The first settlers drew free building lots, but few houses were completed before winter. Some people stayed aboard ship and some people died, but almost 1000 departed for Boston and other US destinations. However, adventurous merchants soon arrived from New England. A governor's residence, an Anglican church, wharves, modest defence facilities and wooden houses were all built within a year. To bolster population, "Foreign Protestants" from Germany were recruited and given land just north of the town. DARTMOUTH, located across the harbour and first settled in 1750, suffered Indian attacks, which restricted growth for several decades.
Halifax functions on the margin of the Canadian, North American and North Atlantic trading world. This "tyranny of location" makes it less favoured for growth than most other large Canadian cities. Until the early 19th century, exports of fish and forest staples were comparatively small and mercantile activity risky. Wartime activity buoyed the local economy during the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). Thereafter, economic growth based on privateering, international shipping and trade, especially with the Caribbean region, expanded wealth and population, culminating in a "golden age" of prosperity at mid-century. Enos COLLINS established the Halifax Banking Company; Samuel CUNARD earned his early fortune in the city.
The age of sail was surpassed by railway building after 1854 and the new industrialism of the 1870s, both linking Halifax to the continental economy. But the late-19th-century spurt in Halifax and Dartmouth, including a cotton factory, 2 sugar refineries, a ropework and railcar plant, was short-lived. Some of these businesses were destroyed during the HALIFAX EXPLOSION (1917). Distance to markets, lack of local resources and population, and central Canadian competition limited further manufacturing expansion.
By WWI the BANK OF NOVA SCOTIA and the Merchants Bank of Halifax (ROYAL BANK) had relocated to Toronto and Montréal. Halifax strengthened only its rail and water transportation functions, spurred by the large-scale ocean terminals initiated in 1913 to export prairie grains.
Twentieth-century wartime activity (1914-18 and 1940-45) again heightened Halifax's enduring strategic role, but steady development and economic growth from the 1950s stems more from wholesale distribution, transportation, government, university education and specialized functions such as the internationally famous BEDFORD INSTITUTE OF OCEANOGRAPHY. Offshore oil and natural gas development near Sable Island promise future growth. Halifax's economic base is largely determined by its maritime, but nonetheless peripheral, location in Canada. As a result, high unemployment is always a threat and many young people continue to migrate beyond the region to other Canadian cities in search of work.
Early Halifax stretched north and south for several kilometres along the harbour, flanked to the west by the HALIFAX CITADEL and the Common. The Naval Dockyard (1759) occupied a site in the North Suburbs, a working-class district even today. The South Suburbs and large estates on the Northwest Arm were home to the middle and upper classes. Near the Grand Parade, St Paul's Anglican church (1750), Government House (1800), PROVINCE HOUSE (1818) and other important institutional and residential buildings attest to Halifax's rich Georgian architectural heritage. The Public Gardens, formally laid out in 1867, are modelled after northern British examples. Like Vancouver's Stanley Park, Halifax's Point Pleasant Park (1866) was once a military reserve.
By the 1950s, much of peninsular Halifax was built up. As a major railway and shipping centre, docks and rail lines almost circle the peninsular city. In Dartmouth, locks of the Shubenacadie Canal and waterfront manufacturing tell of 19th-century industries. With the spanning of Halifax Harbour by the Angus L. Macdonald (1955) and A. Murray MacKay (1970) bridges, Dartmouth's residential importance grew rapidly. Suburban BEDFORD and the Sackville district now share this sprawling population growth.
Central Halifax has been revitalized by extensive commercial redevelopment around the original central square and along the waterfront. The towers of national banks dominate the skyline. Restoration projects include Scotia Square, Historic Properties, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and a courthouse. Dartmouth's historic core has been similarly restored. Inner city neighbourhoods in both cities showcase heritage preservation and gentrified houses. The contemporary residential architecture of Brian MacKay-Lyons is winning national acclaim.
Until recently, Halifax was overwhelmingly British, and people of British origin still make up the majority of the population, with the ENGLISH and IRISH being the largest groups and the SCOTS somewhat fewer. These groups were present at Halifax's founding and were soon joined by GERMANS ("Foreign Protestants") and AMERICANS. BLACKS, some from Africa, others escaping the American Revolution or slavery, settled in or near Halifax. From the early to mid-19th century, Irish Catholics moved to Halifax, many coming from the height of the Irish potato famine (1840s). Today the multicultural mix is somewhat larger.
