Opening doors on Halifax history

How many times have you walked by one of Halifax’s historic buildings and not bothered — or been allowed, if you’ve tried — to have a look inside?

This is your chance.

Some of Halifax’s more secretive spaces can be seen in full view with Doors Open Halifax, taking place for the second time in June.

“I encourage everyone to get out, see the history, touch the walls that people touched 100 years ago,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, the honorary chairman of the Doors Open Halifax Heritage Society, said at the launch of this year’s list of venues Monday at Government House.

Doors Open offers a chance to explore some of the historic landmarks and contemporary developments of Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford. A variety of buildings such as the Africville Museum, the Dominion Public Building and Roberts Street’s Q Lofts — although architecturally from different eras — are all included during the free weekend event.

Although 40 places and spaces will be open to the public, Hugh MacKay, president of the non-profit society, said there was a waiting list in January for venues wanting to be involved.

In his address, Savage put a call out for visitors to city hall, one of the featured venues. A hint into its history: Dalhousie’s school of medicine once called the same area home, and Harry Houdini was once housed there in a cell.

Halifax city hall also resonates with MacKay, who said he heard the single most encouraging remark regarding the event here last year.

“It was the remark of a recent immigrant to Canada who commented that nothing in his experience had ever demonstrated to him the openness of Canadian government so much as walking into city hall and being greeted by the mayor and welcomed to Doors Open.”

MacKay, a native of Halifax, brought Doors Open here after seeing the event in other cities in Canada and Europe.

Something new this year is the inclusion of entertainers, such as actors and musicians, thanks to the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

El Jones, Halifax’s poet laureate, will take part.

“You can live in this city and never be in city hall and never be to Province House and particularly sometimes people feel that these spaces are these kind of official spaces that they aren’t welcome in,” she said.

“I think it’s very important for people to claim those spaces in their own cities and go into these places and say I have a right to be here and I’m going to look at what’s on the walls and I’m going to be part of this city as well because it’s mine.”

Last year’s first Doors Open Halifax drew more than 16,500 visits to 31 sites.

This year’s event is June 7-8. Organizers are hoping for a turnout of at least 7,500.

For more information and a list of venues, visit:, Doors Open Halifax on Facebook, or DoorsOpenHFX on Twitter.

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