There are dozens of places called Belfast located across the globe. Weekend speaks to citizens living in places named after the original city situated on the banks of the River Lagan to find out more
Belfast. The city that’s home to more than 635,000 of us and counting. Whether you call the city that built the Titanic home or not, what comes to mind when you think of Belfast?
Chances are an image of the iconic Harland & Wolff cranes might pop into your head. Or the Albert Clock, our palatial City Hall or our famous Crown pub. It may not even be a landmark, it could be the DeLorean — made famous by the 80s movie classic Back to the Future. Or why not one of our famous faces such as Sir Kenneth Branagh, the late George Best and Sir Van Morrison?
For all of the ‘Made in Belfast’ exports, though, there is one that is often overlooked — the name ‘Belfast’ itself. There are 20 places around the world that all share the name of Northern Ireland’s capital — the majority of them are dotted across North America. From Tennessee to New York, to the state of Washington and the sunny skies of California — all of them have a place called Belfast.
Elsewhere, South Africa boasts not one but two Belfasts: an area in Limpopo, a city located just over 200 miles from its capital, Pretoria, and another in the province of Mpumalanga. Jamaica has a Belfast neighbourhood and the most southern location is Belfast in New Zealand.
These places were often established by migrants leaving Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries, often seeking to establish a better life for themselves. Many of these Irish and Ulster Scots settlers, perhaps homesick, opted to name their new settlements after their old home.
John Munro is a citizen of Belfast, Prince Edward Island, in Canada. Situated on the island’s south shore along the Northumberland Strait, Belfast is predominantly an agricultural area and was established by settlers in 1803. John is principal of Belfast Consolidated School and has lived in the area since 2005. Married to wife Leah, John (51) has two grown-up children, Abigail (22) and 20-year-old Jack.
“Our population is approximately 1,700 people,” he says.
“Belfast is a close-knit community where people support each other during difficult times. Belfast has lots of picturesque drives as you go along the Trans-Canada Highway of beautiful fields, and the Northumberland Strait which separates our province of Prince Edward Island from Nova Scotia. Northumberland Ferry would be a key business in our community as it provides important transportation links to and from the mainland of Canada.
“For a small community, Belfast has lots of great attractions. We have lots of recreational activities such as the local rink, sports at our K-9 school, Belfast Consolidated School, an excellent golf course, Belfast Highland Greens, that has spectacular views and challenging holes.
“Connected to the golf course is a camp-ground with an outdoor pool, and playground for the children. We also have recreational softball for adults in our community. We have a number of great biking and walking trails in our community called the Confederation Trails.
“We have food from restaurants like the Chowder House, the Country Taste Bakery, and the Whistle Stop. We also have lots of artisan stores like Kro in the Skye, Belfast Mini-Mills, and Gala Designs. Again, the people of Belfast are kind, and value the family dynamic. If we need to attend larger events, or do shopping for other retail items, it is only about a 25-minute drive to Charlottetown (capital of Prince Edward Island), or Montague.”
“What do I least like about life in Belfast? The wintertime storms can be isolating and challenging when roads maybe impassable for a few days at a time, but it does allow families to re-connect,” he says.
“As for the most famous landmark in Belfast, it would be tough to choose between the Point Prim Lighthouse or St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. The Point Prim lighthouse is one of the most popular stops for tourists travelling in our area. St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is a beautiful building with Reverend Roger MacPhee leading the congregation.
“Belfast is most known for activism, and a strong connection to politics as well. In 2017, the Provincial Government of the time under Premier Wade MacLauchlan had proposed to close the K-9 school.
“The student enrolment was at approximately 100 students. The community rallied and bonded together to ensure the school would stay. Education is very important to the people in Belfast.
“The community supports the academic, athletic, and character building of students at the school. Over the past five years, the number of students has risen to 160 students. Many of these students are coming with their families from urban areas in Canada, to get away from the rush and busyness of city life. Families are choosing the more ‘laid-back’ pace of Belfast. They are trading life in the city for country living and owning a larger piece of property.
“Belfast is also known for its great musicians. This would include the musical group, Paper Lions, Coyote, singers Dylan Menzie, Kelly Mooney, Katie McGarry, Kevin Ryan, Norman Stewart, and the Doherty Family.
