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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)


How to view the photographs

Halifax Municipal Archives' Flickr Albums create an enjoyable browse through the following themes: (click on the image to see each album)

Halifax’s Urban Renewal: downtown demolitions, 1960-1967:

Halifax’s Urban Renewal: Scotia Square construction, 1967-1969:

Halifax’s Urban Renewal: Cosgwell Interchange construction, 1967-1969:

Downtown Halifax in 1961 Scotia Square excavation site, 1968 Cogswell Interchange construction, 1969
Downtown Halifax before many of the demolitions in the Central Redevelopment Area, 1961 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-418)
Scotia Square excavation site, April 11, 1968 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-1302.6)
Cogswell Street Interchange construction, September 11, 1969 (Halifax Police Department photograph, 102-16N-0068.30)

Metro Centre construction, 1976-1978:

Landscaping the North Common, 1960s:

All in a day’s work: photos of Works Department employees, 1958-1981:

Halifax Metro (now Scotiabank) Centre construction, 1978 Landscaping the North Common, between 1964-1966 Measuring potholes, Young Avenue, 1963
Halifax Metro Centre construction, [1978] (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-1396.2)
Landscaping the North Common, [between 1964 and 1966] (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-696.3)
Measuring potholes, Young Ave., March 28, 1963 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-1224)

Africville photographs, 1950s-1960s:

Halifax scenes: children at play, 1950s-1960s:

Halifax scenes: businesses and buildings, 1950s-1960s:

Overlooking Africville, 1965 54 Hennessy St, 1960's Ken's Canteen, Flemming Park, 1965
Overlooking Africville, 1965 (Halifax Police Department photograph, 102-16N-0065.1965)
54 Hennessy St., 1960s (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-914.2)
Ken’s Canteen, Flemming Park, Oct. 1, 1965 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-82.2)

Halifax scenes: laundry on the line, 1950s-1960s:

Streetscapes and views of Halifax, 1950s-1970s:

Signs and billboards of Halifax, 1950s-1960s:

90 (1552) Birmingham, St. 1961 Gottingen St, 1960's 952 Barrington St, early 1960's
90 (1552) Birmingham St., 1961 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-20.2)
Gottingen St., 1960s (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-1127.11)
952 Barrington St., early 1960s (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-502.4)

Snowy scenes of Halifax, 1950s-1970s:

The Willow Tree, 1961:

Houses on Brunswick Street, 1964-1966:

Gottingen St, Feb 5, 1960 The Willow Tree Intersection, 1961 2212-2323 Brunswick St, 1965
Gottingen St., Feb. 5, 1960 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-377.2)
The Willow Tree, [1961] (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-1269.3)
2213-2323 Brunswick St., 1965 (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-603.12)

Queen & Spring Garden…and a man in a trench coat, 1964:

Queen Street, corner of Spring Garden Road, 1964    
Queen St., corner of Spring Garden Rd., [1964] (Works Department photograph, 102-39-1-1137.1)

To view all 4000+ images search 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.

Media Stories on the 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.