Halifax Harbour: Wikis


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Halifax Harbour, October 13, 2006. Facing mouth of Harbour, Georges Island on left, McNabs Island in centre, and ‘Sea Princess’ Cruises Ship moored on right.

Halifax Harbour is a large natural harbour on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, located in the Halifax Regional Municipality.


Harbour description

The harbour is called Jipugtug by the Mi'kmaq first nation, anglisized as Chebucto. It runs in a northwest-southeast direction.

Based on average vessel speeds, the harbour is strategically located approximately one hour's sailing time north of the Great Circle Route between the Eastern Seaboard and Europe. As such, it is the first inbound and last outbound port of call in eastern North America with trans-continental rail connections.

Halifax Harbour from the air looking South including the Halifax Peninsula, Dartmouth, and Bedford

The harbour is largely formed by a drowned river valley which succumbed to sea level rise since glaciation. The Sackville River now empties into the upper end of the harbour in Bedford Basin, however its original river bed has been charted by the Canadian Hydrographic Service throughout the length of the harbour and beyond.

The harbour includes the following geographic areas:

  • Northwest Arm Another drowned river valley now largely used by pleasure boats.
  • The Narrows A constricted passage to Bedford Basin.
  • Bedford Basin A sheltered bay and the largest part of the harbour.


The harbour is home to several small islands.

A tall ship, the barque Europa beside Georges Island in Halifax Harbour in 2004

The harbour limit is actually formed by the northern end of its largest island - McNabs Island. The largest island entirely within the harbour limits is Georges Island, a glacial drumlin similar to its dryland counterpart at Citadel Hill. Several small islands are located in the Bedford Basin near Bedford and Burnside. There is also a small island known as Deadman's Island (for the burial location of War of 1812 prisoners of war) in the Northwest Arm.

Although outside the defined harbour limits, Lawlor Island and Devils Island are also frequently included in descriptions of Halifax Harbour and the surrounding area.


Halifax's official harbour limit for navigational purposes is delineated by a line running from Herring Cove on the west side of the main channel, to the northern end of McNabs Island, then from McNabs Island across the Eastern Passage to the actual community of Eastern Passage on the east side of the island. The harbour is marked by an extensive network of buoys and lighthouses, starting with Sambro Island Lighthouse at the harbour approaches, the oldest operating lighthouse in North America.

Sambro Island from the northwest

Deep draught vessels must use the main channel into the harbour, which runs on the west side of McNabs Island. The west entrance point marking the beginning of the inner approach using this channel is located near Chebucto Head, approximately 12 kilometres (7 mi) south of the limit.

Shallow draught vessels (less than 2.5 m, 8.5 ft) may use the Eastern Passage, which runs on the east side of McNabs Island; however, continuous silting makes charted depths unreliable.

Entrance to Halifax Harbour as seen from Georges Island

Large vessels have compulsory pilotage, with harbour pilots boarding at the pilot station off Chebucto Head. Vessels wishing to transit The Narrows between the outer harbour and Bedford Basin must travel one at a time; this rule was established after the disastrous Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917 when a collision between the French munitions ship Mont-Blanc and the Norwegian Imo destroyed part of Halifax and Dartmouth.

Canada's navy, Maritime Command (MARCOM) maintains a large base housing its Atlantic fleet Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) along the western side of The Narrows, as well as an ammunition depot (CFAD Bedford) on the northeastern shore of Bedford Basin. There are strict security regulations relating to vessels navigating near MARCOM facilities and anchorages.

There are two large suspension bridges crossing The Narrows:

Port facilities

The Halifax Port Authority is a federally-appointed agency which administers and operates various port properties on the harbour. Previously run by the National Harbours Board, the HPA is now a locally-run organization.

