I’m from the suburbs of outer Dartmouth, but my childhood home is so far out that when you sent snail mail, you could actually write ‘Loon Lake’ instead of Dartmouth. Dartmouth is the city across the water from Halifax, which is actually still technically the city of Halifax (confusing, I know). All these old boundary lines etched in memory instead of on bureaucratic documents, or Google Maps. Nowadays, I live in charming Downtown Dartmouth, about a seven minute walk from the Alderney Ferry Terminal, a place that gets nowhere near as many Halifax visitors as it should.
As a kid who spent some time going to school in Halifax, I was painfully, acutely aware of how little people knew or thought about Dartmouth, compared to the Peninsula, where Halifax’s core is. When Rob and I moved back to Halifax after university I was determined to live in Dartmouth again, and after a brief stint on Quinpool road, we moved into a sunny second-storey flat in Downtown Dartmouth on Halloween in 2013.
Even though Dartmouth has a great view of Halifax’s skyline, lots of nice coffee shops, and (let’s face it) way cheaper rent, many Haligonians (that’s Halifax’s demonym, not Eastern European diaspora from the made-up country of Halegonia, as a thought when I was a kid) never come here. A lot of people have told me it’s ‘too far,’ despite the fact that it takes me longer to get from Halifax’s South End to the West End that it does from Barrington Street to my doorstep near Sullivan’s Pond in Downtown Dartmouth (20 minutes by bus, thanks).
There are so many good eats to be had in Downtown Dartmouth. Whether it’s the Little C’s take away dinners you grab as your on your way home from the ferry, or the lazy morning crepes from The Portland Street Crêperie you send your husband out to get on the Saturdays when your whole body recoils at the thought of making dishes, there’s lots to be had for flavour here.
AKA ‘TIBS’ (rhymes with ‘mad libs’), this is the classic Dartmouth café that kicked off a lot of the downtown revival. It’s an OG hangout spot, serving up some of the best espresso-based coffee in the city, with a nice choice of drip and teas as well. What they’re REALLY know for, like really, really known for… is their amazing croissants. They literally sell t-shirts that say, “Eat More Butter.”
Every week they serve up a different COW, or ‘Croissant of the Week.’ Check out their delicious Instagram account for a taste of what you’re missing. This is also a freelance-friendly place, with great wi-fi and lots of tables. So, you know, bonus points on my list.
Located just upstairs from TIBS (literally, it’s the same front door, just follow the staircase up) in the old Canteen space we now have fresh daily pizzas served by the slice or take home in a box, plus chilly lemonade on tap.
I remember when you could only find these at the Farmer’s Market! Slinging New Zealand meat pies year-round, this awesome family-run business sells all kinds of fresh takes on the traditional steak and cheese New Zealand meat pie. Their little pucks of flakey pastry paradise will bring you to a very happy place, my friend. My personal favourite pie is the Chicken Cranberry Brie (one of the OG pies), but I’ve tasted every one, and they’re all good.
These crêpes are so great I literally brought one of each to one of my best friend’s bachelorette party. If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is. It is my utmost recommendation that you get two crêpes when you first come here. YES, I know, it sounds like a bit much, but trust me, you gotta try at least one savoury and one sweet.
My current favourite combo for weekend mornings is the Bon Matin, with Oulton’s Bacon, egg, and cheddar, with garlic aioli, followed by the sweet Fruit Salsa crêpe, that has apples, strawberries, peaches and grapes with a little pear butter. It’s the best. Don’t judge my two-crêpe habit. Just smile and nod.
A bit of an addiction. The Canteen started as a creative sandwich and salad bar in the space above TIBS (where YeahYeahs is now), but quickly grew such a dedicated clientele that chef and owner Renée Lavallée was able to open a full-service sit-down restaurant on Portland Street, just around the corner from the Alderney Ferry Terminal. The Canteen is LEGENDARY. They constantly innovate their menu while keeping a rotating roster of signature classics with seasonal offerings.
