When the SS Mont-Blanc, loaded with wartime munitions, collided with the SS Imo, in Halifax harbor in December of 1917, the resulting disaster killed thousands and crumbled buildings.  It’s been called the most devastating manmade explosion in the pre-atomic era.

By 1920, though, the dockside Hydrostone district had been rescued from the ashes by the Scottish town planner Thomas Adams, who rebuilt homes for displaced workers in the mix of concrete and crushed granite that gives the neighborhood its name.

Designed as an English-style garden suburb, in 2011 the area was ranked second in a list of Canada’s ten best neighborhoods by the Institute of Urban Planning. (Rue Petit Champlain in Quebec City came first.)

At the center of this walkable development sits the Hydrostone Market, with a genial cluster of shops and cafes. Here are some of my favorites:

LK Yarns: Behind a window mural of prancing sheep, all manner of yarns await, from ‘Silk and Milk’ (60% milk fiber, 30% silk, 10% cashmere) to bamboo from Turkey. A rainbow of skeins dangle temptingly, beside a festival of mohair and patterns, books and buttons.

Bogside Gallery: I found all manner of artisan-crafted jewelery, pottery, baskets, and splendid wooden bowls. They stock Dark Tickle products from Newfoundland, perfect for a fix of bakeapple or partridgeberry jam.

Liquid Gold Tasting Bar: A whole store devoted to Extra Virgin olive oils and vinegars.

I took a cube of bread and dipped it into a tiny spoonful of Ogliarola vinegar, moved on to Blood Orange, then Wild Mushroom and Sage with a grand finale of White Truffle. Balsamic was delicious, Peach a revelation. Then, Wild Blueberry, Blackberry Ginger.

It was hard to stop. Once you have sipped and slurped your way through, you make a selection and they bottle it for you.

Photos by Mary Alice Downie

Julien’s Bakery:  Frenchman Didier Julien arrived ino Halifax  18 years ago, intended to stay for six month. He’s been here ever since, creating European breads and pastries for hungry Haligonians.

Who could resist Marguerite, bread in the shape of a flower, or a loaf of apricot hazelnut sour dough? There are also vegan and gluten-free options. I succumbed to an almond croissant, delicate tiramisu, and carrot cake (not all at once, of course!).

I was so busy sampling these and other delights that I didn’t explore the district itself — which features attractions like Needham Park with a Memorial Bell Tower for those who died in the explosion.

And I didn’t even get to all of the food! Another time I plan to try Hamachi Kita, (Japanese and Pan-Asian) and Salvatore’s, voted “best pizza in Halifax.”

Then, I’ll treat myself to more oil and vinegar taste, and . . . .