Richmond vs. The Old North End

Old North End looking West from the Grain Elevator

Old North End looking West from the Grain Elevator

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.

Line Drawing of principal forts, blockhouses, and batteries of Halifax's early defences.  Drawing by G. MacLaren after a map by H. Piers. 1946. (NSA)

Line Drawing of principal forts, blockhouses, and batteries of Halifax’s early defences.
Drawing by G. MacLaren after a map by H. Piers. 1946. (NSA)

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).

Richmond Station ca. 1860

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.

Creighton Street in the 1940s or 1950s

Creighton Street in the 1940s or 1950s

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.

The Northern Light and the North Pole – Halifax?

Check out the blog throughout the month of August as we gear up for the Gottingen 250 Festival which will be taking place on September 12-14 on Gottingen Street and Maitland Street.

Masthead of The Northern Light ca. 1894

Masthead of The Northern Light ca. 1894

From 1988 to 1998 a local newspaper published weekly in the North End of Halifax called The North End News. Copies of this newspaper are available for view at the Halifax Central Library on Spring Garden Road.

However, prior to that the North End had another newspaper called The Northern Light which was published from roughly 1891 til the late 1890s.

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Building Blocks: 2-24 Gottingen Street – UPDATED

Gottingen Street between Cogswell Street and Falkland Street, 2013

Gottingen Street between Cogswell Street and Falkland Street, 2013

Back in June 2013 I started what I hope will be a series of posts called “Building Blocks” that do a block by block analysis of how streets changed over time. It was modelled off of a blog called Keith York CityYou can read the original post HERE.

Since posting this analysis of the western side of the first block of Gottingen from 2-24 (using the old numbering system) I have come across additional information which I think is really cool.

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I’m Back… Summer 2014

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to send a little note to say that regular updates will continue throughout the summer as I have returned from three months working in Ontario (officially returning on July 1st). A lot has happened since I’ve been away so I thought I would highlight some of the stuff I have been working on. I expect my first substantial update to take place on Monday, July 7th. Here are some short notes of what I’ve been working on:

1. Armouries Expropriation

One of the projects I dropped due to my work obligations was research I was conducting on the lands expropriated to make way for the construction of the Armouries at the corner of North Park and Cunard streets. I am nearly ready to post the results of this research which I hope to share over two posts in the coming weeks.

2. Gottingen 250 Festival

Since October 2013 I have been involved with the organizing committee of the Gottingen 250 Festival that is coming this fall to the North End. Its going to be a great time. Over the course of the summer and leading up to the actual event I hope to highlight some of the events, people, buildings and what not that I have uncovered leading up to festival. As co-chair of the History Committee we have some interesting things to roll out between now and September. So keep your eyes open.

3. Photo Project

Over the summer I am going to be putting out a call to current and former residents of the Old North End for photos of the area which I can highlight on the website, do some research on and what not. If you have any old photos please send them to me at:

This is just a bit of what I hope to accomplish over the summer and I thank you all for your continued support and I look forward to getting Halifax more familiar with its past and specifically the past of the area of Halifax I love very much – the Old North End.


The Race Riots of 1919

On the evening of Tuesday, February 18th a group of men, drunk, and with little to do, began what would turn into a two night riot and would result in tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to stores and restaurants in the Old North End.

Mrs. Patton outside her store at 21 Gottingen (1919)

Mrs. Patton outside her store at 21 Gottingen (1919) – Halifax Herald

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Real Estate Registers – find out how much your house cost in 1877

The Nova Scotia Archives has an amazing resource available to researches on their website called the Built Heritage Guide. If you own a house and want to know how to go about researching its history, figuring out what resources are available and so on this is the place to go.

One of the coolest things, at least to me, that is available in this research guide are scanned copies of various Real Estate Guides which much like the magazines and Real Estate channel today provided residents and interested persons with information about what was available for sale, rent, lease, etc. in Halifax.

The oldest register available on the website is from 1877 which you can view page by page here.

1877 Real Estate Register of Halifax

1877 Real Estate Register of Halifax

Going through this register you can see what was available for sale, rent and so on in the Old North End and its an interesting look at how much things cost and what people could buy. Some examples are:

- “A comfortable Family Residence at the North End, containing 12 rooms, pantry, etc., with stables and outhouses. Rent $400.”

- “That very eligible residence on Brunswick street, corner Proctor’s Lane, contains 14 rooms, with panties, closets, etc., large garden, croquet lawn, stables, coach house, etc. The house is built with all modern improvements, and is one of the best houses in North End. Rent $500.

- “Large House on Gottingen street near North street, contains 14 rooms with usual offices, and has large garden, stable and barn. Will be rented for $240.

- “A House in Gottingen street, containing 7 rooms, and kitchen and frost-proof cellar. Rent $240 per annum. Possession immediately.”