The Canteen opened at the Portland Street place just over a year ago, and then opened Little C in the space next door to offer take-out services like the original Canteen had (soups, salads, and take-home dinners) so that OG fans like me who miss dropping in for a quick take out lunch or dinner can still get their fix.
You can’t go wrong here, but if there’s one thing I’d recommend you not overlook it’s their soups. They’re easy to miss, written on the chalkboard and not easily visible like the salads in the display. BUT, some of the best soups I’ve ever had have come from this ethereal kitchen, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out. They also do a great job of updating their online menus to match with their daily offerings. Here’s The Canteen’s Lunch, Dinner, and Brunch Menus, and here’s Little C’s Menu. Do I have these bookmarked in my browser? ….maybe.
Here’s my local secret for visiting Halifax. Take the ferry to Dartmouth (a.k.a. the ‘Darkside’) and eat at @TheCanteenNS. Their whole menu is good. Literally nothing will disappoint you. They just moved to a new location and have an even bigger menu than before. This is their Hot Noodle Bowl, a Japanese-Korean fusion with dashi, pork belly (so much pork belly!), soft fried egg, kimchi, pickled vegetables, sweet potato and roasted mushroom. We know what’s up with food in Dartmouth.
Okay, so you may or may not know the original Wooden Monkey on Grafton Street in Halifax. But, in my humble opinion, this Monkey takes the cake for having a kick ass view of the Halifax Harbour. Located in the second floor of the Alderney Ferry Terminal, the best time to eat here is during sunset, when you can watch the ferries go back and forth through the sunlit waters with a panoramic view of the bridges and downtown skyline.
Places to Hang Out in Downtown Dartmouth
If you love craft brews and want the darkside’s answer to Halifax’s Stillwell Bar, feast your hop-loving eyes on Battery Park. The thirteen taps of constantly-rotating Nova Scotian brews offer up some of the province’s finest beers, and the porch out back is a great intimate spot for a potential date night or just hang with buddies after work. Here you can also get delicious noms that go perfect with beer via the legendary Ace Burgers, formerly of Agricola Street. Besides snacks they also do a mean dinner. Try the Hangover Pasta with spaghetti, bacon, gouda, mozzarella, cream, baked beans, and a sunny side egg. Just… don’t eat anything beforehand, okay?
Downstairs at the entrance to Battery Park is North Brewing Co., where you can fill your growler and grab a burger AceBurgers2Go! I dig the fried chicken, with beer-brined chicken thigh, pickled slaw, sriracha honey, roast garlic, and chive mayo. Yeah, that’s right. It’s basically porn.
This is my favourite Dartmouth park! First of all, you can hike along the historic Shubenacadie Canal and see a bunch of cool engineering via the water lock system (seriously, when I was a kid I thought this was so cool) that results in a bunch of mini waterfalls along the way. You can camp here, you can rent canoes and kayaks, or you can just hang out with your kids and feed the ducks (also my favourite pastime as a kid). You can also go swimming in Lake Charles and feel like you’re way further out of the city than you are. This park is also a favourite of local triathletes to train (run/bike the trails, then go in for a swim).
Lake Banook and Sullivan’s Pond
Located right in downtown Dartmouth, this busy lake is home to three sprint canoe and kayak clubs, two rowing clubs, and a dragon boat club. So many boats! There’s also a great trail that goes around the entire west side of the lake plus Sullivan’s Pond and almost makes a perfect 5k loop. Great for walking with friends, or going for a morning run. In the morning, the lake is super misty and beautiful. Downtown Dartmouth is also home to a lot of hardcore runners and you’ll often see them out in the morning, even during the winter months. Sullivan’s Pond is a small pond just off the west side of the lake, where the annual Christmas Tree Lighting and other festivities are often held. Keep an eye out here for the famous Sullivan’s Pond Geese, a goose troop that’s learned to use the crosswalk to get to the other side of the street, and is so beloved that when one was killed by a motorist last summer, we actually held a funeral.
