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Evolving cities


Founded: 1749
City Area: 262 sq km
Rural Area: 5,528 sq km
Population 2006 (Metro): 372,679
Rank by population: 13

In 1783 Halifax was a provincial capital, garrison outpost, and mercantile town of some 5,000 people. Substantial wharves and warehouses lined the waterfront, but manufacturing was limited. In the densely built-up core people of different social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds lived close together. There was more segregation on the periphery, with labourers and German Protestants concentrated in the northern suburbs and government officials and some merchants in the south.

Mid-19th-century Halifax was a compact community squeezed between the harbour, the citadel, and the naval dockyard. Beyond the commons, guarding the landward approaches to the citadel, lay farms and the estates of the city gentry. The urban poor clustered on the streets adjacent to the military barracks on the shoulders of the citadel, an area dominated by taverns and brothels. Proceeding downhill, one passed an array of public buildings to reach Water Street, the heart of the city’s business district. Here, operating out of a collection of low-rise wooden and brick buildings, were merchants, professionals, and craftsmen, a strong private sector striving to complement the gain the city derived from its continuing status as an imperial garrison community.

During the Great Transformation between 1891 and 1929 the port of Halifax underwent significant change as its historical West Indies trade declined and its integration with the Canadian economy increased. The shipowners of the great 19th-century mercantile fleets had all but disappeared, replaced by shippers of import and export goods, agents for the national railways, and representatives of global shipping companies. At the same time other changes were occurring: the Central Canadian takeover of local manufacturing such as cotton textiles, sugar, and cordage; the rapid expansion of branch outlets of national retail chains; and the relocation in Central Canada of head offices of formerly Halifax-based financial institutions. Despite these changes, Halifax retained its military importance (it became the home port for the newly created Canadian navy in 1912) and the port saw heightened activity during war years. In peacetime, however, it was always greatly overshadowed by Montréal and after the mid-1920s by Vancouver.

Halifax’s economic transformation brought major changes to its physical form. The most dramatic of these, and a direct function of port development, was the construction, beginning in 1913, of the Intercolonial Railway through the western suburbs and the South End and the building of the huge Ocean Terminals. The finger wharves, home to the sailing ships of the old colonial city, were upgraded to facilitate the growing number of steamships that now docked in Halifax. Manufacturing gained little ground. Except for a small area in the North End, factories generally avoided Halifax, preferring the better serviced industrial sites of neighbouring Dartmouth.


This piece describes the residential and industrial development of Halifax between the late 1700s and the early 1900s. Users can select to hear the narrated story, or view the image gallery.


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Quiz :

On what date did people in Montréal traditionally move into new apartments?

January 1
September 1
May 1