We went to Halifax to meet up with an old friend after 27 years. We came away from the pretty little city with a whole swag of new ones.
The friendliness of Canadians was the highlight of our trip and none proved warmer than the Haligonians living around one of the world's largest natural harbours.
Early spring brought grey, drizzly days to Halifax, so our plans for a tall-ship cruise of the harbour became a walking-tasting tour - savouring the close-knit community, its beautiful old buildings, charming pastel weatherboard homes, remarkable history and local food.
We set out from the Seaport Farmers' Market with our guide Emily. As we tasted our way through local chowder, we told her about Chris, a pizza maker from Collingwood, Melbourne, whom we had met the night before in a new Halifax bar.
The next stop on the 90-minute stroll around market stalls, cafes and restaurants was Morris East, where owner Jennie served us thin-crust pizza topped with goat's cheese and rocket, and told us it was she who had enticed Chris to Nova Scotia and how they now compete for the pizza market.
Emily guided us through Thai noodles, organic cookies, locally made chocolate, rum cake (a local New Year's Day tradition), Jennie's wood-fired pizzas and contemporary bistro fare: carrot and ginger bisque with buttermilk biscuits at Chives a highlight.
Along with the food came a taste of the history of this eastern seaboard city: a small population with hearts as big as their harbour, Haligonians have dealt with some of the world's greatest disasters.
When the Titanic went down in the Atlantic in 1912, Halifax's ice rink (usually used for curling, a game where players slide heavy granite stones across the ice), became a temporary morgue, and local cemeteries became the final resting place for 121 of the Titanic passengers and crew.
In September 1998, Swissair flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia. All 229 of the passengers and crew died, and their remains were also brought to Halifax, where relatives came to identify their loved ones. And the Haligonians were there to comfort them, offering their homes and opening their hearts.
Just three years later, the events of September 11, 2001, threw international air traffic into chaos and hundreds of flights were diverted to Canadian airports. Thousands of passengers were stranded and the people of Halifax again offered beds, meals, clothing and company.
Haligonians have always been quick to offer help, but following their own disaster in December 1917, they needed to receive it. A wartime harbour collision involving a munitions carrier caused an explosion that killed 2000 people, ripped through buildings and smashed every window in Halifax.
The first emergency crews to arrive were from Boston in the US. Haligonians were so grateful that they are still paying them back. Every December a big fir tree is cut down and transported to Boston, where it is erected with Christmas lights - an annual gift from the friendly people of Halifax.
The culinary walking tour of Halifax costs $C30 ($35.7) a person. +1 902 818 9055, localtastingtours.com.
- Sydney Morning Herald