‘Feel the love’: Halifax mystique turning HFX Wanderers into CPL attraction
Daniel Squizzato, CanPL.ca contributor
It’s been said that not all those who wander are lost — and, indeed, it seems the Canadian Premier League has found something special in Halifax.
The Nova Scotia capital, home to HFX Wanderers FC, has always had plenty to offer, from the historic sights of Citadel Hill and Pier 21 to the memorable nights full of local IPAs and donairs. But one thing the area has lacked, for nearly 30 years, is a top-flight pro sports team.
That’s all changed with the CPL’s arrival — and the excitement is growing not just in Halifax, but across the country.
Locally, HFX Wanderers has more than 1,000 Founding Members and a supporters group, Privateers 1882, that’s been organizing for over two years. Nationally, across online forums and social media, many fans are looking at Wanderers as their “second club.”
But perhaps no player is more excited than HFX Wanderers’ first signing, Zachary Sukunda.
“I just really think that Halifax is going to be the city for me,” the 23-year-old told CanPL.ca.
Sukunda, originally from Ottawa, has spent the previous six years playing in the large urban centres of Montreal and Melbourne. Now, he says, he’s ready to play in a city with “more of a community feel”—especially the type on offer in the HRM.
“I have heard only good things about life in Halifax,” added Sukunda, who’s never visited the city before. “The atmosphere, the food, the proximity to the ocean, all of which appeal to me.”
Halifax is far from the only city in Canada with a fun atmosphere and nearby access to an ocean — so why does it hold such mythical status among so many?
“Halifax as a destination for good times is a narrative I’ve watched build over multiple decades,” says James Covey, who worked as a journalist covering the city’s burgeoning indie music scene in the 1990s and, more recently, helped create Privateers 1882.
“That cultural cachet contribute(d) to the growth of (post-secondary) students coming from Ontario and other places in Canada. It feels like this perception of Halifax has simply solidified and been canonized in the years since.”
Despite a population of around 400,000, Halifax is home to seven post-secondary institutions, brimming with thousands of “come from away” students who head home eager to share stories of their adventures at Pizza Corner and beyond.
And now, with Wanderers Grounds sitting just a 15-minute walk from the aforementioned street-food hotspot, there’s every chance that CPL matchdays will soon become just another element of the city’s good-times lore.
“Halifax has a small community feel to it, with a vibrant downtown core, with its own unique vibe,” said Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart. “With the location of the stadium, the gameday atmosphere will only contribute to that.”
Hart has spent half his life involved in Canadian soccer, much of it in his home province of Nova Scotia. And though he says Halifax has long had a multicultural local soccer community, the “very vocal and active” outpouring from Privateers 1882 and other fans has caught him by surprise.
“Our passionate fan base, that emerged long before the team was announced, almost willed the HFX Wanderers into being,” he explained. “I do believe players, through social media, recognized this early and instinctively felt this is a place they will feel wanted and loved.”
Sukunda is certainly among that group — having said in his initial letter to fans that he longs to “become one of you, a Haligonian” — but he also wants to make clear that Wanderers are showing up to compete on the field from the get-go.
“We have the chance to be a part of something from the very beginning,” he said. “We know how much others have invested, and we know how much is on the line. That makes me want to work even harder to do everything I can to win games.
“And also … do not underestimate Stephen Hart.”
Indeed, Hart seems bullish on the prospects of Wanderers succeeding not just as a novelty or as a fun road-trip story for visiting fans and players, but as a team that can reward the gung-ho supporters who helped bring the club into being.
“Fans are the engine that propel all sports teams,” said Hart. “I will tell all those who are waiting to see how all of this unfolds, do not wait.
“The HFX Wanderers is not just a game day event, it’s an experience of belonging that will be a pure joy. Come feel the love.”