Neighbourhood Watch | Education | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Neighbourhood Watch

With schools all over the map, this whole town is a student ghetto. Here’s your guide to exploring the five boroughs.

1. Clayton park

Miles and miles of houses. And a few Matt Charlton

The area known by many of the downtown folk as “Clayton Park” is actually a name for a larger group of subdivisions that also includes Rockingham, Wedgewood, Cresthaven and Fairview.

Clayton Park is, for the most part, houses. Like a giant Disney World exhibit for the midlife crisis, it has endless streets full of Martha Stewart Signature-coloured split-entries with SUVs in the driveways. There are some services, but they are found in things we in the suburbs call “plazas.” These are islands of stores floating in an ever-growing sea of residential sprawl. When one asks “What is there to do in Clayton Park?” it’s not always the easiest question to answer.

This stems from the fact that other than houses, the only two things we have an abundance of are soccer fields and the childhood homes of local indie-rock celebrities. Unfortunately, the fact that Thrush Hermit’s Rob Benvie and Sloan’s Chris Murphy lived right up the street from Clayton Park Junior High (which has its own soccer field) means very little to the daily existence of most people. So when you’re looking for something to do in Clayton Park it inevitably comes down to having some money to spend and a car to drive. If you have these two valuable commodities, here is a rundown of the highlights of what the area has to offer.

First and foremost is the business park (Bayers Lake Industrial Park, or BLIP). While most of it consists of box stores that can be found in the same configuration in any city, it offers one outlet that is distinct wherever you go: Value Village (209 Chain Lake). From the musty smell that greets you the second the door is cracked open to the stash of Anne Murray records that would make any soft rock station envious, there is something magical about other people’s trash.

The next stop on the tour is Pizza Land (287 Lacewood). Operated by arguably the most pleasant people in Metro, Pizza Land has the city’s best pizza, donairs and especially donair subs (which may be the reason I have the arteries of an overweight 50-year-old).

Continue up the street to the Park West Plaza, and you’ll find Video Quest (480 Parkland). Focusing on new releases, the movie rental store is always well stocked, has good prices on previously-viewed films and is home to a usually untouched video game section. The staff there are also incredibly friendly, making the mandatory “Hi!” as you walk through the door all the more believable.

In terms of personal grooming, unless your hair maintenance consists of 10 passes with electric clippers, the only real place to go is the Head Shoppe at the Rockingham Ridge Plaza (30 Farnham Gate). While there are many qualified hairdressers operating at the boutique, Angel MacDonald is especially talented and even manages to make barber chair conversation enjoyable.

So, the next time you fall asleep on the bus and end up in Fairview or are visiting your aunt with all the cats in Wedgewood, remember that there is more to Clayton Park than just houses. You can buy shit here too.

2. Quinpool road

High on amenities, low on Sue Carter Flinn

Be honest: Quinpool Road ain’t pretty. It will never win any urban design awards; its uninspired buildings, jerky motorcyclists, lack of greenery and haphazard traffic control (beware of the Monastery Lane intersection—there’s nothing zen about getting hit by a Toyota Tercel) are responsible for turning it into the city’s longest strip mall. However, if you ever find yourself in the middle of a disaster—natural, financial or emotional—it’s ground zero, baby.

When I first moved to Halifax two years ago, I wasn’t sure what to think about my new ’hood. But once I made friends with the crossing guard at Connaught, I started venturing out among the other lonely hearts and discovered that everything you need to soothe a mangled organ is right on Quinpool Road.

Get all the down-home sympathy you need over cheap turkey sandwiches and thick chocolate milkshakes at the Ardmore Tearoom (6499 Quinpool). The family diner is also a favourite morning-after hangout for local indie rock stars, so luck be a lady and you might just meet a new friend. If you prefer a tear in your beer, the painfully named the Nail and Kneecap (6499 Quinpool) is becoming a favourite Quinpoolian neighbourhood pub, and one of the only reasons to hang out on the street at night.

