A lot of people have written me about my decision to call this blog “The Old North End” and there have been some serious debates on Twitter where boundaries of neighbourhoods have been disputed. I have chosen, for the purposes of this blog, to only focus on the geographic area the encompassed the North End of the down town business district and the residential neighbourhoods that stretched to North Street between Robie Street and the water. I made this decision very deliberately and I hope to explain in part why I did that.
For much of the first fifty years of Halifax’s existence the city was confined to the area immediately below the Halifax Citadel and within the boundaries of the Blockhouses and palisades that were built to protect the early settlement.
The so-called “North Suburbs” were the area just outside the palisades between Forts Luttrell and Grenadier and the Naval Yard. As will be explained below from various primary and secondary sources for much of the last two hundred years the geographic extent of the City of Halifax was a small area at the base of Citadel Hill. The South End of the city wasn’t opened up and built until the 1880s, the West End immediately west of the Halifax Commons began to be developed in the early 1890s, especially along Quinpool Road and it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the small village of Richmond and the main parts of the far North End were completely built up and populated.
In her examination of the history of late 19th century life, Glimpses of Halifax, historian and archivist Phyllis R. Blakeley described the North End of the city ca. 1867 as follows:
North of the Commons there were only a few scattered houses among the fields, and Agricola Street had not been opened…A few houses of the poorer class were stretched along Campbell Road between the Dockyard and Richmond, where a settlement had grown about the railway terminus after the beginning of the Nova Scotia Railway in 1854. Richmond, where the machine shops employed one hundred and fifty men, was considered a separate village, as it was four miles from the business district. (pg. 4).
The above photo from the Tom Connors collection held at the Nova Scotia Archives shows the Richmond train/freight station ca. 1860. The shabby conditions of the Richmond station led to the train station being moved in 1878 to the foot of North Street. However, the train terminus was one of the main reasons for the settlement on this part of peninsula.
The far north end of the peninsula was originally granted to the St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church for use by the glebe and were commonly referred to as the glebe lands. This is reflected in the names of some of the streets today: Rector, Glebe, Vestry, and St. Paul’s. The wide open space provided plenty of land for industrial purposes as the industrial complex in the city expanded out of the cramped down town warehouses and buildings. Large, primarily brick, factories sprung up all over these former church lands:
- 1880-81 the Nova Scotia Sugar Refinery was erected at the foot of West Young Street on the water side of Campbell Road. Completely destroyed in the Halifax Explosion in 1917.
- 1883 the Nova Scotia Cotton Manufacturing Company built its massive brick factory along Robie Street at Young. The chimney of this building survived the Halifax Explosion and would become a major symbol of the Piercy’s building supply buildings until it was demolished in recent years.
- 1889 the Graving Dock at the foot of Young Street opened after two years of construction.
The above factories employed hundreds of men and women and began a small real estate boom in the lands surrounding them causing the lands to be subdivided and houses to be built. Despite all of this industrialization the area north of North Street remained sparsely populated, with the major pockets of residential development taking place along the waterfront, along Campbell Road/Barrington Street and in the cluster of streets immediately surrounding the Dry Docks at the foot of Young below Fort Needham Hill.
The fields just North of the foot of Citadel Hill were opened up relatively late in the history of Halifax. Bauer’s field which encompassed most of the area west of Brunswick street to the commons wasn’t subdivided until the 1830s when we see Creighton, Maynard and Bauer streets start to be developed. Woodill’s field which encompassed the area between Windsor street and Robie wasn’t opened up until the mid 1880s and for most of that time was used for large green houses which ran along North Street at the intersection of Robie which at the time was called Longard’s Road because it functions as the main road which ran through the wilderness to the Longard farm which was located roughly at the intersection of Robie street extension and Lady Hammond Road. Brunswick street down to the water was where a lot of the early development took place stretching the boundaries of the city out of the streets that fell within the confines of the old walls and outside the protection of the Blockhouses which protected the town of Halifax.
The German settlers who arrived between 1750 and 1752 had been granted land outside of the blockhouses, the Little Dutch Church being built-in 1756 at the corner of Brunswick and Gerrish streets, St. George’s Anglican church was built at the corner of Brunswick and Cornwallis in 1800 and the Brunswick Street Methodist Church opened in 1834. Despite these institutions being established the population was tightly packed into, for the most part, the area between Gottingen street and the water with the largest concentration of people being in the area that is more or less underneath modern-day Scotia Square and the Cogswell Interchange along Jacob street.
Blakeley refers to the area North of the down town as being referred to even as late as 1867 as “Dutch Town” with the area north of that to North street being referred to as “New Town”. It is my feeling that given the events of December 6, 1917 Richmond has been given a fair amount of study, you throw in the rebuilding efforts after the explosion and the amount of study given to the Hydrostone neighbourhood the area has been extensively examined. That is why I chose the “Old North End” as it represents a part of the city which for the most part doesn’t exist any more. Instead it has been replaced by large-scale building projects like Scotia Square and the Cogswell Interchange. If you drive along Barrington Street today you wouldn’t realize that between Barrington and the water there were hundreds of people who once lived in two, three and four storey buildings along streets which no longer exist. Richmond was rebuilt, the Hydrostone represents a new history for the North End but the old North End, for the most part, isn’t there any more.
Historian Suzanne Morton in her study of the Hydrostone in the 1920s Ideal Surroundings provides further insight into the debate around boundaries in the “North End.”
The term ‘North End Halifax’ can be confusing, as there were two distinct ‘North Ends’ in the city. Richmond Heights was located in the far North End – a location quite separate from the Ward Five ‘North End’ associated with the area between the Citadel and North Street. The Ward Five North End contained some of the city’s worst housing and poorest neighbourhoods. Part of the confusion around the two North Ends lay in the almost complete isolation of both areas from the generally more prosperous South End. The North Street passenger train station and the old train route along the harbour had been the only exposure of most South End residents to the district and with the destruction of the terminus and the permanent redirection of all passenger traffic through the new south-west route, even this very limited contact ended. (footnote no. 11, Introduction).
I agree with Morton’s assessment of the distinctiveness of the two neighbourhoods. The two North Ends of Halifax were different and thus need to be examined as such. That is why I have chosen to only study the Old North End.
Here are some interesting facts:
In 1951 the area of the Old North End was experiencing rapid decline both in upkeep of buildings and businesses, but also in population. In 1951 the area had a population of 11,939 people who represented nearly 9% of the overall population of Halifax. On average there were 4.1 persons living in each household. In 2001 (I haven’t looked at 2011 numbers) the area’s population was only 4943 people, mostly single and had an unemployment rate of 54% (Silver, Public Housing Risks and Alternatives: Uniacke Square in North End Halifax, February 2008). I think these numbers are extremely significant as they show the character of the neighbourhood and the nature of the city has changed dramatically in a short period of time. It also shows, to me at least, that there is a history here worth telling.