History of Halifax

Pre-British Settlement

The indigenous Mi'kmaq inhabited the area now known as The Halifax Regional Municipality for many centuries before Europeans began settling in North America . A nomadic people, the Mi'kmaq would hunt and fish on the shores of Halifax Harbour in warmer weather, heading inland to hunt moose and caribou in the winter months. Some French settlers - Acadians - began farming in the area, especially east Chezzetcook in the 17th century, and lived more or less peacefully with the Mi'kmaq.

The Early Years

Embroiled in conflict with France for control of the region, Britain sent Edward Cornwallis to found a settlement in what was, in 1749, the Chebucto region of Nova Scotia . The site chosen benefited from its natural harbour, and a large hill to aid the defense of the township (Citadel Hill). It was named for Cornwallis' sponsor, George Dunk, Lord Halifax. Dartmouth , named for an English town, was founded the following year across the harbour.

Early development was not immune to conflict with the Mi'kmaq, as the settlers encroached on traditional lands, until a peace treaty was signed in 1761.

The seven years war with France (1756-1763) saw a burst of spending to develop Halifax 's land and naval defense resources, though the period immediately following the war saw a population decrease and economic downturn.

The War for American Independence resulted in many British loyalists settling in the Halifax-Dartmouth area. A large number of these loyalists were black, contributing hugely to the region's strong black heritage. That said, a sizable contingent of Nova Scotia 's black population left for Sierra Leone around the turn of the century, largely in protest of continued social inequality despite the gradual decline in slavery.

The Nineteenth Century

Halifax remained an important military and naval base for the British during Napoleon's campaigns, and had become an important point in trading between Europe and the United States . Following this wartime boom, Halifax struggled to develop its peacetime economy - Dalhousie college was founded, Province House was built, Alexander Keith, began brewing beer, as Haligonians bid to improve their city. Public institutions sprang up rapidly after Halifax 's 1841 incorporation, particularly jails, though schools and hospitals followed as the years passed.

The port town continued developing as an important center for trade, some even benefiting from the civil war in the United States in the 1860's.

Industry developed more slowly, with more activity in the later years of the century following confederation.

A new national policy to increase immigration following Canada 's confederation in 1867, with Halifax became and increasingly important port for immigrant ships, and required the means to deal with new immigrants - whether shipping them west, treating those who fell sick, or deporting those deemed unwelcome.

Turn of the 20th century and the First World War

The early 1900's saw continued efforts to increase manufacturing capabilities, improve education, and standardize public services in the municipality.

The "Great War" saw Halifax become the major troop port for the country, experience a huge loss of young men to the service and the associated opening up of new opportunities for women.

One of the most significant events during the war for the city was the Halifax Explosion on December 6th, 1917 . In the narrowest part of the harbour, the Mont Blanc , a French munitions ship, and the Imo, a Belgian relief ship, collided. The benzol aboard the Mont Blanc's deck caught fire and the ship exploded at 9:05am in the most powerful man-made explosion before Hiroshima. Approximately 1900 people dies instantly, with many more succumbing to their injuries, and many blinded by glass and other shrapnel. Most of the North end was flattened, leaving many people homeless in the harsh winter that followed. Eventually, the Hydrostone development was built to house some of the surviving families. The memorial bells at Fort Needham, overlooking the Narrows from the North end, are still rung on the explosion's anniversary.

The inter-war years

After WWI Halifax experienced a long period of depression. The Halifax shipyards laid off many employees, while many factories destroyed in the explosion never reopened. Most areas of business suffered, recovering briefly in the late 1920's before the depression hit. At one point in 1932, the Halifax Citadel, now a beloved National Heritage site, was made a National Defense relief camp for unemployed single men. The men were put to work on restoring the fort, though the project was far from finished when the project ended in 1936. Tourism also began being promoted to boost the economy.


Halifax was an extremely important city during WWII, as a key naval and troop convoy port, and a major centre for ship-repair. In addition to an economic boom, the city experienced a huge influx of service people that strained its infrastructure. Wartime tensions bubbled over into rioting on VE day in 1945 that ultimately caused over five million dollars in damage. Housing issues continued into the 1950s.


The 1950s and 1960s saw increased government spending on education and health care bolster local facilities as Halifax increasingly became the regional hub for health care, post-secondary education, and various forms of research. The military and especially navy presence in the city also remained important, though manufacturing continued to struggle. Suburban growth and the population of the city of Dartmouth rapidly increased, and in the late 1960s several outlying suburbs on Halifax 's side of the harbour were amalgamated with Halifax . A plan to build an expressway along the harbour was eventually defeated, as the city council opted instead to have the area redeveloped, while preserving its historic buildings. In keeping with the times, the 1960s and 1970s also saw new and continued lobbies from various citizens groups, particularly women.


As city planners undertook projects to improve Halifax in the late 1950s, with housing projects, and developments like the Scotia Square Mall in the downtown core, the community of Africville was slated for destruction. Settled by African-Nova Scotians early in Halifax 's history, Africville was in the North-end of Halifax along the harbour. A close-knit community of several hundred people, the residents of Africville had long been denied basic municipal services. The proposed "relocation" of Africville's population to better housing and to allow industrial development on the site was fraught with problems, injustice, and outrage on behalf of residents who received little compensation, were sent to disparate neighborhoods, and saw their community bulldozed. The last buildings were destroyed in 1970. Africville remains a rallying point for the African-Canadian population in Halifax and further afield, and is one of the more disturbing chapters of Halifax 's history.

Late-Twentieth Century-Present

As manufacturing remained weak other industries became increasingly important. Tourism increased, with The Tall Ships visit in 1984 drawing huge crowds to the restored and newly developed harbourfront. Offshore gas and oil (as of the early 1980s), and high-tech industries both grew in importance and the city remains a key port. The navy presence persists, with the naval dockyards were central in Canada 's preparation for the first Gulf War.

Halifax 's cultural sectors expanded steadily with several new festivals and local companies, musicians, theatres and artists of all kinds contributing to a vibrant arts scene. Continued immigration has also contributed to Halifax 's growing multicultural population.

In 1996, largely as a result of the provincial government's impetus and promises of shared costs, the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth , the town of Bedford , and the outlying areas of Halifax County were amalgamated into the Halifax Regional Municipality . Some controversy remains over the relative costs and benefits of this move.

Halifax Features

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