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Works Dept. photographs document Urban Renewal of downtown Halifax, 1958-1969

Multiple-exposure from 2229 Barrington Street photo shoot, Oct. 22, 1968 (Engineering and Works Department photograph)
Accidental multiple-exposure from 2229 Barrington St. photo shoot, Oct. 22, 1968 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-526.3)

Now available online - over 4,000 images of the Halifax peninsula before the massive urban renewal projects of the 1960s 

A group of youngsters ham for the camera at 154-154 1/2 Creighton St, Mar 27, 1963


This treasure-trove of photographs was produced by the City of Halifax Works Department during a period of intense urban renewal: 1958-1969, (full date range of images is 1948-1982).

Identified by civic address or site-name, the photographs depict houses, out-buildings, 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, shop-keepers, workers, and children who happened to be passing by when a photograph was taken.

A group of youngsters ham for the camera at 154-154 ½ Creighton St., Mar. 27, 1963 (Works Department photograph 102-39-1-718.4)

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 [the 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).

Building Inspector John MacDonald on-site at 385 Gottingen St, 1961
Building Inspector John MacDonald on-site at 385 Gottingen St., 1961 (Works Department photograph 102-39-1-912.8)

Abraham and other building inspectors were tasked with identifying, photographing, and writing reports 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, and in most instances, ordered them demolished within a few months, at the owner’s expense, according to 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. This information is captured in the description accompanying each 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

People come from the old ferry terminal, corner of George Street and Upper Water, c. 1958

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, sometimes labelled slum clearance, cleared run-down residential areas for commercial development. The Works Department’s activities, including these photographs, were part of 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. Several large-scale construction projects are also documented in this series of photographs.


People come from the old ferry terminal, corner of George St. and Upper Water, c. 1958 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-857.2)


A few of the construction projects:

The Central Redevelopment Area 1958-1964

The construction of the Cogswell Interchange, 1968-1969

Landscaping the North Common, [between 1964 and 1966]

Central Redevelopment Area, aerial photograph [between 1958 and 1967] Placing fill for the construction of the Cogswell Interchange (composite panorama), May 16, 1968 Landscaping the North Common [between 1964 and 1966]
Central Redevelopment Area, aerial photograph, [between 1958 and 1967]. Photograph by Atlantic Air Survey (102-39-1-411)
Cogswell Interchange construction, May 27, 1969 ( 102-39-1-1304.16)
Landscaping the North Common, [between 1964 and 1966] (102-39-1-696.9)

The construction of Scotia Square, 1966-1969

Construction of the sewage retention tank on the Northwest Arm, 1965-1966

Construction of the Halifax Metro Centre, 1976-1978

Scotia Square Construction, April 11, 1968 Construction of the Sewage Retention Tank beside the St. Mary's Boat Club, [1965 or 1966] Halifax Metro Centre Consruction at the corner of Brunswick and Duke Street, 1978
Scotia Square construction, April 11, 1968 (102-39-1-1302.6)
Construction of the Sewage Retention Tank beside the St. Mary's Boat Club, [1965 or 1966] (102-39-1-831.11)
Halifax Metro Centre construction, [1978] (102-39-1-1396.2)

How to view the photographs

You will soon be able to browse through Flickr albums of these images, but until then, digital copies of the images can be viewed in the Archives Database. The photographs are identified by civic address, so users can search for streets of interest. As well, key-word searches, such as the name of a business, or common sight (eg. 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.

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.