Another reason to stick around is the movies. The Oxford Theatre (6408 Quinpool), although technically not a repertory cinema, is as close as you’re going to get in this independent film dry-land. A throwback to the days when theatres were classy destinations and not seizure-inducing arcades, the Oxford is the perfect place to see a movie alone, or to impress a new amour. Likewise, locally owned Video Difference (6086 Quinpool) is everything you want in a neighbourhood video store—helpful staff, great selection, local art on the walls and decent tunes. They even have a computer and a courtesy phone so that you can check with your mates before you bring home seasons one through three of Felicity.

You can pick up a fair trade coffee under the Lucite glow of Carlitos Cafe (6220 Quinpool) on your way to Canadian Tire (6203 Quinpool). It doesn’t matter where you go in this country, Canadian Tire will always look and smell the same. Don’t forget to grab a couple of extra batteries for the flashlight—even if Nova Scotia Power sees us through another hurricane season and the lights stay on, you can always pass time making shadow puppets.

If you want to look good and keep the ol’ digestive track in order, try Great Ocean (6485 Quinpool), which hosts one of the city’s largest selection of natural food products and organic produce. The nice Ocean staff have created a variety of ready-made snacks and meals that are a great alternative to the street’s astonishing number of fast-food joints. We like the dips. Although you’ll never hurt for want of a hamburger or pizza, Quinpool has also quietly become Halifax’s United Nations of cuisine—Greek, Ethiopian, Chinese, the land of vegetarians and seafood—there’s no shortage of food choices.

If you’re more interested in feeding your brain, try browsing the socially conscious books at Outside the Lines (6297 Quinpool), a fresh injection of smarts into the commercial area. Owner Bob Haywood plans to carry a selection of university textbooks, and it’s the only game in town with hot- pink Adbusters Blackspot sneakers (environmentally friendly shoe of the “antipreneurial” movement) in the front window.

Those sneakers might come in handy because guaranteed you will want to leave the street. Quinpool’s concrete and congestion should only be taken in small doses, and there’s a big city out there, just waiting to be explored.

3. North end

Cheap, diverse and scrappy—in a good Stephanie domet

It’s easy to be scared of the north end if you’re new. It doesn’t look as cared for as some other Halifax neighbourhoods. The mainstream media often make it out to be a den of iniquity. Even the city’s geography and planning conspire against it. Citadel Hill cuts it off from downtown; Scotia Square and the police station seal the deal. But for those bold, curious or smart enough to venture north of Staples, the north end is as diverse, scrappy and cool a neighbourhood as you’re likely to find in this town—or any other.

Historically, Gottingen Street was Halifax’s swanky uptown. In recent times, the bedraggled “uptown” banners on the lightposts have seemed more like a sick joke on a street more characterized by its detox centres than by that other kind of high living. And while those detox centres are still hallmarks, they share space with businesses like Taz Records (2089 Gottingen), which moved to the ‘hood this year from Argyle Street, Eye Level Gallery, back on (2128) Gottingen after a spell on Barrington, Wilkie’s Wonderful World of Comics, Robie refugees who’ve landed next door to Taz and Alter Egos (2193 Gottingen), a hostel and bookstore-cafe.

It’s worth noting that Gottingen has quickly become Halifax’s gay village. So far that amounts to a few bars (Menz at 2104, NRG at 2215) and a sauna (Seadog’s, 2199), but it also extends to the open, anything-goes feeling on the street.

The North End Community Health Centre (2165 Gottingen) perfectly encapsulates the character of the area. Its clients are a mix of students (NSCAD is an easy walk from here), first-time home-owners and longtime north-enders.

Further north is the Hydrostone, an historic neighbourhood of unusual stone houses. Shopping on Young Street includes a couple of antique shops, a handful of small restaurants, an outrageously good bakery called Julien’s, and LK Yarns (5545 Young), a nifty little shop stuffed full of lovely yarns for all your crafting needs.