“Life in Belfast is about family, and giving to the community. Many people serve on volunteer groups like Women’s Institutes, Catholic Women’s Leagues, Lions Club Groups, Knights of Columbus, Home and School Committees, and supporting the youth of the area in different ways.
“We also have a dedicated group of people working for the community on the Rural Municipality Executive. They are a member council who help provide support for initiatives within Belfast Community.
“We also have the Dr John Gillis Lodge for our senior citizens. The Lodge does excellent work for our seniors, spear-headed by owner Douglas MacKenzie. Douglas and his staff go above and beyond everyday to help our senior population. I’m maybe biased, but I believe it is the best senior’s home in the province.
“Who’s the most famous person in Belfast? I believe currently the most famous people in the community would be Glenda and her husband David Cooper who run the local grocery/gas station in the area.
“The store provides groceries, great cuts of meat, gas, and is a outlet for a variety of alcoholic beverages. Glenda and David know all the locals, and always try and connect with those who are visiting. They are great supporters of the community in several different ways.
“Also, our current Member of the Legislative Assembly (Provincial Government) is Darlene Compton. Darlene is the current Minister of Finance, and the first woman to be named the Deputy Premier in PEI history.
“Historically, it would probably be Angus MacLean who was a politician from Belfast who was Premier of PEI, and also held a seat as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa.
“The local delicacy of choice would have to be our lobster! The lobster fishery runs for approximately two months from the first of May until the end of June. There is nothing better than a feed of lobster on the first landing day. It is a staple of many Mother’s Day family meals.
“I’ve never been to Belfast, Northern Ireland, but would love to someday.”
Les McFadden is a long-time member of the Belfast Rugby Club, Belfast, Christchurch in New Zealand. Belfast is a suburb situated north of Christchurch and is located on close to the banks of the Waimakariri River. The area is believed to have been named by Belfast emigrant James McNeight Watt (1838–1892) who was a partner of the original meat works, around which the settlement grew.
“My wife and I were both born and bred in Belfast and being involved in Rugby Rotary and bowling clubs,” says Les. “It was a place where you knew everyone, but now it is growing at a alarming rate with new housing developments.
“I do not know as many people, but it is still a town I still prefer to live in. The main highway through the town has now not as busy as two new bypass motorways have been built on the east and west sides of the town.
“Originally when the town had two freezing works, Wool Scour, Felmongrie, Soap Factory and Petfood Factory, the town was nicknamed ‘Smellfast’ but only one freezing works remains in town with no odours whatsoever, but other than that there is nothing I dislike about Belfast.
“Belfast is most known for its freezing works and I would say that its most famous landmark is Sheldon Park and the Belfast Hotel, known as ‘The Peg’.”
“Community life in Belfast is great,” he says. “We have lots of sports clubs available; Rugby Union (established in 1908), netball, Touch Lawn Bowling Club, as well as the Rotary Club of Belfast/Kaiapoi, The Belfast Community Network who run holiday programmes for children and after-school care, elderly programmes, Belfast Primary School and another being built for seniors, four pre-schools for children, only one pub (The Belfast Tavern ‘The Peg’ which was a hotel years ago) which was named ‘Seven Mile Peg’ because in the stage coach days it was a seven-mile stop from the centre of Christchurch’s Cathedral Square. Then there’s three other smaller bars/bistros. The Belfast Sports and Community Centre Inc is the sports hub for our area. We also have two large supermarkets and two shopping centres with a variety of shops.
“In terms of the most famous person in Belfast, we really do not have anyone specifically. I was awarded a QSM, Queens Service Medal, in 2006 as well as the accolade of New Zealander of Year Local Hero and New Zealander of Year Local Senior of Year in 2011, out of 10 people selected for Canterbury area.
“I’m a life member of Belfast Rugby Football Club, as well as being a life member of Canterbury Rugby Football Union.
“What’s the local delicacy or dish of choice? Roast lamb and steaks but a variety of different foods. Bluff Oysters [which are reputed to be the best in the world and New Zealand’s national treasure] in season from the local fish ‘n’ chip shop.