- “A Shop and dwelling in North End. To a good tenant would be put in thorough repair. The Railway extension being in close proximity, this should offer a good chance for a new beginner. Rent $200.”

- “A shop 30 x 25 on Gottingen Street, with work room of same size above. Suitable for market or factory. Rent $160.”

Page from Register

Page from Register

The above entries are just a smattering of the listings available in this register and they provide a valuable amount of information about the housing market in Halifax in the middle of the last half of the 19th Century. Canadian inflation calculators only go back to 1914, however, if we assumed the money was in US dollars $4,000 in 1877 would represent a value of about $85,000 in 2012. Interesting, eh?

When is a parking lot more than just a parking lot?

North Park street is a relatively short street. Only two blocks stretching from the intersection of Cogswell and going North toward the intersections of Cunard and Agricola streets. However, it’s a street with a lot of history. One spot along this road that has always intrigued me is the parking lot located on the corner of North Park street and a tiny little lane called Armoury Place which runs alongside the Halifax Armouries, formerly called John’s Lane.

Parking lot at the corner of North Park street and Armoury Place.

Parking lot at the corner of North Park street and Armoury Place.

In the above photo you can clearly see a granite stone wall that runs along the length of the parking lot. I notice these things when I walk around town and it always has me asking when is a parking lot more than just a parking lot?

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Get to know your neighbours – The Merlin/Gorman families of Falkland Street

Sticking to Falkland Street today we visit with the family of William and Rebecca Merlin and their daughter Abigail and her husband Patrick Gorman.

The Merlin family has a long history in the North End of Halifax in that they arrived on the ship ANN in 1750 as part of the Foreign Protestant migration. Unlike most of their other fellow migrants they did not relocate to Lunenburg in 1753 but instead stayed in Halifax where the founder of the family in Nova Scotia George Merlin established himself as a tanner – opening a tannery in the proximity of the Queen street Sobey’s in today’s South End Halifax. The North End, however, played prominent in the lives of the Merlin family as it was where George’s first wife  of unknown name is likely buried having died on the passage over from Europe and where he along with his third wife Ursula (Pandover) Schaffer Merlin are also buried in the cemetery of the Little Dutch Church.

Headstone of George Merlin. Cemetery. Little Dutch Church. Halifax (photo credit: Hector Martinez)

Headstone of George Merlin. Cemetery. Little Dutch Church. Halifax (photo credit: Hector Martinez)

The Merlin family would eventually relocate to two prominent Halifax County communities – Harrietsfield and Prospect and establish themselves there. William Henry Merlin the great-grandson of George Merlin via his first son John Philip Merlin (who arrived with his father and mother in Nova Scotia in 1750) was born in Prospect in November 1823 and would go on to marry in 1847 to Rebecca Coolen daughter of George Coolen and Johanna Duggan who was also born in Prospect in December 1829. They would have 9 children all of whom would move to Halifax by the late 1860s and establish themselves in the North End. Henry would die in 1869 at the Provincial Hospital due to Epilepsy at the age of 49 leaving a relatively young family to be raised by a now widowed Rebecca. By the end of the Century the family was living on Falkland Street in a multi-generational, multi-family home.

The household consisted of the following people in 1891:

Rebecca Merlin, age 60

John Merlin, age 41 her son

William Merlin, age 28 her son

Patrick Gorman, age 32 her son-in-law

Abbie (Abigail) Merlin Gorman, age 29 her daughter

Etta Gorman, age 4 her granddaughter

John Gorman, age 2 her grandson

It wasn’t uncommon for families to live in multi-unit buildings – in this case the building also housed the large family of William Hayman and his wife Mary and their 5 children. John Merlin (above) was a butcher and likely worked at one of the local shops in the Old North End neighbourhood, or possibly at one of the larger factories around town. Patrick Gorman is listed in the 1891 Census as a labourer meaning he likely did general work around town either day work. To give perspective of how much a general labourer would make in the early 1880s if you were lucky enough to secure work at Robert Taylor’s shoe factory which was located at the corner of Brunswick street and Duke street you’d make between $2.00 and $4.00 per week. By the end of the century when Halifax was experiencing a healthy economy workers were being paid significantly more. Phyllis Blakeley points out in her study of nineteenth century Halifax that “In 1898 the Halifax blacksmith was paid $1.66 a day, carpenters $1.68, machinists $2.00, painters $1.66, plumbers $1.74 and bricklayers $2.50 a day.” (Glimpses of Halifax, pp. 36-37).

1904 would be a significant year for the Merlin/Gorman household of Falkland street, a dark year. The first incident took place in February 1904 when their eight year old daughter Florence Eileen Gorman (b. 23 September 1896) passed away on the evening of 18 February due tuberculosis. The second incident that took place happened on 27 April 1904 when Patrick Gorman passed away after a severe Asthma attack.

