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Georges Island: public granted access to historic island in Halifax harbour

Georges Island National Historic Site will be open between noon and 5 p.m. for five consecutive weekends starting August 8 and 9
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Georges Island (Photo courtesy of Tourism Nova Scotia)

HALIFAX — Georges Island, a small but historic chunk of land in the middle of Halifax harbour, has long been off limits to tourists — even though it has been a national historic site since 1965.

But that will change on Saturday when regular weekend boat tours begin, Halifax MP Andy Fillmore announced Thursday.

Parks Canada says the island will be open for guided tours for the next five weekends. A tour boat will leave the Cable Wharf every 40 minutes until the last run from the island at 5:10 p.m.

The island was fortified by the British military in 1750 and served as a detention centre during the deportation of Nova Scotia's Acadian population between 1755 and 1763.

Its military installations include Fort Charlotte, which is known for housing two seaward-facing artillery batteries and a spooky underground tunnel complex. The lower battery on the south side of the island includes several massive canons from the 1860s.

Georges Island is also the site of one of Canada's first fully automated lighthouses.

"For generations, Georges Island ... has remained out of reach to Haligonians and visitors alike," Fillmore said. "Access to this emerald gem in Halifax Harbour will immerse visitors in the diverse history and ecology of this iconic landmark, while enjoying Halifax from a whole new vantage point."

In late 2019, the federal government spent more than $2 million to build a permanent wharf with floating docks. In the future, the floating docks will offer access to water taxis and recreational boats.

Upon arrival on the island, visitors can expect to walk up a gravel path to Fort Charlotte, where interpreters will present the island's history and provide short tunnel tours through the lower level rooms and halls of the lower battery.

Visitors will be required to wear non-medical masks or face coverings and to follow public health recommendations including physical distancing.

Tours can be booked online at visitgeorgesisland.com or by phone at one of the Ambassatours waterfront kiosk.

If you go:

  • Georges Island National Historic Site will be open between noon and 5 p.m. for five consecutive weekends between August 8 and 9 and September 5 and 6.
  • Tickets are $25 for adults (with a discount available for Parks Canada Discovery Pass Holders), $22.60 for seniors and $14 for children and youth.
  • Tickets can be purchased through Ambassatours Gray Line/ Murphy's on the Water online, by calling 902-420-1015, or at any of their Halifax waterfront kiosk locations.
  • Transportation will depart from the Cable Wharf at 1751 Lower Water St.
  • Non-medical masks are required on the vessel and in all indoor locations on Georges Island.
  • All of the vessels taking people to and from the island have washrooms and there are compost toilets available on Georges Island.
  • There is no place to buy food or drinks on the island, so you'll need to bring your own. Some food, water and other goods can be purchased onboard the vessels. In addition, boxed lunches can be ordered through Murphy's Restaurant.
  • Visitors are asked to pack in, pack out their garbage and recycling.
  • With the exception of trained service and guide dogs, pets and other animals are not allowed on the island or the boats bringing visitors to and from the island.
  • This tour is not wheelchair accessible as the vessels used and the island's rough terrain make it difficult to navigate with a wheelchair or walker. Any other accessibility concerns can be address with reservations staff prior to booking the tour. 
  • It's suggested visitors bring sturdy footwear, sunblock, a hat, water and food.
  • Trips go rain or shine, but cancellation may be required if there are high winds and/or unsafe conditions to travel by boat. Guests will be notified with as much notice as possible with the option to rebook or get a refund.
     

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2020.

The Canadian Press with files from HalifaxToday.ca

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