“My wife Elaine and I visited Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1995 on our tour of USA and Great Britain. I loved Belfast and I had a contact of a workmate here in New Zealand whose parents lived in Belfast and they were able to get us a bed and breakfast for a few days and his friend worked for Guinness Breweries so was able to pick us up and do some sightseeing.”
Megan Pinette is president of the Belfast Historical Society & Museum in Maine, Massachusetts. A city in Waldo County, Belfast is a seaport that has a wealth of antique architecture in several historic districts, and remains popular with tourists.
“Belfast was first settled on both sides of the Passagassawakeag River in 1770 by families from Londonderry, New Hampshire,” says Megan.
“After the Revolutionary War, Belfast grew rapidly as a seaport on the west side of the river. Shipyards and wharfs lined the harbour, and banks, businesses, and public buildings gave shape to a commercial district. A residential area grew around the common, and as Belfast prospered, shipbuilders, captains, merchants, lawyers, bankers and businessmen built their fine Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Queen Anne houses. Many had distinctive architectural features and decorative details. Mathews Brothers, which was incorporated as a sash and door manufacturer in 1854 and is still in business in Belfast, produced the millwork on many of the houses in the neighbourhoods.
“Post First and Second World War brought about the industrialisation of the waterfront. By the late 1940s two poultry processors, a sardine packing plant and a door and window manufacturer all were located on the harbour and had access by rail. They are now gone, and as the century closed out, white collar jobs in banking and health care have taken hold.”
“Today, Belfast is that rare combination of [being a] quiet small town with an active social and cultural life that is attractive to residents and visitors alike,” she says.
“What I most like about living in Belfast is that I particularly like the small-town feel. Even though we are the city of Belfast and the county seat, our population remains less than 7,000. It’s easy to get to know long-time neighbours as well as new arrivals. There’s not much to dislike about living here.
“The building commonly referred to as ‘The Gothic’ is probably the most photographed building in Belfast. Built in 1878 as the Belfast National Bank, it was designed by Portland, Maine architect, George M Harding. It is High Victorian Gothic and is situated at the intersection of Main and Beaver streets. Its ‘flat-iron’ structure and Victorian iron ornamentation makes it an attractive subject for photographers. It closed as a bank in 1909, and, in 2022 is now a Japanese restaurant.”
“We are a varied community of long time, multi-generational families, and newcomers,” Megan says. “To quote the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce: ‘One of the most frequently asked questions is what makes Belfast so special. It’s an easy answer and not one you might think. We have great restaurants, an active arts scene, events galore, a great harbour walk and rail trail. It’s the people of Belfast and Waldo County who make it such a great place to live, work, and play.’
“As a community we first like to entertain ourselves and give a nod to our Scots, Irish and maritime heritage.
“How many communities of less than 8,000 have a Celtic Festival, Harbour Fest, Arts in the Park, Poetry Festival, outdoor and indoor music festivals and, to end the season, host Weiner Fest, a gathering of dachshunds and other small dogs?”
“The most famous person in Belfast is its native son, Captain Albert W Stevens, who was the best aerial photographer working in the United States throughout the First World War, the 1920s and 1930s,” Megan says.
“In 1918, he began his training after enlisting with the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps and spent several years behind enemy lines photographing the battlefields.
“During this time, he developed the oblique angle camera lens which enabled photographs to be taken some distance from the battlefields, keeping pilots and photographers well out of harm’s way.
“Following the war, he remained with the Army Air Corps and was involved with aerial mapping and exploration of previously undocumented places, such as the Amazon River basin, the Grand Canyon and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. His most famous photograph was taken on November 11, 1935, when he took the first photo to show the curvature of the earth during the record-breaking flight of Explorer II. This flight reached the dizzying height of 72,395 feet or 13.71 miles.
“As we are situated on the coast of Maine, a lobster roll is the preferred dish of choice. Simple ingredients: lobster, a little mayonnaise and a bun make it highly desirable to locals and visitors.
“I have not yet been to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Many visitors to our museum from Belfast, NI, comment on how much we resemble their home city, and they feel right at home here.”