A brief History of Temporary Housing in Halifax

Halifax is in the midst of a housing crisis. Rents are rising and people are living in tents in parks.

Halifax for the last several years has been undergoing a bit of a building boom. But its also experienced massive population growth over the same period. Since 2015, Nova Scotia has seen strong In migration from other parts of Canada.

We have also had strong population growth from Immigration, and have also gotten younger as a province, But housing starts have basically remained flat. Neil Lovitt, VP Planning & Economic Intelligence at Turner Drake & Partners, tweeted the graph below which nicely illustrates the issue. Neil figures we have a deficit of close to 30000 units.

People camping in parks is generally a bad option overall, but when its the best option they have, and the city seems to be able to take any meaningful action to deal with the problem, other than turning to the cops on them to remove them we have a right to be upset.

People have been claiming that the camps have been scenes of assault, drug use, public urination,the camps are littered with garbage, and that the shelters are unsafe since one suffered a fire.

Proper houses catch fire too.. Crimes also take place in proper houses, they house residents that make the neighbours cranky, and some proper houses are even unsightly and filled with garbage.

all the “complaints” people have about those in temporary shelters apply equally to all forms of shelter in this city.

if conditions are bad in the camps, understand its because the city chose not to provide the services to those citizens that it provides to folks who own or rent homes. if garbage collection stopped, your neighbourhood would be gross too. just go google photos of the last Toronto garbage strike. a dumpster and a portapotty would cost the city almost nothing, and would go along way to make the lives of residents better.

The strange thing, is the city has a proud history of Camping on the Commons, and Erecting Emergency Shelters on public lands.

Just over 100 years ago the north end was flattened instantly by an explosion, and most of the community was instantly killed or rendered homeless. The survivors were forced to seek shelter in public buildings, moved in with family and friends, or else sheltered into tents raised on the Halifax Commons.

Military reports of the relief efforts immediately following the explosion detail the following taskings:

Lieut. G.B. Isnor spent the first 36 hours after the explosion driving his car, assisting in the search for places to house the homeless, conveying nurses and doctors from the Terminals to the Hospitals, and helping with the distribution of emergency blankets clothing, etc

Lieut. L.G. Esther, on the 6th, ordered to assist in putting up tents on the Common. Relieved at midnight

Lieut. O. R. Crowell, … Spent evening till 10.00.p.m. conveying oil to tents on Common. On the 7th, assisted in boarding up Union Jack Club building for shelter.

The Tents were only temporary, and by January, more permanent temporary housing was under construction. The photos below form the Archives are dated Jan 26/18, less then 2 months after the explosion. the first shows the Gov. McCall Apartments built on the Provencal Exhibition Grounds (which were bounded by Young, Robie, Almon and Windsor streets)

This second set of buildings also housed the Halifax Relief commission, and were built on the Garrison Grounds. These buildings were basically constructed of timber and tar paper. These replaced the tents, and lasted until the hydrostone, and other more permanent accomidation could be constructed.

In the second world war, what is now Mulgrave park was known as Manning Pool. The site began as a large estate in the north end. It was destroyed in the Halifax Explosion and sat as vacant land until it was developed by wartime housing authorities for military use. In 1941, Manning Pool was built on the site. At the end of hostilities, when Wartime Housing was transformed into CMHC, the site became available for further development.

Apartments under construction at Manning Pool. The building is constructed on simple wooden posts. These would eventually be coverd with a plywood facing. The single family homes were also constructed on wood posts.

Wartime housing was able to quickly provide homes for service members and their families. The houses IIRC were prefab, and assembled on site. Constructed of basic Wood, they provided suitable, but temporary shelter. you can see the edges of the plywood in the photos. they were simply painted.

So what lesson do these wartime examples have for today?

In the middle of wartime supply shortages we manged to provide quality emergency housing to deal with homelessness in the first world war . During the second world war, facing rapid population growth due to the influx of service men, we were able to quickly build emergency housing.

Apparently now, with our economy once again booming, we have forgotten how to do what we have done twice in the past.

West Street Fire HQ

original idea to locate at Cunard/, maynard, agricola, and woodhill, but after discussion Site #2 in fire station replacement report be approved with the addition of civics #5684, 5688, and 5694 west st, and civics 2401 and 2405 Agricola added to the site.