Not only does this adorable home decor store sell a ton of homemade Maritime products, but they also offer a ton of fun workshops like hand-lettering and book-binding and calligraphy. Makes for a great sibling or bestie date spot. Kept just around the corner from Humble Pie also has a lot of locally made homeware and gifts, things you’d give at a baby shower, you know, that kind of stuff.
Right across from Alderney Landing, this is a popular pub-style watering hole, that has a popular open mic night, trivia night, live music nights, and a bunch of other fun, raucous entertainment. Truth be told, I don’t come here very often, but it’s very beloved by many a local and I wanted to include it on this list.
Saturday from 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. the market at Alderney Landing is an awesome spot to pick up your fresh veggies, local produce, eat some yummy home-cooked meals from the vendor stands and pick up some unique gift items. Even if you live in Halifax, the market is only fifty feet away in the same building as the ferry terminal, so you could easily pop over from downtown Halifax, load up on fresh veggies, and then cross back over, without ever leaving the building. Plus, you’d get to ride a boat. How cool is that?
On that note. You can not say you live in Halifax if you’ve never taken the ferry to Dartmouth. I know—BOLD WORDS, MEL. But guys, come on! It’s the oldest saltwater ferry in North America, been kickin’ it between landings since 1752. During rush hour the ferry runs at 15-minute intervals, and at 30-minute intervals all other times. I mean, for the $2.50 cost of round-trip transportation (get a transfer), it’s worth it for the view alone. Especially in the summer, and especially at sunset. Dinner at The Wooden Monkey or Canteen followed by a romantic sunset ferry ride back to downtown Halifax? Bam! Date night = made.
Downtown Dartmouth Festivals and Fun Events
Natal Day Race and Epic Canadian Races
Downtown Dartmouth has a really amazing running community. There are many races here but these are a couple of my favourite. Normally you’d run either a 5k loop around Banook, or a 10k loop through Banook and Shubie. Or just double that for a half marathon. The Natal Day Race is a super fun 5k that takes you through downtown Dartmouth, and is always a big community event. I just recently found out that the Dartmouth Natal Day Road Race is one of the longest-running in North American history. The first race was held in 1907. If you want to be part of something long-running (haha, get it?) then this is the race for you.
The Epic Canadian race is much more recent, but it’s super well-organized, always has great swag (and great snacks), and has more event options, including a night race, a 10k, 5k, and a half and quarter marathon. The events span the Canada Day long weekend at the start of July. Here’s this year’s schedule!
The Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival is a free yearly event at Alderney Landing that features comics and cartooning! Tons of artists set up display booths and sell everything from art to comic books to awesome nerdy swag. If you’re from Toronto, this is similar to TCAF. This event is put on by my favourite local comic book shop, Strange Adventures (which is also in downtown Dartmouth!).
Dragon Boat Festival
The annual Dragon Boat Festival on Lake Banook is going into its 21st year and is an awesome time to come check out what downtown Dartmouth has to offer while also getting in on some exciting sporting action. It’s also a big fundraiser for Nova Scotian community programs so there’s a nice community service aspect to it too. It’s pretty unique to get to watch these huge boating teams cut through the water.
Fun fact: Lake Banook was the site of the 1989 World Junior Canoe Championships, and Dartmouth’s nickname is the “City of Lakes.” I’ve also often heard it quoted that Dartmouth has more paddlers per capita than anywhere else in Canada, but I can’t find the source of that statement, so it might be apocryphal (if anyone has data that says otherwise, let me know!).
These are just some of the yearly events I always look forward to in Dartmouth. Another great place to check out what’s going on is the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission website. They list all kinds of things going on, from shopping events, to open street days, to local merchant deals for Valentine’s day.
What else do you want to know about Dartmouth?
Well guys, I hope I passed on some of my Dartmouth love to you today. I hope you come visit and check out some of the great stuff that’s going on over here! Leave a note in the comments if there’s anything else you’d like to know about Dartmouth, or if you want to share your favourite darkside hangout!