Then & Now: Prince William Street

The birth place of a Prime Minister or national leader in most countries is marked by a preserved house, a plaque stating the significance of the site, etc. In Halifax these things usually go unnoticed. 

One such place that goes relatively unnoticed today is Prince William street a short side street that runs between Gottingen street and Maitland street in the Old North End. Once in the middle of the busy shopping and business district it now stands empty and abandoned – the soon to be home of a new condo development.

Google Maps, 2013

Google Maps, 2013

The origins of the name Prince William could be related to a number of members of the British Royal family. Given the development of the area it is likely that the name refers to one of the following people:

– William IV, son of King George III (1765-1837), Prince William of Clarence and St. Andrew

– Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1776-1834)

Likely that it was named after the Prince William of Clarence son of George III and future King William IV. However, I am not sure and I am open to suggestions.

Either way this unassuming little street was has quite a bit of history packed into it. The biggest historical nugget attached to this street is that it is the home where in 1844/1845 the birth of John Sparrow David Thompson to John Sparrow Thompson and Charlotte Pottinger took place. Their house on the corner of Gottingen and Prince William stood til the 1960s when it was torn down during the urban renewal process by the City.

Corner of Gottingen and Prince William ca. 1930s.

Corner of Gottingen and Prince William ca. 1930s.

The interesting story in Sir. John’s life is not that he became a successful lawyer, a leading Conservative provincial politicans and eventually the 4th Prime Minister of Canada in the 1890s. I think its the story that unfolded between Gottingen and Maitland Streets in Halifax’s Old North End and how he met his wife.

The Canadian Dictionary of Biography article on Thompson tells the story nicely:

 Some months before his father’s death Thompson had met Annie Affleck, who lived down the hill from his parents’ home. She was his age, and may have been working in a Halifax shop or helping her mother with a still growing family. Thompson’s courtship was long, intense, even arduous. Annie was a high-strung, vigorous, passionate young woman, intelligent and attractive. What she admired in Thompson was his intellectual capacity and his modesty joined to moral strength. He seemed to be a man she could lean on. As early as the autumn of 1867 Thompson was at Annie’s home six nights a week, taking her for a walk or teaching her French and shorthand. The progress of their relationship is recorded in Annie’s diary, important parts of which are in the shorthand Thompson had taught her.

The reason for Annie’s shorthand was to keep the more intimate details of their courtship from her relatives. The Afflecks were Roman Catholics, and they were not sure they wanted Thompson, the son of a reputable but Methodist family, courting their eldest daughter. Thompson’s intensity, and Annie’s willingness to countenance it, seems to have been disconcerting to her family and some of their courting was carried on clandestinely. Thompson’s frequent notes, with parts in shorthand, were “smuggled” – Annie’s word – into her house. His own family’s objections may have been the more serious. Not only was Annie a Catholic, but Thompson was the sole support of his mother and sister. His mother was Presbyterian, and she may have found Roman Catholicism difficult to accept. Thompson’s father had always been insistent upon toleration of Roman Catholics as a working principle for his Methodist faith, Irish Protestant though he was. He had specifically forbidden his children, for example, to have anything to do with the Orange order. Whatever the nature of his family’s objections – the sources reveal only a void – Thompson did marry Annie Affleck, on 5 July 1870, in the bishop’s parlour in Portland, Maine. An episcopal dispensation was necessary for Annie’s marriage to a Protestant, but the archbishop of Halifax was then in Rome and the closest bishop was in Portland. Annie’s mother escorted her there for the wedding.

The newly-weds moved into Thompson’s family home. Early in 1871 the dominion census-taker recorded them there, Thompson and his three women, his wife, his mother, and his sister: one Roman Catholic, one Presbyterian, and one Methodist. Thompson still called himself a Protestant, but he was not to remain so for long. In April 1871, when Annie was four months pregnant, he was christened a Roman Catholic (with his original name) in St Mary’s Cathedral by Archbishop Thomas Louis Connolly.

I love stories like this, they make the history of the Old North End seem so real today a hundred and forty years later.

1871 Census, Halifax, Ward 5

1871 Census, Halifax, Ward 5

Sir J.S.D. Thompson would go on to assume the role of the Federal Conservative Party leader in 1892 and thus assumed the Prime Ministership. He only held the position for two years when he died suddenly at Windsor Castle after having had dinner with Queen Victoria who had invited him there to be made a Privy Counsellor.

As mentioned above the corner was razed in the 1960s to make way for the construction of the North End Halifax Post Office which would eventually become the YWCA which stands presently on the corner.

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Sources: Nova Scotia Archives, 1871 Census, Google Earth, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

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