Late-19th-century immigration to Canada mostly bypassed Halifax for Ontario and the West. Growth has therefore been slow, dependent more on natural increase and on migrants from rural Nova Scotia. Summer brought additional army and navy personnel (as did war); winter, extra dock and railway workers. Halifax ranked fourth in size of Canadian cities at Confederation, but its position slipped thereafter. Expansion of the city boundaries westward in 1969 boosted the population considerably, and the 1996 amalgamation with neighbouring municipalities also advanced its metropolitan ranking. Many newcomers to Halifax-Dartmouth come and go as transients, employees of the armed forces, national corporations, research institutes and the federal government.
Economy and Labour Force
The strength of the metropolitan area economy today rests on traditional defence and port functions, and on the diversifying and expanding service sector. Manufacturing employs few people and fishing is unimportant locally. Regional prominence in new producer service industries (eg, research activities in the health, marine and university sectors) as well as the traditional functions of government, trade, distribution, transportation and finance all sustain Atlantic Canada's most dynamic urban economy. In fact, considerable disparities distinguish the well-being of the regional municipality's area from most of the Maritimes and Newfoundland. Despite success, majority control of the economy lies beyond the city; branch businesses are the major employers.
Halifax is the principal port in the Maritimes. Two large container terminals, recently built, serve all of Canada. Containers travel over the Canadian National Railway's lines, the successor to the INTERCOLONIAL RAILWAY, which was once headquartered briefly in Halifax (1872). The Canadian Pacific Railway's Dominion Atlantic Railway once ran through the ANNAPOLIS LOWLANDS and by car ferry across the Bay of Fundy to SAINT JOHN, Halifax's longtime rival for regional leadership. Other lines along the southwestern and eastern shores now stand idle, replaced by truck companies which carry products such as fresh fish and lobsters to distant markets. VIA Rail serves the city but follows a much reduced schedule.
Halifax merchants owned many sailing ships and dominated the province's shipping industry throughout the 19th century, a prominence not sustained in the steamship era. Major steamship companies such as Cunard, Furness and the Allan Line were owned by outsiders. Halifax International Airport is served by Air Canada and Canada 3000 as well as regional, eastern Canadian and international airline companies. HOWE's reform politics, it is no longer published. Remaining are the Mail-Star, the Chronicle-Herald and The Daily News. Halifax is one of the CBC's principal regional broadcasting centres, producing national FM music and television news programs. Atlantic Television (ATV) also provides live programs. Magazine and book publishing have long taken place in Halifax.
Government and Politics
Continuity and accommodation mark Halifax politics, but significant reforms have occurred through the city's history. Canada's first elective assembly was in Halifax in 1758 (see REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT). Until incorporation as a city in 1841, local affairs were governed by appointed colonial officials, a "clique of magistrates." Joseph Howe promoted reform, and with Halifax's incorporation, an elected mayor and council of aldermen representing city wards managed urban affairs.
This system lasted for over 150 years, until 1 April 1996, when the Halifax Regional Municipal Government was created in an attempt to reduce costs and promote greater efficiency. Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and the rest of Halifax County lost their independence. A mayor and 23 councillors now govern the urban region's metropolitan affairs. Some services (eg, sanitary and transit) were previously managed on a regional basis, but giving up local control of police and fire services has been particularly difficult. Sharing costs and planning and managing future urban growth will no doubt produce long-term benefits.
Partisan politics have played little role in local government, despite significant class and religious divisions. A "dual" school system, introduced in the 1860s because of a substantial Irish Catholic population, operated Catholic and other "public" (nonsectarian) schools, but this system no longer exists due to the 1969 annexation of suburban districts from the former County of Halifax and school closures in central Halifax. Similarly, a century-old "gentleman's agreement" of alternating Catholic and Protestant mayors ended in 1955 when Leonard A. Kitz, a Jew, was elected mayor of Halifax.
Halifax plays a significant role in provincial politics. Government services such as hospitals and research institutions are highly centralized in the city. After its creation in 1749, Halifax dominated colonial politics. It lost this power in Nova Scotia in 1848 through RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT. Since 1967, however, when more legislative seats were created, metropolitan Halifax has reasserted its former position of prominence in provincial politics.