Agricola Street has also come a long way in recent years. Possibly the coolest corner in Halifax is Agricola and North. Gus’ Pub stands on the northeast corner, home of cheap draught and hip live music. Across the street, the hair salon Fred and its cafe, Whet, rejuvenate what was a vacant bank building. Now it’s a bright gallery space where you can get a good haircut and a grilled panini. On the south side, the Mid-East Food Centre has, yup, middle eastern grub in the form of groceries and prepared food, some of the best in Halifax. Don’t miss Phoenicia Foods, on the southwest corner. This awesome little shop stocks middle eastern groceries, as well as foods from around the world, in bottles and cans.

Get your grains and other hippie cooking supplies at the Grainery Food Co-op (2385 Agricola), where you can get a discount by becoming a member and working there a few hours a month. Have a coffee at One World (Agricola at West), where you can also surf the web for a few bucks. MOeD (2534 Agricola) is an art gallery that’ll offer live music this fall, with the Upstream Orchestra. Get physical at the Yoga Loft (5663 Cornwallis), or at Room 2 Move (5571 Cunard). Or work out for free on the Common, that big green park just north of Citadel Hill.

Eat at Starlite Caribbean Kitchen, which is only open during the day, but it’s worth it to rearrange your schedule to dash in. Bob and Lori’s Food Emporium (2179 Gottingen) offers lots of veg choices. And when you’re feeling classy, Jane’s on the Common (2394 Robie) is the place to go.

That this is by no means an exhaustive list of cool stuff in the north end is a testament to how much it’s grown. But if it’s scrappiness that really attracts you: I saw a dude smoking crack in a Bic pen on North Park just the other day. First one I’ve seen in the decade I’ve lived in these parts, but still.

4. South end

A great place to eat, hang, pay high rents and sing Johnston Farrow

Mid-summer anxiety set into my bones like a bad case of rigor mortis. A dry spell in freelance work and an update of my monthly budget showed I didn’t have as much spending money as I would like.

Looking over my expenses, I considered the high figure I spend to live alone in a decent south end one-bedroom. I spent the next few weeks looking at apartments around the city. After seeing one too many run-down apartments, I realized I like where I live, it’s just that the south end is expensive.

The fact is, once you spend some time here, it’s really hard to leave. South-enders have everything they need only a short walk away. Transportation isn’t an issue unless you’re headed to the Halifax Shopping Centre or Bayers Lake, and with the amenities available in this tight-knit community, why waste your time in traffic and your money on big box shopping centres? The only time I drive my car is to my day job, located in the aforementioned lakeside commercial pit.

If you’re a Dalhousie or a Saint Mary’s student, the south end is the perfect place. Neither campus is more than a half-hour walk from anywhere in the area. It’s also a great place when not studying, with many bars nearby ready to serve those with extra student loan money.

If hunger overrides your quest for a drink, the south end has plenty of restaurants to choose from. Rani’s Curry and Roti Shop (5280 Green) features delicious, filling curry and Caribbean dishes at affordable prices. Try Trident Bookstore and Cafe (1256 Hollis) for sweet treats and a full service coffee bar; sip on an Italian soda while browsing the bookshelves.

The south end also has its share of cheap pizza joints to crash after a late-night trip downtown. The best is Alexandra’s Pizza (1263 Queen), where the nachos might be better than the excellent pie; it’s joined by Jessy’s (1014 Barrington), Saluzzo’s (1360 Birmingham) and many more.

If a sit-down meal is more your speed, try Darrell’s (5576 Fenwick) famous peanut butter burger—a lot tastier than it sounds. Tomasino’s Cellar Ristorante (5173 South) dishes out pizza and pasta well worth the price, the Taj Mahal (5175 South) features authentic Indian food, and you can savour Asian food at Talay Thai (1261 Barrington) and Thai Chin (5175 South).

Abundant spaces for outdoor recreation are available with the downtown waterfront walking path beginning at Pier 21 (1055 Marginal) and Point Pleasant Park at the southernmost tip of the peninsula. The park, making a comeback after Hurricane Juan in September 2003, is a spacious haven for joggers and sunbathers, as well as dogs who dislike leashes.

