Urban Renewal photographs of downtown Halifax, 1958-1969
View over 4,000 images of the Halifax peninsula before the massive urban renewal projects of the 1960s
The City of Halifax Works Department photographs (sub-series 102-39-1) includes over 6,000 photographs and negatives, taken between 1948 and 1982. Taken by building inspectors, these photographs were used to document unsightly premises, fire and flood damage, and construction, or to assist with general planning activities. Included in them is a treasure trove of images capturing the period of intense urban renewal in Halifax 1958-1969.
Photographs are identified by civic address or site name, and depict houses, outbuildings, vacant lots, stores, streetscapes, excavation and building sites, as well as aerial views.
Many of the photographs also capture the everyday life of residents, pets, shopkeepers, workers, and children who happened to be passing by when a photograph was taken.
Why were these photographs taken?
Municipal records and interviews with two former building inspectors – Alan Abraham and Arthur Lacey – show that most of the photographs were taken to accompany reports submitted to the Committee on Works. As Mr. Abraham explained:
"I was working for George West [Commissioner of Works] as Building Inspection Supervisor. The function of that [job] was to order [the demolition of] dilapidated buildings in the city, particularly those that were in the way, if you like, of what [Gordon] Stephenson wanted to happen in inner core of Halifax. So, we set about to examine these buildings, and those that were found to be structurally unfit for habitation, we’d order them demolished." (Alan Abraham, interview by Sharon Murray, Jan. 26, 2017, transcript).
Abraham and other building inspectors were tasked with identifying, photographing, and reporting on buildings that did not comply with Ordinance No. 50, Respecting Minimum Standards for Housing Accommodation. These reports – accompanied by the photographic evidence – were brought to the Committee on Works, which would hold a Public Hearing regarding the buildings. In most instances, the Committee ordered the building be demolished within a few months, at the owner’s expense, in accordance with the procedures for removing or destroying dilapidated buildings.
Notes written on the back of the photographs sometimes indicate the reason the building or property was being assessed by the Works Department and occasionally list the name of the property owner and/or the person who made the complaint about its unsightliness. When present, this information is captured in the description accompanying the photograph in the Archives Database. Otherwise, details about why a specific building or property was photographed by the Works Department may be found by searching through minutes for the Committee on Works. Their minutes show that thousands of demolitions were ordered between 1958 and 1965.
Urban renewal changes the face of Halifax
This was a period of great change in Halifax, initiated by Gordon Stephenson’s 1957 Redevelopment Study of Halifax. His urban renewal plan for the city (often described as "slum clearance") was focused on clearing run-down residential areas and redeveloping them for commercial use instead. The Works Department’s activities, including these photographs, played a major role in how the City implemented Stephenson’s report.
Projects like the Central Redevelopment Plan cleared the way for the development of Scotia Square, the Cogswell Interchange, and the Metro Centre (now the Scotiabank Centre). Several large-scale construction projects are also documented in this series of photographs.
How to view the photographs
- To view all 4,000+ images search in the Archives Database. Photographs are identified by civic address, allowing users to search for streets of interest. Keyword searches, such as the name of a business, or common sight (e.g., hanging laundry, busses, billboards, children, Africville, etc.) will also yield many results. Search and browse to your heart's content using these Instructions to browse through Works Department Urban Renewal Photographs.
- Enjoy browsing Halifax Municipal Archives' 16 themed Flickr Albums.
Media stories on this project:
- Photos chronicle casualties of Halifax urban development: CBC News, Cassie Williams
- Photos of lost Halifax start social media hunt for clues: CBC News, Elizabeth Chiu
The hours of scanning and research to identify and provide context to these images was made possible by funding provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage through the Provincial Archival Development Program.