Halifax is the cultural centre of Nova Scotia. From its founding, music, art and the theatre have been central attractions. When it was a garrison town, many officers both supported and participated in these activities. The NEPTUNE THEATRE, the NOVA SCOTIA COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN and Symphony Nova Scotia today continue these traditions. Well-known writers associated with the capital are Thomas Chandler HALIBURTON, Thomas MCCULLOCH, Thomas RADDALL, Hugh MACLENNAN and Charles RITCHIE. MacLennan's Barometer Rising details the drama surrounding the Halifax Explosion of 1917 in the city's North End, commemorated by the Bell Tower at Fort Needham Memorial Park.
The Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic exhibit the historic past, which is also recorded by the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Traditions are further upheld by long-established ethnic organizations such as the Royal St. George's Society, The Scots: North British Society (1768) and the Charitable Irish Society (1786).
There are several universities in Halifax, most with longstanding religious affiliations. The exception is DALHOUSIE, founded in 1818. SAINT MARY'S (chartered 1841) is the oldest English-speaking Roman Catholic university in Canada. The UNIVERSITY OF KING'S COLLEGE, formed as an Anglican institution in 1789 at Windsor, moved to Halifax in 1923. MOUNT SAINT VINCENT, a university since 1966, was founded in 1873 by the Sisters of Charity as a residential school for young ladies and received degree-granting status in 1925. The Nova Scotia Community College offers specialized programs.
Amateur rather than professional sports characterize the metropolitan area. Yachting, rowing, canoeing, curling, swimming and several other sports have produced national champions. The national canoeing team trains at Lake Banook in Dartmouth, and the downtown Metro Centre has hosted national university basketball and volleyball championships.
Author L.D. McCANN
M.J. Bird, The Town That Died (1962); Phyllis Blakeley, Glimpses of Halifax (1973); E.R. Forbes and D.A. Muise, eds, The Atlantic Provinces in Confederation (1993); Hugh MacLennan, Barometer Rising (1941); Thomas Raddall, Halifax: Warden of the North (1948, Rev 1971).
Links to Other Sites
This extensive CBC site documents the impact of the "Halifax Explosion" on the city and its populace.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
The website for a museum devoted to history of Pier 21 in Halifax, once the primary point of entry for immigration to Canada. Check out the virtual exhibits, lesson plans, and online copies of "The Passport" newsletter.
The GeoNOVA Portal is the Province of Nova Scotia's gateway to geographic information about Nova Scotia.
The Halifax Explosion
An illustrated account of the horrific 1917 Halifax explosion. From the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
Read all about the Halifax Gazette, Canada’s first newspaper. From Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management.
Notman Studio Collection
View an extensive collection of historical photographs depicting various locations in the Halifax region. Includes images of naval vessels. From the Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management.
The official website for the Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia. Features information about the many heritage and cultural attractions located in this historic coastal city.
Fort McNab National Historic Site
The Parks Canada website for historic Fort McNab, which formerly served as a gun battery and gatekeeper of Halifax Harbour.
York Redoubt National Historic Site
This Parks Canada site commemorates York Redoubt, a major defence installation in Halifax Harbour that was operational from the American Revolutionary War until the Second World War.
Prince of Wales Tower National Historic Site of Canada
This Parks Canada site is dedicated to Prince of Wales Tower, a 18th-century stone defence structure in Halifax.
Georges Island National Historic Site of Canada
This Parks Canada website is dedicated to Georges Island, a Halifax harbour fortification and location of Fort Charlotte.
Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
This Parks Canada site is dedicated to the Halifax Citadel, an 1828-56 British masonry fort.
The Encyclopedia Titanica website provides illustrated biographies of victims and survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Click on the menu bar for information about the layout of the ship, the members of the crew and the ship's orchestra, the Halifax cemeteries, and related film clips, personal letters, books, and articles.
Geographical Names of Canada
Search the "Canadian Geographical Names Data Base" for the official name of a city, town, lake (or any other geographical feature) in any province or territory in Canada. See also the real story of how Toronto got its name. A Natural Resources Canada website.
Dalhousie Art Gallery
The Dalhousie Art Gallery website features an extensive selection of images from their collection of Canadian and International art.
