On August 6th, 2020 it was officially announced that George’s Island National Historic Site in the Halifax Harbour would soon be partially open to the public. Starting with tours available August 8th for 5 weeks in 2020. Then in Spring 2021 a full schedule of tour dates and times will be offered. Visiting George’s Island in Halifax definitely needs to be added to the top of your list for the best things to do in Nova Scotia.
What is George’s Island?
George’s Island is a small fortified island located in the middle of the Halifax harbour and is home to one of Canada’s first automated lighthouses. Fort Charlotte was initially established on the island in 1750 one year after Fort George on Citadel Hill and the founding of Halifax. The current fort today was completed in the 1870’s. The fort was declared a National Historic site in 1965 and has been closed to the public except for special ticketed events that have been sporadically held there. Previously special permission to visit was authorized by the government. As of August 2020 Parks Canada along with Ambassatours Gray Line / Murphy’s On the Water have now partially opened the island to the public.
George’s Island has had quite a storied past. Many Acadians were imprisoned there during the Expulsion of the Acadians as part of the Seven Years War. Men, women and children were detained here in severe weather and living conditions, and many died.
The first people to live in the area however were the Mi’kmaq and their ancestors. They lived in Halifax (Kjipuktuk) for over 10,000 years before the city was “founded” by Edward Cornwallis. The Mi’kmaq knew George’s Island as Elpaqkwitk meaning “water splashed on it by the waves”.
When visiting George’s Island you can learn more about the Acadians, Mi’kmaq and British forces and how they all played a role in the George’s Island we know today.
How do you get to George’s Island
Tours to George’s Island in Halifax are operated by Parks Canada together with Ambassatours Gray Line / Murphy’s on the Water. To get to George’s Island you board the Harbour Queen boat at the Murphy’s Cable Wharf in downtown Halifax at the bottom of George Street. The boat trip takes about 10minutes and departs between 12pm and 5pm every 40minutes on Saturdays and Sundays.
Make sure to book your tickets in advance to guarantee your spot on a boat. Book by visiting: VisitGeorgesIsland.ca.
Private boats are welcome to visit as well and can dock at the newly built wharf on the island.
What Can you See on George’s Island?
All of the island isn’t accessible but there is a large amount of the island that you can explore. There are roped off areas that you can follow around where you will find placards to describe what you are looking at and the history of the island. On your boat ride over you can grab a guide/map of the island which will lead you to 22 different points of interest.
Parks Canada staff will also be offering guided tours of the underground tunnels on George’s Island. On the tour you will get to explore through multiple tunnels and learn about how the fort was planned to be used for protection. Halifax however was never attacked, so the main purpose of the island being a means of defence was never needed.
Highlights include seeing the George’s Island lighthouse and lighthouse keepers quarters, touring through the tunnels and seeing the large cannons. You can also walk through the ditch surrounding the fort that was used for protection and enjoy the beautiful views of the Halifax skyline from the island.
Packing Tips for Visiting George’s Island
The weather can be chilly on the harbour so it’s always a good idea to bring a sweater or layers. The Harbour Queen however has an indoor cabin where you can escape the weather. On the island you are mostly out in the open so on sunny days you might want to wear your sunblock and a hat. A majority of where you will be walking is grassy but there are rocky areas and the underground tunnels are often muddy and wet. It is a good idea to wear sturdy shoes to visit the island and not sandals.
There are composting toilets on the island however there is no running water or power. Because of this there are no concessions on the island. It is a good idea to bring water with you and maybe some snacks. Be sure to take all of your garbage back off of the island with you. There are washrooms available on the boat as well.
Murphy’s also offers a picnic snack box with your ticket for an additional $15 that you can enjoy on the island. There is a choice of two options available: Grilled Caprese Panini lunch with salad, an apple and drink (vegetarian option). Or and Italian Cured Meat Panini lunch with salad, an apple and drink. Lunch boxes must be ordered a minimum of two hours before departure.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit George’s Island?
As of summer 2020 tickets for visiting George’s Island cost: Adults $19.57, Seniors $17.59, Kids 6-17 $10.54 and kids under 6 are free. If you have a Parks Canada Discovery pass your ticket costs $10.54.
** Please also note that masks are required when social distancing isn’t possible. They also must be worn on the boat in enclosed areas and while touring the tunnels on the island.
** Also smoking and pets are not allowed on the boats or island.
When visiting Nova Scotia I hope you get the chance to visit George’s Island in Halifax. If you have any questions or tips to add please leave them in the comments below!
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