Lane way Housing of the Old North End

Infill houses are very popular right now in large cities like Vancouver where garages and former out buildings that fronted lane ways are now being converted into small one bedroom apartments. Density is the key.

Halifax has a long history of infill development and this was especially popular in Halifax’s old north end. A look at old photos and fire insurance maps confirms these “hidden” homes of the Old North End. There is only one clear example of infill housing left today along Gottingen just across from Uniacke Square where a series of three small salt box houses are nestled in behind the larger buildings which front the street.

Laneway Housing

From Google Maps – behind 2413 Gottingen Street

Another example of infilling in the Old North End was in the block on Cornwallis between Upper Water and Lockman Street (Barrington) in what is now the grassy areas next to the Sewage Treatment Plant.


The above picture shows the block and you can see at least five separate buildings that are located on a small lane behind the houses that face Cornwallis, Lockman and Upper Water. The 1878 Hopkins Atlas of Halifax also shows this block:

1878 Hopkins Atlas

1878 Hopkins Atlas

You can see the small lane and outline of the two wooden structures that are located to the West of the lane, as well as the three story wooden building on the waterside of the block.

According to the 1878 MacAlpine’s Halifax City Directory the small lane is called Cornwallis Lane and is located between 10 and 12 Cornwallis Street. Some of the residents of Cornwallis Lane in 1878 were:

Edward Cass, labourer; Patrick Connolly, labourer; Joseph Curtis, labourer; Charles Duggan, store keeper; Patrick Duggan; William Duggan, labourer; John Gillis, blacksmith (who worked at 19 Falkland Street); Patrick Murphy, trader; Mary O’Connell, wid of Michael.


The picture on the left shows the same block in the mid 1960s (cropped from a larger picture showing the razed area prior to construction of the Cogswell Interchange) and you can see in the bottom right hand corner what was once Cornwallis Lane. The large three story building fronting Barrington Street can be seen in the centre of the picture above. It is clear that many the buildings on this block did not make it past the mid century mark before falling victim to the wrecking ball. Further investigation would be required to determine when this part of the block began to be razed.

In 1951 nearly 12,000 people lived in and around the Gottingen street area – the entire area was densely populated. Cornwallis Lane was just one of many small lane ways which ran off of the main roads and were filled with homes. These small lanes often go unnoticed in the history of the great streets of the city. The population in 2001 was about a third of the population it was in 1951. A large part of this was due to urban renewal and the razing of much of this neighbourhood.

Rutgers, 1879

Rutgers, 1879

The study of Halifax’s small lanes is an interesting one and I would suggest someone could spend a fair amount of time studying them. One last piece of interesting history is that all of the issues of the Acadian Recorder have been made available online via the Nova Scotia Archives website historical newspaper virtual exhibit. I’ve spent many hours reading the “local” news sections because they are rich with small genealogical and historical tid bits. One such tid bit appeared in the 16 February 1861 (which is not available  online via NSA but rather Google News who has a sporadic grouping of digitized issues) which mentions the LONG forgotten Dark Lane where a fire took place destroying one of the city’s oldest buildings:


Fires – On Sunday morning last, about 3 o’clock, a fire broke out in a house owned and occupied by Mr. Thomas Mahoney, opposite property of the Messrs. West, in Upper Water Street, and quickly spread to the buildings adjoining, South on Water Street, and West on Dark Lane. The building in which the fire originated was totally destroyed. Two cottages on the Lane, also owned by Mr. Mahoney; and the other house on Water Street, owned by Mr. Wilson, occupied by Mr. Shaw, and known as the “Navy Coffee House”, were so far consumed that they may be considered destroyed. Insurance on Mr. Mahoney’s  property $2800; on Mr. Wilson’s $1600. We understand that by this fire several poor families have been turned out of their lodgings and have lost all their personal effects – The building in which the fire originated was one of the oldest in Halifax.

The city is full of interesting pieces of history like this and the now long-forgotten lane ways are just one small example.


2 thoughts on “Lane way Housing of the Old North End

  1. Great post. I live on Willow and we work hard to protect private encroachment on our shared lane … it is what makes our Willow/Clifton/Charles/Robie block so amazing!

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