June 30 1966, terms of reference approved, and a request for architects to be made. Besides the fire hall, an Maintenance shop is to be built. the building should be completed in 2 phases.

Feb 16/1967 Agreement signed with Architects Robert J Flinn and Associates


by April

, preliminary sketches are prepared. and June 29, Mr. W.F and Mrs R.M. Clements settle for $13500 for 5681 west st. By august, estimates are in  and the projected total cost is $618185.00. a completion of late 1968 is projected. Approval is given for detailed drawings to be produced.

4000 was paid to Miss Margert Meehan for 23×90′ of her property on james street for the station. (oct 1967)

March 14/68 plans approved, and tenders called for.

by aug, 1968 all properties needed were owned by the city, except for 170-172  Maynard street, which was vacant alnd assesed to margeret Grindison. As she lacked clear title to the land, the area was expropriated, and compensation of 4000$ was paid to her.

the tender was awareded to raymond L. Kaizer Ltd for $634,397.00 (aug 15 1968)

flinn graduated from mcgill in 1962. when he became an architect, he already had an established engineering practice in Halifax. His thesis was a court house for halifax.

the new west street fire station would replace  the 1896 West Street Station, the 1904 bedford row station, and the Oxford Street station, and opened tuesday Oct 18, 1969

Second Empire

The Second Empire style is most readily identified by the mansard roof combined with classicized façade. The earliest versions of this style began to appear in major Canadian cities in the late 1860s. During the 1870s, these ornate buildings took Canada by storm; but by the mid-1880s, after a rapid fall from fashion, they were no longer being built.

The term second empire refers to a revival of the style popular during the Second Empire of Napoleon III of France. at the time, however it was written about as the modern french style.

During the period that Second Empire triumphed, it was considered to be particularly appropriate for institutions and public buildings.

North Street Terminal of the Intercolonial Railway was Constructed: 1874-77. the terminal was located approximately where the MacDonald bridge cable anchorage is now located.


Contrary to the general policy of the Intercolonial Railway to build economically, the North Street terminal featured the expensive Second Empire style. Because the railway station provided the visitor with his first impression of a city, it was felt that a major urban centre such as Halifax required a building appropriate to its status. This symbolic role was observed in an 1897 publication: “Supposing one is to arrive in the city by train, he is at once impressed with the idea that he has reached an important terminal point, for he finds himself in one of the finest depots … east of Boston.”


Prominent local builder Henry Peters received the contract to build the main body of the station. The mansard roof was prefabricated in Philadelphia by Clarke, Reeves and Company, one of several American firms which mass-produced cast-iron architectural elements.

Before the Halifax Explosion.

The North Street terminal was destroyed in the Halifax explosion of 1917. many windows were blown out, the the roof of the train-shed collapsed. the Station managed to continue to be used for 2 years post explosion.

After the Halifax Explosion. Note the boarded up windows.
Post explosion view of the train shed – It collapsed.

Halifax City Hall was designed by Edward Elliot and built by Rhodes, Curry & Company between 1887 and 1890 in an eclectic late-Victorian version of the Second Empire style.

Front Elevation on Grand Parade
Argyle Street Elevation.
Duke Street Elevation

When built the Building held all the municipal functions for the city of Halifax. The first floor was for offices requiring public access with additional offices, committee rooms and council chambers on the second floor. The building also provided space in the basement for the police department, lockup and court, and for a library on the second floor. A Majority of the Third floor was assigned to the city Museum.


The City decided to hold a competition to select the Design for the New City Hall. Edward Elliot submited the winning proposal.

(Above)stain glass on main stairwell (Below) Mayors Office

(below) Council Chambers. Though recently renovated, the layout of the room was changed to reflect the setup of council as the room was built.

Another late second empaire building is the NFB building on Barrington street.

photo 1

The NFB Building was built in 1891 as the St. Mary’s Young Men’s Total Abstinence and Benevolent Society Hall. Designed by James Charles Dumaresq, it was built in the second empire style, originally with a distinguished tower, howerver it lost its tower in the first half of its life, and was destroyed by fire in 1991, leaving only the front façade.