Gunner Patrick Gorman, of the 1st Regiment Canadian Artillery, was buried yesterday afternoon with full military honours. The funeral took place from his late residence, 18 Falkland Street, and very largely attended. The body was drawn on a gun carriage and a firing party led the cortège, the body was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery. – The Acadian Recorder, 2 May 1904

Interestingly for a genealogist the obituary that appears above provides an added layer of story to the story of the Gorman family. Patrick Gorman was in the military. If you look at his death record, the 1891 Census and all other related documents he’s listed merely as a “labourer”. Based on his obituary we see that he had a whole other life, appears to have been well-respected and was part of a larger community in and around the North End. We will learn more about Patrick’s employment when the next unfortunate event occurs in this family’s story.

“Here, There and Everywhere” – The death occurred this morning at 18 Falkland street of Mrs. Gorman, widow of Patrick, who died a few months ago, and who was then an employee of the Armouries. Mrs. Gorman was 42 years of age and leave a family.

“Deaths” – GORMAN – At 18 Falkland Street, October 18, after a short and painful illness, Abigail,  widow of the late Patrick Gorman, aged 42. Funeral takes place on Thursday, at 2.30 from late residence, to Mount Olivet Cemetery.

The Acadian Recorder, 18 October 1904

Further investigation into the cause of death of Abigail shows that she suffered from a short but ultimately fatal case of tuberculosis. Abigail’s death record also cites that she was working as well – which isn’t shown in any other documents to date – as a housekeeper. Likely taking on work after the death of her husband. Abigail’s obituary also shows that Patrick was working out of the Armouries, which means he worked close by to the house. The fact that both Patrick, Abigail and Florence died from lung related diseases also suggests that there was likely very poor air quality in and around the Old North End. This would of course require a further investigation to help flesh out a theory. However, when one does a short investigation the family lost their 4-year-old son Edmund in 1895 and their 2-year-old daughter Hilda in 1900 due to meningitis. So the ten-year period between 1895 and 1904 was a very sad period in the life of this family.

The result of the death of both Abigail and Patrick and their young daughter Florence in such a short period of time must have been very dramatic for the Merlin/Gorman household. At the time of their death the couple has four living children, all of whom would go on to live long productive lives. The children would likely have continued to live with their grandmother Rebecca (Coolen) Merlin but she too would pass away in 1909 of “pulmonary congestion” which again implies bad air quality.

For the purposes of this article this is where the story ends. The Merlin/Gorman family highlights the interesting people who made up the Old North End. The interesting connections between where people lived and where they worked. This family is just one of many who lived, worked and ended their lives in the Old North End.

I’m back…

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to send a note to say that after a brief hiatus of two months I am back and I am planning a series of updates for October and November. We are fast approaching the 1st anniversary of The Old North End and I am planning to do a few special things.

I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed and made the blog so rewarding for me!


Get to know your neighbours – Henry Kitz 187 Brunswick Street

H. Kitz, Jeweller and Optician, 187 Brunswick Street

H. Kitz, Jeweller and Optician, 187 Brunswick Street

The Kitz Family of Halifax

The above photo has been mislabeled by the Nova Scotia Museum as being located at 187 Gottingen Street which means it would roughly sit today in the first block of Uniacke Square. However, a quick review of the Halifax City Directory for 1907-1908 shows that in fact the shop was located at 187 Brunswick Street which was located just in from the corner of Brunswick and Jacob streets roughly where Cogswell street use to end at Brunswick. This building would have been opposite the large Barracks buildings that stretched along this part of Brunswick Street.

Hopkin Atlas, 1878, showing 187 Brunswick Street

Hopkin Atlas, 1878, showing 187 Brunswick Street

Henry Kitz was listed in his marriage  record in 1910 as being from Austria the son of Lazarus and Anna Kitz. However, his death certificate in 1942 says that he was born in Poland. He was born 4 May 1879 and in June 1910 he married Yetta Lesser (1890-1981) of Montreal. Harry and Yetta are both buried at the Beth Israel Synagogue Cemetery in Halifax.

Harry immigrated to Halifax sometime between 1901 and 1907.

Harry seems to have eventually left the jewellery business and went into property and became a relator. The only other Kitz to live in Halifax at the time was Samuel Kitz and he lived at 185 Brunswick street and died in 1928. Its likely that he was a brother of Harry’s.

Harry and Yetta had three children Hilda (b. 1910), Leonard Arthur (b. 1916) and Joseph. Leonard A. Kitz would go on to become the Mayor of Halifax, the first Jewish Mayor of the city between 1955-1957, he died in 2006. Leonard’s second wife Janet Kitz is the renowned historian of the Halifax Explosion and considered to be the authority on that horrific event.