HPA facilities include:

  • South End Container Terminal - Piers 36-42 (currently operated by Halterm Limited, with several gantry and post-Panamax cranes)
  • Halifax Grain Elevator
  • Ocean Terminals - Piers 23-34
  • Seawall - Piers 20-22, Cruise Ship Pavilion and Pier 21 museum
  • Richmond Terminals - Piers 9 and 9A
  • Richmond Offshore Terminals - Piers 9B-9D (multi-user supply base for offshore oil and gas exploration/production)
  • Fairview Cove Container Terminal - (currently operated by Cerescorp)
  • National Gypsum Wharf - (currently operated by National Gypsum to serve Wrights Cove gypsum terminal)
  • Woodside Atlantic Wharf - (vessel lay-up and repair, oil platform servicing)
  • Imperial Oil Wharves - (currently operated by Imperial Oil to serve Dartmouth refinery)
  • Ultramar Oil Wharves -( currently operated by Ultramar to serve the petroleum storage facility )
  • Eastern Passage Autoport - (currently operated by CN)

All HPA facilities are serviced by CN. It provides on-dock daily train service to Montreal, Toronto, Detroit and Chicago. The railway also operates the Halifax Intermodal Terminal (HIT) adjacent to the Richmond Terminals.

In addition to HPA facilities, the following users have port facilities:

  • Irving Shipbuilding operates the Halifax Shipyard, a medium-sized vessel construction and repair yard. The yard contains two floating drydocks (the largest is Panamax size) plus one graving dock and various shore-based operations.
  • MARLANT operates the HMC Dockyard, Dockyard Annex, CFAD Bedford, and York Redoubt through CFB Halifax. There are also military docking facilities located adjacent to the Shearwater Heliport.
  • Canadian Coast Guard operates CCG Base Dartmouth, housing part of the Atlantic and Arctic fleets as well as pollution response and navigation aids maintenance facilities.
  • Bedford Institute of Oceanography maintains docking facilities for various government scientific vessels. Shannon Hill, above the BIO campus is also home to CCG's "Halifax Marine Communications and Traffic Services" which operates Halifax Coast Guard Radio and the Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) centre ("Halifax Traffic"), providing continuous radar coverage of all harbour activity.


Halifax Harbour has long been polluted as a result of two centuries of direct raw sewage discharge into its waters. The harbour's deep water, tidal dispersal of surface wastes and a relatively small population of the city of Halifax resulted in the harbour's presenting few health concerns until the late 20th century when sewage build-up caused the shut-down of all harbour beaches.

The Halifax Harbour Solutions Project, initiated in the year 2000, was the culmination of three decades of discussion and planning regarding how the urban area would solve the expensive problem of sewage treatment and disposal. The CAD$400 million project is expected to be completed in late 2008 when the final of three new treatment plants is opened.

Testing of harbour waters in July 2008, with two of the three sewage treatment plants on-line, indicated that they are safe for swimming. Municipal public beaches at Black Rock Beach in Point Pleasant Park and at the Dingle Beach in Sir Sandford Fleming Park were officially re-opened on Saturday, August 2, 2008 (Natal Day weekend) after a 30-year closure due to sewage contamination in the water. Lifeguards are now providing supervision during regular hours through to Labour Day weekend. However repeated breakdowns in the new system have resulted in swimming bans being regularly re-imposed and periodic resumption of raw sewage discharge. As of early 2009, swimming is no longer allowed in the harbour because the plant flooded and stopped working.[1]


Halifax Harbour is noted for many shipwrecks both in the inner and outer harbour . A few ships were sunk at the edge of the harbour approaches during World War 2 by German U-Boats but the vast majority were claimed by harbour accidents. Mapping of the harbour revealed about 45 shipwrecks in the harbour. Near the mouth of the harbour, over 50 magnetic anomalies have been discovered, most of which also represent shipwrecks with many others buried underneath the muddy sediments. All historic shipwrecks in Halifax Harbour are protected by Nova Scotia's Special Places Act which makes it illegal to remove artifacts without a permit. Noteworthy wrecks include:

  • Athelviking January 14, 1945 Torpedoed by German submarine U-1232[2]
  • Barge in Bedford Basin as the result of the Magazine explosion of 1945
  • British Freedom - the same day as the Athelviking[3] by U-1232
  • Clayoquot December 24,1944
  • Deliverance June 15, 1917
  • Erg - July 6, 1943 19 lives
  • Good Hope March 16, 1929
  • Governor Cornwallis December 22, 1944[4] by fire
  • Gertrude de Costa 1950 [5]
  • Havana April 26th, 1906 [6]
  • Kaaparen June 14, 1942 [7]
  • Fragments of SS Mont-Blanc blown up in the Halifax Explosion, the world's largest man-made accidental explosion.


External links

Coordinates: 44°37′N 63°33′W / 44.617°N 63.55°W / 44.617; -63.55 (Halifax Harbour)


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