In 1907 the building became the first permanent movie house in Halifax, The Nickel Theatre, at which time the building was renovated to include theatre seating. For over eighty years the building was associated with the film industry, and in the late 1960s became home to the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada’s Halifax office.

After 20 years of Proposals and sales, Halifax confirmed that architect David Garrett and owner Steve Caryi of Ruby LLP now have the necessary construction permits, which were issued this week after applications in May.

International Style

The International style name was derived from a 1932 exhibition at New York’s Museum of modern art, though the style is directly derived from Sullivan work. The Verticallity is stressed, and the only ornamentation is the structure itself.

The most common characteristics of International Style buildings  usually consists of the following:

  1. Square or rectangular footprint
  2. Simple cubic “extruded rectangle” form
  3. Windows running in broken horizontal rows forming a grid
  4. All facade angles are 90 degrees.
  5. Open Interior Spaces
  6. Visual Weightlessness, though Cantilevers.

When new, the international style was unique, and bold. it has since developed into “corporate architecture” of uniformity.

The Canada Permanent Building is a good example if the style.

“Now Open!” advertisement from the Halifax Mail-Star, Wednesday August 22, 1962
“Now Open!” advertisement from the Halifax Mail-Star, Wednesday August 22, 1962

Canada Permanent Building, built in 1961-1962, Was designed by Charles A. Fowler and Jamie Macdonald. It is Significant because it was Halifax’ s First Completed Curtain Wall Structure.

A curtain wall is an exterior wall that is hung from the structure (Like a curtain) its only function is to keep the weather out. in other forms of building the walls have a structural function, even if it is to only hold themselves up. Curtain Wall is typically made up of glass and metal panels.

The Previous Canada Permanent Trust headquarters was destroyed by fire. Though the client preferred a more traditional 3 story masonry building however the site was constrained, as the adjoining lots were unavailable. Fowler was able to convince them that the site called for a more slender lighter approach, and produced a 7 story International Style building.

Canada Permanent Trusts buildings in Toronto and Edmonton are both masonry construction (though also older) The new Style Building Fit with the expansion of services trust companies were begining to offer, and brought the company into the modern era. The Press at the time considered the building to be “an Ultra Modern Structure”

Given the slope to the site, a 2 story pentagonal atrium was built with a sculptural terrazzo stair to connect the Argyle and Barrington Street entrances. The  bank Entrance was located on Barrington, and the trust company offices off Argyle. Most of this has been lost, though a portion is still visible off Barrington Street, and in the floor of the Starbucks.

ground floor plan
ground floor plan

Canada Permanent Trust merged with Canada Trust, and was eventually acquired by the Toronto Dominion Bank. The building now houses a Starbucks and Convenience store on Barrington Street, An Irish pub off Argyle, and the remaining 5 floors are residential. Since built, the Barrington Lobby has been destroyed,  and the Sun Screens have been removed from the Sackville street windows. Window washing rails have been removed, and the porcelain enamel panels have been painted black.

the building underwent a Restoration in 2019 to bring it back to more closely match its original appearance. The architect contacted me for the source of the original drawings, to aid in the research.

Westmount Subdivision

Westmount was halifaxs first postwar subdivision, and is located on the site of the Original Halifax Municipal airpot.

Opened in 1931, The Halifax Municipal Airport was owned by the city but was leased to the Halifax Aero Club until March 1932.  Improvements were made and Pan America showed interest in establishing daily flights.

The airport  now consisted of two runways, a hanger, oil and storage shed and a terminal building for the office and  waiting room. The terminal building was 18’x20′ with a 6′ veranda. It had a phone and electric power but  the toilets were chemical as there was no running water

All the buildings were painted Pan Am colours.  Pan Am started a daily service between Halifax and  Boston (approximately 475 miles) at the end of July 1931 with stops in Bangor, Calais and St. John.

the airport was closed in 1941, and the land was used as an Army Depot. in 1946 the land was turned over to the city

Construction began in March 1948, and the 305 houses are of 4 designs. the Community was designed by Dumaresque and is based on Radburn New Jersey.

Radburn was developed in 1929 based on Howard’s Garden city Principles. it was touted “a town for the motor age”. Radburn created the residential super block, and ensured pedestrians never had to cross a major road at grade.

