Historical municipal sources related to Mi'kmaq in Halifax region

The Halifax Municipal Archives is located in Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq People.

Introduction

As a government archives, our records pertaining to the Mi’kmaq people reflect a history of colonialism. We do not yet have any records from the Mi’kmaq community; the government records are indicative of engagement between the Mi’kmaq and the former municipalities of Bedford, Dartmouth, Halifax County, and the City of Halifax, and only from post-1841, the earliest date these places were formally incorporated. Even these records are fairly limited, as the primary government bodies responsible for Indigenous relations within Nova Scotia are at the provincial and federal levels. This guide offers a summary of those municipal records alongside digital copies of them.

This inventory is not exhaustive and, in many ways, the records highlighted here may act as helpful signposts towards more complete records at the provincial and federal levels.

Image of a framed drawing done by Alan Syliboy, Henry Bishop, Christine Sanderson, and Jason Ng.

Drawing by Alan Syliboy, Henry Bishop, Christine Sanderson, and Jason Ng, 1994. HMA 101-93.041A

A note on language:

Archival records use the language of their time, which can be incorrect, inaccurate, or offensive to current sensibilities. To represent these records impartially and without interpretation, archivists transcribe records as they were originally written. The language used to describe or refer to Indigenous people is part of the colonial history of the Halifax area, and part of the Archives’ function is to represent the reality of this history as accurately as possible. As a result, no language has been changed in the description or presentation of original records in the database or in this source guide. 

Table of Contents

Genealogical Information
Bedford Petroglyph Advisory Committee
Caldwell Road Servicing
Shubenacadie Canal
Dartmouth Mayor’s Subject Files
Halifax Police
County Records
Council Minutes
Related Material
Secondary Sources
External Sources
Donating Records

Genealogical Information

Much of what the Halifax Municipal Archives has for family history research comes in the form of billing records, lists, or registers. These records can be valuable if you are looking for a particular person, but they are not specifically focused on the Indigenous population of Halifax. Please see the Municipal Archives’ guide to genealogical sources for more information.

Records from the Halifax County Home, Halifax City Home, and Halifax City Prison do contain information that explicitly pertains to the Indigenous people of the area.

Halifax County Home (312-64-1)

Halifax County operated the Poor Farm from 1887, which later became the County Home. The County Home kept billing records for the individuals, municipalities, and government departments who were responsible for paying the boarding rates of County Home residents. Discussion over this rate, and the billing of the Department of Indian Affairs, can be seen in this County Council minutes from 1968. Minute from Council 1968-07-16

Similar discussions of billing the Department of Indian Affairs can also be seen in Council minutes from the following year. Minute from Council 1969-04-15

County Home billing records from even earlier show the forms used specifically for billing the Department of Indian Affairs. These include name, band or residential school, diagnosis, who admitted the resident, the number of days they resided in the home for each monthly billing period. See here for an example of County Home billing records (312-64-1).

Halifax City (Rockhead) Prison (102-18B)

Prison registers contain the following types of information: inmate name, country, crime, sentence length, religion, age, physical description, date of discharge, conduct and other general comments. Early volumes sometimes have notes on ethnicity such as "Indian,” shown below.

Close up image of a ledger listing name, age, birth place, height, and the description "slender indian man"

Closeup of page from Halifax City Prison Register, 1860. HMA 102-18B

There is no particular column in the registers to list ethnicity, and so their inclusion appears to have been at the registrar’s discretion. There is at least one instance of “Mic Mac” being used, in 1908:

Close up image of a ledger listing name, age, religion, height, and physical description, including "Mic Mac"

Closeup of page from Halifax City Prison Register, 1908. HMA 102-18B

Halifax City Home registers (102-33A) 

Originally called the Poor Asylum, the City Home was a workhouse to care for the city’s unemployed, elderly, orphaned children, mental patients, and medical patients. These registers (102-33A) vary in the detail given from year to year, but often included name, age, date admitted and discharged, reason for admittance, by whom admitted, where discharged to, religious affiliation, and observations that can give interesting details about the individual.