Recorded memory of theatre life in Nova Scotia
This extensive site offers a mosaic of interviews, profiles, digitized archival material, and other items that relate to the history of theatre in Halifax and other Nova Scotia communities. Requires a flash plugin to be properly viewed. From the Dalhousie University Archives.
The Friends of McNabs Island Society
The website for the Friends of McNabs Island Society, an organization that is dedicated to the preservation of McNabs, Lawlor, and Devils Islands.
Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame
The website for the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame offers profiles Nova Scotia’s outstanding athletes, teams, and builders.
Titanic in Nova Scotia
View an extensive online collection of old documents and other artifacts that are part of the historic Halifax connection to events surrounding the sinking of the RMS Titanic. A Province of Nova Scotia website.
Remembering the Victims
This site documents the development of the Halifax North Memorial Public Library, which commemorates the victims of the 1917 Halifax Explosion. Includes a link to the Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book. From the Halifax Public Libraries.
Atlantic Canada Theatre Site
This website offers a wide range of primary research materials of interest to Canadian theatre scholars, and to social, cultural, and political historians of the Atlantic region. From the University of New Brunswick.
The Maritime Aspects of the 1917 Halifax Explosion
A detailed account of events leading up to the Halifax Explosion and the subsequent relief efforts. From the journal "The Northern Mariner."
Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives
Check out the digitized archival images of Canadian cities and more at this website for the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives.
African Nova Scotian Affairs
The Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs assists, supports, and enhances the provincial government's delivery of services to African Nova Scotians.
Bird's Eye Views of Nova Scotia's Historic Places
Check out the interactive maps and travel along a nineteenth century street. Click on a highlighted building or place and see what it looks like today. And, find out about its heritage value and preservation history from the Nova Scotia Register of Historic Places.
The cradle of Canada
Travel through the past along the Annapolis Valley and over to Halifax in this news story from the canada.com website.
Natal Day Festival
Your online guide to Natal Day, the annual birthday celebration of the communities of Halifax and Dartmouth.
5355 Russell Street
A description of the distinctive Sisters of Charity heritage building at 5355 Russell Street in Halifax. Designed by the architectural firm Ross and Macdonald.
'A Vision of Regeneration'
View an online exhibit depicting the reconstruction of Halifax after the 1917 "Halifax Explosion." Features Ross & Macdonald architectural drawings and photos of hydrostone buildings and more. Click on 'A Vision of Regeneration' to see a description of the role of the Ross and Macdonald architectural firm in the reconstruction effort. From Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management.
View a series of images of paintings that reflect significant eras in Canadian naval history. From the website "Canadian Naval Centennial," Department of National Defence.
The Music Box
An architectural review of The Music Room, a facility created for chamber music performance in Halifax. Designed by Niall Savage Architecture for the Scotia Festival of Music.
The Music Room
A brief, illustrated description of The Music Room, described as the “the first dedicated, first-class acoustic music space to be built in Halifax." From the website for the Scotia Festival of Music.
Frigates and Foremasts
This page provides a synopsis of "Frigates and Foremasts," a book about Royal Navy operations in North America from 1745 to 1815. Scroll down to "Sample Chapter" and click on the link to read the Preface to this book. From the website for UBC Press.
Review: Half-Hearted Enemies: Nova Scotia, New England and the War of 1812
A critical review of a book that offers a history of naval engagements along the Atlantic coast during the War of 1812. From the War of 1812 Magazine.
Panoramic Maps: Canadian
Click on the map to select historical panoramic maps of various Canadian locations. Use the "zoom" function for close-up views. From The Library of Congress in the US.
The Planning of the New Halifax
See a digitized news story about the redevelopment of Halifax neighbourhoods destroyed by the Halifax Explosion. From Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management.
Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce
The website for the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce (APCC), formerly the Maritime Board of Trade. Formed in 1896, this organization promotes and supports business and economic development in Atlantic Canada. Click on "Chambers" for links to local Chambers of Commerce.
Nova Scotia: Community Profiles
Search for statistical profiles of communities in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Seven Wonders of Canada
See highlights of the CBC's "Seven Wonders of Canada."
The website for Jane’s Walk, a network of free walking tours that explore the quality and livability of local neighbourhoods based on ideas espoused by Jane Jacobs. Click on "The Community" to access the latest news and photos on their blog and more. Also, check out "Find Your Walk" for maps and descriptions of local walks throughout the country.