In Westmount, The Fronts of houses all face pedestrian walking trails, the roads are located in the rear and are intended to be service

Urban Horses of Halifax

Steven Archibald recently posted Reckless Pedestrians where he looks at old photographs of Halifax, and compares how much more pedestrian-friendly they were in the days of the horse, before the car. This didn’t seem right to me, and caused me to go searching for urban transportation pre-automobile.

When you look at the photos, the people look posed. The streets are also relatively empty. It doesn’t feel like the hustle and bustle of a city. The reason for this lies in the technology used to take the images. Wet plate processes had existed since the 1850s but had 10 second exposure times. Dry plate processes in the 1870s improved exposure times greatly, but they still could be long enough that moving objects are not captured. The result of this, is that moving objects are not seen in the photos.

People and wagons are posed. The blurs are moving people, who could not be exposed properly.

The horse itself was the cause for a great deal of muck on the streets. Each horse produced 15-30lbs of manure per day, and a quart of urine. Most of this would be deposited on the street. The horse-powered trams required 11 horses per day to run. The Sherbrooke, the Dartmouth ferry Team Boat, required 9 horses to power the vessel across the harbour, and the ferry company maintained multiple sets.  Besides the muck itself, as it dried, it would form dust, and be swept into the air by the wind. The manure also attracted and became breeding grounds for common flies, which were discovered to carry numerous diseases, including typhoid. By the turn of the century, the motor car was seen as a savior from the muck, and a tool to improve the heath of cities.

On-street parking and horse drawn tram


Horse powered trams existed before the electric streetcar. The rails allowed for a smoother ride for passengers, and reduced resistance, which allowed the horse team to pull a larger load. The Halifax City Railroad was inaugurated in June 1866 , and ran from the foot of Inglis Street to Duffus Street in the north, terminating at the Nova Scotia Railway station in Richmond. Cars ran on the line every fifteen minutes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. until 1874, when frequency increased to every ten minutes between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. The service was unprofitable, and the move of the train station to downtown (at the foot of North Street) caused the service to shutdown in 1876. The Halifax City Railroad stable and car barn was located at the corner of Hanover Street and Campbell Road. At the time of dissolution, they owned 50 horses, which were sold, along with the cars.

A Double Decker Horse Drawn Tram in the London Transport Museum

After 1876, Haligonians were forced to rely on Omnibuses. Omnibuses were a horse-powered wheeled bus. They were more expensive to use then the street railway, the ride was rougher, on account they were wheeled, and they had a lower capacity.

Example from London, London Transport Museum.

The Halifax Street Railway was formed in 1886. They purchased 15 new cars from the John Stevenson Company, as well as the stable and car barn used by the Halifax City Railway. They also purchased the omnibus service to eliminate competition. The Halifax Street Railway went bankrupt in 1889. it was purchased by the Nova Scotia Power Company, who intended to electrify the service. They too went bankrupt and and were purchased by the Halifax Electric Tramway Company in 1895.  Electric trams started running in February 1896.

The other assertion is that the horse-powered vehicle is smaller then the modern car. However, this is not the case  – the oxcarts in the photo of the market  (2 above) appear to be 15-20′ in length, and the NSMMA has a Sloven on display, a type of typical Halifax freight wagon that by itself is 20′ long, not including the team. For comparison, my Nissan Rogue is 15′ long.

Cities included massive multi-level livery stables to accommodate the horses and carriages – analogous to our modern parking garages. Halifax had the Metropolitan Livery Stable on Hollis Street, across from the Halifax Hotel,  Robinson’s Livery Stable on Doyle Street, and the Bengal Lancers Stable, which still exists as a stable, though in abbreviated form. Robinson’s Stable on Doyle still exists, though in much modified form. When the horse went out of common use after the First World War, the stable was converted to various other uses, including a car dealer, parking garage and most recently, office and retail space.


In NYC in 1900, 200 people were killed by horse and horse-drawn vehicles. There were 270 auto related deaths in 2012 (pedestrian and vehicle collisions). New York’s 2012 population was 8.3 million, it was 3.4 million in 1900. The roads in the time of the horse were much deadlier places to be. Chicago had similar stats. I was curious if I could find out what the stats for Halifax were, however I discovered that there were no death records kept in Nova Scotia between 1877 and 1908, though there is a ledger for Halifax.

