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.

A view of the Old North End – early 1970s

I found this picture today amongst some old photos while home visiting my parents. This photo was taken on one of the higher floors of Sunrise Manor on Gottingen Street. It shows the length of Creighton Street with the centre of the picture being the corner of Creighton Street and Buddy Daye Street.


The photo was taken sometime after 1971 as Fenwick Tower can be seen in the background along with 5670 Spring Garden Road (built in 1967); the Tupper Building on College Street (built in 1966) and the Abbey Lane. This is also pre-construction of the Gordon B. Isnor Manor building on Cornwallis Street between Creighton and Maynard. I’m not quite sure when the Gordon B. was built but the real life Gordon B. Isnor died in 1973 so I assume it was built after his death.

The blue house in the forefront with the mansard roof with the small peaked roofed house still stands today, however the roof of the blue house has been capped.


The houses that are opposite of the above houses which are clearly visible in the photo have been demolished and the remaining section of this block of Creighton has been turned into town house style housing (public housing?).


This famous picture of three children playing on Creighton Street shows what I believe to be the remaining section of this block of the street. The four houses that are prominent in this photo and look like they are falling over are cut out of the the photo I found, but you can clearly see the next two houses, especially the large square houses with what looks like a passage way in the middle of the first floor.

Would love if people who grew up in the neighbourhood could share their photos?? Always willing to highlight them on the blog.

(photo sources: author; Google Maps and the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management).

Building Blocks: 2-24 Gottingen Street

One of my favourite urban history blogs is Keith York City which uses resources available online to re-tell the history of New York City. One of my absolutely favourite features of his website are the Block by Block histories of sections of New York streets which he called “Building Blocks”. So I’m stealing this concept, to his credit, and using it for The Old North End.

The first block in this series is the first block of Gottingen Street (running between Cogswell Street and Falkland Street) – which I refer to today as the Gate to the North End, and in particular the Western side of the street. Until the 1930/40s the Eastern side of the street was home to the large Military Hospital complex but which has been replaced by a Staples, the Propeller Brewery building (formerly the Carpenters Union building), a gas station and the Marquee Club building, all mid-20th century buildings. The Western side of the street contained mostly residences of local trades men and women but also was home to a few commercial ventures and the city’s only African Methodist Episcopal  Church.

Using historical records available online we can learn a lot about this section of Gottingen Street

Gottingen Street between Cogswell Street and Falkland Street, 2013

Gottingen Street between Cogswell Street and Falkland Street, 2013

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Resources – Church Records for Saint Patrick’s RC Church

One of the things I hope to highlight through this blog is the type of records that are available to researchers in doing family, genealogical and urban history. One set of records which are particularly useful are Church Records as they give you a snap shot of what the people who lived in a certain area were like.

One group of records which is available online to genealogists, and interested researchers, are the entire set of ledgers covering baptisms, marriages, and deaths from Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church on Brunswick Street.

First Saint Patrick's Church, 1841-1883

First Saint Patrick’s Church, 1841-1883

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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

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Death in the North End – Infanticide 2

In an earlier post we looked at an incident of infanticide that took place in Halifax’s North End in the 1890s. The act of infanticide seems to have been an issue for much of the 19th Century. Another such incident took place on Brunswick street outside of the Wesleyan Church.

As the article below, snipped from the pages of the 29 January 1853 Acadian Recorder, shows the shock of finding a deceased infant outside was palatable to the editors of the paper – however what appears to be more of an issue is the level of indifference to the incident on the part of the police and the city’s coroner.


A search through the city’s coroner records might provide us with more examples of this type of incident. Given that Halifax is today often referred to as a violent city – where gun crime, drunken brawls and so on are prominent in the news – its interesting to see the last paragraph of this article

In a heathen or savage community such indifference to the prompt execution of duty on the part of public officers might be excusable; but in a christian city it is shocking.

Though the acts described in the article are rare today the sentiment of the newspaper’s editors to the acts themselves ring very familiar.

A scan of the pages of the Acadian Recorder for the first 6 months of 1853 turns up three more cases of infanticide in Halifax.

2 April 1853 – body of a healthy looking newly born male child was discovered in the sluice leading from the Pong into the Horticultural Garden. It had evidently floated through from the Pond.

16 April 1853 – The body of a male child was found on the Commons, packed in a small raisin box. It had apparently been there for some time.

4 June 1853 – The body of an infant was found exposed in the enclosure of the Poor House Old Burying Ground.

The corner at this point felt the need to make comment in his report about the number of cases of infanticide:

“The Jurors also call the attention of the Citizens of Halifax to the exposure of the body of another infant; and earnestly urge upon them the necessity of reporting to the Authorities, any party of parties implicated of committing  or conniving at an act of depravity so repugnant to law and the best feelings of our nature, that some clue may be obtained to discover the unnatural perpetrators of a crime which has become so frequent as to demand the most serious consideration and vigilance of the community to suppress.”

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.  Continue reading