The register for 1802-1811 has been indexed, and notes wherever “Indian” was written. There was not a specific column in the register for this type of information, and so it appears to have been at the recorder’s discretion if this type of information on ethnicity was kept. The index is available in original chronological order and in a version sorted alphabetically by last name.

Ledger entitled Women in the Poor House in 1809, includes name, age, date of admittance, and "belonging to" columns.

Page from Halifax City Home register, 1809. HMA 102-33A

Other genealogical information for Mi'kmaq families is available at Library and Archives Canada as well as the Nova Scotia Archives.

Town of Bedford Petroglyph Advisory Committee

The Bedford Petroglyph Advisory Committee was established in 1991 to determine the use of the land known as The Barrens, with particular focus on the protection and preservation of the ancient Mi'kmaq petroglyphs.

The excerpts of Bedford Council Minutes collected below are from meetings relating to the Petroglyph Advisory Committee that explicitly mention or take into account Mi’kmaq interests and correspondence. For a more comprehensive look at all material related to the Petroglyph Advisory Committee, please search through the Bedford Town Council minutes, and see the Report of the Bedford Petroglyph Advisory Committee. Unfortunately the Municipal Archives does not have the minutes from this Committee. 

Report of the Bedford Petroglyph Advisory Committee, 1992

Caldwell Road Servicing

This collection of records primarily from Halifax County shows the Millbrook First Nation’s engagement with the municipality in discussions of water and sewer system improvements on Cole Harbour Reserve lands near Caldwell Road between 1975-1996.

County and Dartmouth Council Minutes: Sewer easement on Cole Harbour Reserve

Halifax County Chief Administrative Officer’s subject file regarding Caldwell Road Servicing including correspondence, reports, and newspaper clippings, 1989-1996: 312-117-1-173

Halifax County Clerk’s correspondence with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, regarding the drainage system on Caldwell Road, 1992: 312-61-9-40

Halifax County Clerk’s tax certificates records, including a letter about the Millbrook First Nation Caldwell Road sewer connection, 1996 (Parts of these records have been redacted due to solicitor-client privilege): 312-61-9-49

 

Composite black and white panorama of a cemetary with buildings in the background.

St. Paul's Cemetery, [ca. 1976]. "Old Indian Graveyard" written on back. HMA 101-80C-7-3.8

Shubenacadie Canal

Dartmouth’s Shubenacadie Canal Commission was focused on preserving the Shubenacadie Canal as an historic site, including the development of an interpretative centre and panels. The historic waterways of the Shubenacadie Canal system were traditionally used by the Mi’kmaq people. The records below are inclusive only of the times that the Commission directly engaged with Mi’kmaq history as part of their discussions and interpretations. There are other records related to the Shubenacadie Canal Commission which do not mention Mi’kmaq history or interests, including further meeting minutes and correspondence.

County Mayor’s subject file on the Shubenacadie Canal contains correspondence with the Shubenacadie Canal Commission regarding community members’ concerns about a Mi’kmaq encampment interpretation centre being developed in the area, in 1995. 312-92-018

A presentation regarding the same potential project was given to Dartmouth City Council: 1995-02-28

Shubenacadie Canal Commission minutes show only brief instances of engagement with the area’s Mi’kmaq history while discussing heritage designations and the development of the interpretative centre: 

Dartmouth Mayor’s Subject Files

Image of a group of Mi'kmaq people in traditional dress posing with a family during Natal Day celebrations on the Halifax waterfront

Natal Day, [1977?]. HMA CR30K-7-1-2.

Dartmouth Mayor John Savage’s subject files (102-88) often related to social issues and community organizations. 

Native Women’s Circle, 1991: 101-88-027

Micmac Native Friendship Centre, 1986-1987: 101-88-033

Native Daycare, 1989: 101-88-039

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Halifax Police 

The Board of Police Commissioners (102-94) was established in 1977 to provide civilian governance on behalf of Council on all matters related to the operation of the Police Department. The only instance in the Board's minutes of Indigenous issues being raised directly is this minute from 1992 is regarding an “Aboriginal incident”: 102-94C-1992-09-13. Issues of marginalized communities and of racism are discussed by the Board in broad terms.