William Phelps Eno  was trained as an architect, however went on to become the Father of Traffic Control. In his books, he writes of the chaos he experienced in streets of New York, Paris and Italy, and how pedestrians had few safe places of refuge. As a boy, He rode velocipedes, early pedal-less bicycles in Paris.  Though he died in 1945, he never possessed a driver license and was unable to drive himself.

Eno is  credited with the creation of the first traffic code, which he did in 1903 for New York City. He is also credited with  the invention of the crosswalk, stop sign, stop light, yield sign, the pedestrian island, the traffic circle and the one way street. Born in 1851, more then half his life was spent before the widespread adoption of the automobile. His primary goal in traffic control was to reduce the number of accidents caused by horse-drawn vehicles.

His code for New York explicitly gave right of way to road traffic.

Article IX. The Respective Rights and Duties at Drivers and Pedestrians.
The roadbeds of highways and streets are primarily intended for vehicles, but pedestrians have the right to cross them in safety, and drivers of vehicles and street cars must exercise all possible care not to injure pedestrians. Pedestrians should, on their part, never step from the sidewalk to the roadbed without first looking to see what is approaching, and should not, needlessly, interfere with the passage of vehicles or street cars.

By crossing a street as nearly as possible at right angles, preferably at a regular crossing, and when a traffic policeman is stationed there, by waiting for his signal, pedestrians will greatly add to their own safety, facilitate the movement of traffic, and make it much less difficult for the horses, which often have to be reined in suddenly and painfully to avoid careless and un­thinking pedestrians. Nothing in the foregoing should excuse drivers from constant vigilance to avoid injury to pedestrians under all conditions.

The Tramway Building

The Tramway Building was built in 1916, after a fire destroyed the previous building on the site. It is named Tramway, after its tenant, the Halifax Electric Tramway Company, Which operated Halifax’s streetcars until they were converted to trolly coaches in 1949. The 2 Storefronts are original to the building, Housing Tip Top tailors 1921-41 until they moved next door, and then Chas brown Furriers from 1942- 1983.

Designed by Andrew Cobb, in a Modern Neo-Gothic Style. It was one of the first all concrete buildings in Halifax (The first being the 1903 A.M. Bell Building on Granville St.) Cobb studied at Acadia , MIT and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Setup Shop in Halifax in 1909. He also worked as a partner with S.P Dumerasq. Cobb had his office in Tramway from 1938 until his death in 1943.

The building features a clear hierarchy of forms, separated by wide concrete banding, which separates the Retail street level from the second floor, and again form the second floor to the roof line. Octagonal turrets line the top of the building, though the Barrington street ones have been removed due to their poor condition. As of 2020 the building is undergoing a restoration which will restore it to its original appearance.

#4 Fire Station

Located on Bedford Row at the corner of Prince Street, the No 4. Engine House was built to replace an older station also on Bedford Row, that in 1905 was declared unfit for men to live in by the Fire Chief. In May 1904, City Council: “Resolved, that the City Engineer be and is hereby instructed to draw and submit to this Council plans for the erection of an engine house on the property known as the Little Fuel Yard in this city.”

F.W.W. Doane, the city engineer, promptly advised council that his staff were too busy to prepare plans. Council then directed the city architects to submit plans, with acceptance of the plans determined on the merit (ie best plan wins). Council set the architects’ fee to 5% of construction cost for chosen plans, for plans and construction supervision. The budget was $10,000.

Sealed plans were received in November 1904, with coded submission forms. The plans from “Square and Compass” were chosen, and referred to Council for final approval.  Plans were also received from Bluenose, Como, Salamanda, Cambria, Experience, and Citizen. The successful submission was that of  R.A Johnson. Richard Arthur Johnson was a partner in the firm of Hopson Brothers, architects, and originally headed the Sydney NS office of the firm, but practiced in Halifax after that firm dissolved.

The building was influenced by the Chicago style of architecture with ornamentation, tall pilasters and wide Romanesque arches. The arches on the front Bedford Row elevation originally acted as the doors for fire apparatus.