For rainy days, try SuperVideo (1300 Queen) and Atlantic News (5560 Morris) to stock up on the latest DVDs and copies of Vogue, Rolling Stone or this fine publication.

Finally, the south end has two combined grocery and liquor stores within a block of each other, Sobeys (1120 Queen) and Atlantic Superstore (1075 Barrington); the latter has a refrigerated beer room where it’s nice to linger on warm days.

With so many things nearby, it’s hard to complain about the cost of living in the south end. And if it gets too difficult for you, there’s always the option of a roommate or two.

5. Dartmouth

The dark side is not as dark as you Tara Lee Wittchen

Dartmouth might be known as “The City of Lakes,” but I’ve got a new slogan: “Dartmouth: It doesn’t suck as much as you’ve been led to believe.”

I used to think Dartmouth was pretty sketchy. Folks in Halifax (and even some in Dartmouth) make fun of it. There’s that initial impression after crossing the Macdonald Bridge: strip malls, parking lots, multiple lanes of traffic, the stench of fast food grease and shifty characters at the Sportsplex bus terminal (think Trailer Park Boys with none of the charm). With all that and a dearth of night life and infrequent late night bus service, why would anyone live here?

Cheap(er) shelter with a reasonable commute, to start with. You can still find cool three- and four-bedroom flats in downtown Dartmouth for under a grand per month, or an affordable house. And what could be calmer than a ferry ride?

When I get off the ferry, I sometimes pop into the Alderney Gate Public Library (60 Alderney Drive) and take a stack of magazines over to the windows with a harbour view. The library is part of the Alderney Landing complex, which hosts a small Farmers’ Market (get the fabulous ginger cookies), Eastern Front Theatre company, the Nova Scotia Multicultural Festival and many outdoor events (one lovely evening this summer, Joel Plaskett sauntered down the street from his Dartmouth home to take the stage).

Daytime or night, I prefer strolling on the Dartmouth waterfront: there are no stupid loud motorbikes (shut up already!), fewer tourists and more trees. It’s like a small town with all the big-city amenities nearby.

On my walk home, I get to see both the trash and the treats of Portland Street. There are a few empty storefronts and the bar crowd’s a little rough, but the street itself is not that bad. The latest positive addition is Starr’s Bakery (55 Portland), at which my pastry-fan friends and I are probably going to become regulars; Tim Hortons (205-207 Portland) is still there for late-night emergency doughnuts, of course. For late night meals that don’t involve chocolate sprinkles, try the Sun Sun Cafe (22 Portland); if you ask nicely, Margaret will serve up tofu and greens (not on the menu).

The Attic Owl (200 Portland Street) is a favourite spot for second-hand books (and it’s a Video Difference pick-up and drop-off point), as is Value Village (42 Canal Street). Stop in at Fisher’s Stationery (122 Portland) for vintage office supplies. Mrs. Fisher also sells art supplies, paint ball equipment and Christian paraphernalia. Because you never know. relax you! (101 Portland) might sound like a spa (if it’s pedicures you want, visit Interlude at 58 Ochterloney), but it’s actually a shop filled with locally-made (that means Dartmouth) delights, like natural cosmetics, craft items, paintings and more. Be sure to pet Henry, owner Hilary Todd’s big fluffy dog.

On a sad note, Portland Street lost a good friend this summer, with the passing of Todd’s partner Chris Pawluk, owner of Incredible Edibles Cafe (69 Portland). He will be missed.

Further from downtown, I recommend Wyse Buys (195 Wyse) for second-hand furniture, Bulk Barn (110 Woodlawn) for cheap movie treats, John’s Lunch (352 Pleasant) for fish and chips and the Moirs factory outlet (375 Pleasant) for discount chocolate.

And yes, there are the lakes—23 of them for swimming, hiking, canoeing and more. Dartmouth could also just as easily be called The City of Trees, and there are hills galore to climb (try Leighton Dillman Park, which overlooks the harbour). Dartmouth is also that much closer to the surf at Lawrencetown Beach.

Hey, if Dartmouth is good enough for Plaskett, it’s good enough for me.

Originally published September 1, 2005.

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