Nova Scotia

Georges Island opens up to visitors — but only for the next month

Georges Island will open to visitors starting this weekend and until Labour Day.

Historic Halifax island now accessible to the public and Parks Canada hopes to open for longer next year

The historic Halifax island is now accessible to the public, starting this weekend until Labour Day. Parks Canada hopes to open for longer next year. 2:26

For generations of Haligonians, Georges Island has shimmered just out of reach; always visible, but never visitable.

But starting this Saturday, visitors can tour the historic drumlin.

"Welcome my friends to Georges Island! Here we are," Andy Fillmore, the MP for Halifax, said on arrival to the new wharf Thursday.

Plans to open the "keep of Halifax harbour" date back to the 1990s. Fillmore has been trying to open it since his days as a city planner a decade ago.

Dennis Campbell is the longtime CEO of Ambassatours. He's toured the city from every angle imaginable.

A team of archeologists search for traces of an old sea wall on Georges Island. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

"There's no question, this is really, really exciting. When you think of the history of Georges Island, it's equivalent to Alcatraz in San Francisco, except I would suggest our history is even better because it's actually over 100 years older than Alcatraz's history," he said.

Theresa Bunbury of Parks Canada agreed.

"Situated in the heart of the place the Mi'kmaq called K'jipuktuk, or the Great Harbour, the island has hosted many important events," she said.

"Events such as military encampments, the internment of Acadian prisoners during the deportation of 1755 to '64, the later development of technologically advanced harbour defences and a final use by the Canadian Army during the First and Second World Wars."

Ambassatours's Harbour Queen will ferry passengers from Cable Wharf to Georges Island. Tickets cost $25. The boat will depart from Cable Wharf every 40 minutes from noon to 5 p.m. AT on Saturdays and Sundays until Labour Day.

The little island is packed with history and Thursday, an archeology team was digging for traces of a historic sea wall.

Georges Island's dank tunnels make it feel like a time warp. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Archeologist Sara Beanlands said it's exciting to explore the Parks Canada site.

"It's a privilege, not just because this is a national historic site and because there's incredible rich history during the military period and the colonial period, but this is also part of Mi'kma'ki, it's part of the Great Harbour, K'jipuktuk, a site we know has a Mi'kmaw place name. There's been a Mi'kmaq presence here for thousands and thousands of years," she said.

Visitors now can tour the crumbling fortifications, sleeping cannons and spooky tunnels — though not the mythical one leading to Citadel Hill.