By June 1905, plans were complete, and the project was put to tender. Five responses were received in July – two were non-compliant, and were rejected. Geo. B. Lowe was recommended with a cost of $16,535, and proposed to construct the station of concrete block. Council decided to send the tender back to the works committee, as the plans were to be for a $10,000 building and the lowest bid was $7000 more. Council also want to know if it was advisable to build with concrete block.

On August 15, the city works committee reported back to council. The architects who submitted plans all felt that $10,000 was too low a budget for a building; those who gave an estimate felt $14000 was the bare minimum price for the station. The proposed construction material – concrete block – was also addressed. It was initially thought that brick would be cheaper, and a petition against the use of concrete was received from the bricklayers’ union. Concrete block was a modern material and felt to be unproven, and was considered to be a cheaper material then stone (though concrete block was in wide use in cities west of Halifax). The blocks were proposed to be made by city labour, and laid by union masons.

In the end, Council accepted the tender of Edward Maxwell at a cost of $17,764 for a brick building with concrete trimmings. The building was complete by May 1906, and the final payment was released to the contractor.


After the station was completed, the architect made an unsuccessful attempt to collect a fee of 5% of the final construction cost of $17,764. The city ruled that the fee was to a maximum of $500, and this was clear when the design was awarded. R.A Johnston was paid $441.70 for his design and supervision services.

After opening, the roof leaked, and by February 1908 the contractor was unresponsive to requests from the city for warranty repair. The city solicitor was authorized to take action.

4 engine circa 1940.

Firefighters from this station would have responded to the fire that led to the Halifax Explosion. Ironically the re-construction of the devastated area would be done primarily with Hydrostone – a brand of concrete block manufactured in Eastern Passage, and 10 years prior considered too modern for the fire station.

Appearance in 1969 before closure. The arched doors were restored, and some brick uncovered after conversion.

The Station just after conversion.

The Bedford Row Fire Station served Halifax for over 50 years. In 1969, the Fire Station was closed, and converted to restaurant and office space and staff were moved to the new West St. Headquarters. The Current appearance is faithful to the original, though the rustication at the base has been lost, as has some of the detail of the brick work.

The Welsford-Parker Monument

The Welsford-Parker Monument is a triumphal arch located in the Old Burying Ground. This is the second oldest war monument in Canada  and the only monument to the Crimean War in North America.

The Monument was inaugurated in a ceremony on July 17th 1860, and the committee that erected it was composed of H. Pryor, A.M. Uniacke, W.J. Almon, J. Duffus, B. Binney, and J.C. Cogswell.


The Acadian Recorder for 21 July reported on the Inauguration:

The afternoon was clear, but uncomfortably warm. A little after 2 o’clock, the procession formed on the Grand Parade. It consisted of all the Halifax and Dartmouth Volunteer Companies, a large number of the Masonic body, and various public officials. These, paraded by bands of music, marched down Barrington Street to the old Cemetery, where detachments of the Regular troops of the garrison were already stationed. The military portion of the assemblage formed a hollow square around the Monument, within which ticket holders were admitted. A large assemblage, especially of the fair sex, were present to witness the proceedings; and the gloomy old graveyard for once presented a gay appearance. The ceremonies commenced with prayer by the Rev. John Scott. His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, Lord Mulgrave then addressed the assemblage at some length and, in concluding, introduced the Rev. George Hill, the Orator of the day. Mr. Hill’s oration was an able and eloquent effort, and is, we understand, to be printed. Major General Charles Trollope also spoke in his usual popular and humorous style, and Rear Admiral Sir Alexander Milne made a few remarks. A great deal of cheering was done and the proceedings concluded by the Volunteer Artillery under the command of Captain Tremain, firing13 minute guns, and by the bands playing and the whole assemblage singing the National Anthem. We find that while the ceremonies were going on, Chase, the clever photographer succeeded in taking an excellent photographic view of the whole scene, a copy of which we have no doubt many people will hasten to secure, as a memento of the day and the event.

The arch and lion were constructed under the direction of George Lang to commemorate the British victory in the Crimean war and the Nova Scotians who had fought in the war. George Lang also was responsible for the Federal Building which is now part of the AGNS.

The memorial is named after two Haligonians, Major Augustus F. Welsford of the 97th Regiment and Captain William B.C.A. Parker of the 77 Regiment, who both died in the Battle of the Great Redan in 1855 during the Siege of Sevastopol.