out of the mid-'90s Halifax music explosion. Though they're longtime Toronto scenesters---it even says as much on their website---Sloan often sang of its hometown experience, as on a few key tracks from the 1999 release Between the Bridges. The bridges in question join Halifax and Dartmouth, the Angus L. Macdonald and the "New Bridge," the A. Murray MacKay to the north.

Between the bridges is the peninsular north end. And Halifax wouldn't be much fun to live in if it wasn't for this part of town.

It's a hard-luck district, no doubt. The Halifax Explosion in 1917, caused by the collision of ships in the harbour---one laden with munitions---razed much of the neighbourhood in one horrendous blast. In a shameful exercise of institutional racism in 1969, the African-Nova Scotian community on the edge of the Bedford Basin known as Africville was levelled to make room for the new bridge on-ramps, its denizens relocated to housing projects elsewhere in the city. And the city planners who decided the concrete monstrosity Scotia Square was a good idea effectively severed the north end from the downtown core for the sake of office towers and mall life, diminishing economic prospects on either side of the tower blocks.

But as the south end's tony residences have flourished and as the suburbs have expanded, the north end has been the best place for students, young families and artists of all stripes to find an affordable place to live and work. Your friend's grandmother might tell you it's unsafe, but really, Halifax is a city like many others. Be alert, be aware, try not to walk in poorly lit areas alone at night. (This is as good advice for Young Avenue as it is for Young Street.)

You will find considerable difference of opinion as to the boundaries of the north end of Halifax. Sure, the water to the east and north is pretty definitive, and most people will say Windsor Street is a fair demarcation to the west, but at the south? Cogswell and the Citadel is one line, the northern edge of the Common another. The rest is conjecture and loudly debated.

In the northernmost areas of the peninsula you'll find the older suburbs, comfortable residential homes built post-explosion, such as the distinct Hydrostone area with streets named after explorers (Livingston, Stairs, Cabot, Columbus), as well as the Leeds Street campus of the Nova Scotia Community College. Lady Hammond Road crosses the northern peninsula from west to east and is noted for The Music Room, an intimate live venue with warm, wooden walls. Off Novalea Drive---what they call Gottingen north of Young Street---is Fort Needham Memorial Park, a glacial drumlin akin to Citadel Hill and a lovely, open green space from which you can look out over the city. It's where you'll find the Halifax Memorial Bell Tower, in recognition of the explosion.

Kempt Road is best known for having the largest collection of car dealers in the city, but if you go from there across Young you'll find the Hydrostone Market between Novalea and Isleville. A quaint, small collection of shops, it includes foodie delights Julien's Bakery, Salvatore's Pizzaiolo Trattoria and Epicurious Morsels, all kitty corner to the massive Oland Brewery, ground zero for Alexander Keith's. Now on Young you'll also find the new location of Bikes By Dave, moved up from Windsor.

The Halifax Forum hockey arena and events venue stands on Windsor Street between Young and Almon. Right on Windsor is the rink, but tucked in behind is the "multi-purpose room," hosting everything from tattoo conventions to Modest Mouse concerts. At the corner of Almon you'll find a popular eatery called the Brooklyn Warehouse, known for its burgers and brunch.

Piercey's on Robie Street is your one-stop local building supply spot. The street, one of the busiest arteries to downtown, is spotted with a selection of eateries, including Mary's Place Cafe, Coastal Cafe and down near Cunard, the ever-popular and much-adored jane's on the common. Java Blend on North Street is one of the premium purveyors of exotic fair trade coffees in the city.

Between Robie and Agricola is the Bloomfield Centre, a neighbourhood hub and space for artists' studios, environmental organizations and non-profits. In a seemingly perpetual fight for survival, you could do much worse than to get involved and support the continued existence of this facility. Another important organization headquartered in the north end is the Ecology Action Centre, tireless advocators for the environment in Nova Scotia.

Agricola is a stylish meander, from Peak Audio's high-end sound systems at Almon, through the antiques district to North, where you'll find Gus' Pub, one of the last places you'll get to hear new punk bands squealing out of the local scene. There's also salon/café/gallery FRED, the Mid-East Food Centre grocery and deli and the brand-new Cafe Aroma Latino's South American fare. Further down is another veteran bike shop, Jack Nauss, and at Charles, Local Source Market and Smith's Bakery. Nearby, the Roberts Street Social Centre with its zine library and screen printing facilities. Consider joining The Grainery Food Co-op if you love organic food; if you are a dedicated follower of fashion, stopping in at Lost & Found to pick up clothes from localdesigners.

On North between Agricola and Gottingen is the lovely North Street Chruch, a great venue for concerts, readings and weddings.

And then we have Gottingen, flourishing more now than in over a decade. The essential North Branch Library brings the kids and families, as does the YMCA. A so-called gay village has cropped up on the street's southern stretches, with the Menz Bar its epicentre. And the affordable and excellent eateries Alteregos, The Good Food Emporium, Island Greek and Viva's keep the strip hopping.

The Marquee Club, immortalized by Sloan, has sadly departed, but music venue the Paragon is there in its place, and The Company House is a hangout for all who are interested in the city's stellar singer-songwriter scene.

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