Mi’kmaq sensitivity training resources from the Halifax Police Department public relations and communications files, 1994: 102-16X-05

Records from the Halifax Mayor’s office on the Tripartite Forum Sub-committee on [aboriginal] policing (102-3-5-023) include minutes, correspondence and reports of a federal/provincial/M'iqmaq committee of the Tripartite Forum that was formed to "examine and formulate recommendations for resolution of policing issues of mutual concern to the federal and provincial governments and the Micmac.”

1991-1996 Minutes: 102-3-5-023A

Additional material: 102-3-5-023B

County Records

Records from the County Mayor’s office (312-92) consisting of correspondence with the federal government include discussion of reserve status for Wallace Hill, 1977-1985: 312-92-040

The Halifax County School Board (312-74) was established in 1942, after discussions in each of the previously separate school sections. In that year there is mention of Indigenous students in the minutes, but only twice, and briefly, in regards to provincial funding. 

Image of County School Board minutes from 1942 regarding "Indian children"

County School Board Minutes, May 5, 1942. HMA 312-74-1

Image of County School Board minutes from 1942 regarding material "arising from minutes"

County School Board Minutes, Sept. 2, 1942. HMA 312-74-1

Council Minutes

Council minutes provide valuable insight into a variety of Municipal issues and decisions, and can point you in the direction of other potentially relevant records. The Council minutes listed below are representative of those instances in which the municipalities of Bedford, Dartmouth, Halifax County, and the City of Halifax mentioned or directly addressed the Indigenous community.

County of Halifax Council Minutes (312-1A)

Debate regarding lease of Sheet Harbour Swimming Pool

Various

Town/City of Dartmouth Council Minutes (101-1A)

Bedford Town Council Minutes (103-1A)

Public Hearings & Addresses to Council

City of Halifax Council Minutes (102-1A)

 

Image of a photocopy of a 1999 poster for Treaty Day celebrations

Poster for Mi'kmaq Treaty Day, 1999. HMA CR32.58.

Related Material 

There are several folders of records related to race relations more broadly, such as:
 
  • Halifax Committee on Race Relations (102-119)
  • Halifax City Clerk’s subject file on race relations (102-5A.683
  • Halifax Mayor’s subject file on Community and Race Relations (102-3-5-007)
  • Halifax County Race Relations Committee (312-117-1-196)
  • Metro Coalition for a Non-Racist Society (CR 32.54)

Each of these predominantly deals with the issues related to Black communities within Dartmouth, Halifax County, and the City of Halifax. Though they do occasionally mention Indigenous issues, as well as other marginalized communities within Halifax, many of the more detailed records are primarily focused on anti-Black racism.

Other related material includes:
 
  • Military re-enactment on the Halifax Common (CR16-27C) -photograph showing actors engaged in a historical re-enactment including some participants in Indigenous costumes; 
  • Halifax Recreation Department photographs - Recreation activities (102-106-1-2) - photographs of various Recreation Department events, including photos of "Indian Days";
  • Tower Road School - school activities (CR38C.16) - video including Community Day, which has footage of students learning Mi'kmaq words; and 
  • Pam Collins photographs - tours and travel (CR30K-8) - photographs of historical sites, including a Mi'kmaq village tourist site on Prince Edward Island.
 

Secondary Sources in the Municipal Archives' Reference Collection

  • Aboriginal self-government for the Mi’kma’ki people of Nova Scotia. 1994. (971.5 D)

  • The Mi’kmaq Treaty Handbook. 1987. (970.1 M)

  • The history and achievements of the N.C.N.S. [Native Council of Nova Scotia]. 1972. (970.1 N)

  • The confrontation of Micmac and European civilization. 1993. (970.1 P)

  • Mi’kmaq; Peoples of the Maritimes. 1997. (971.5 D)

  • We were not the savages: A Micmac perspective on the collision of European and aboriginal civilization. 1993. (971.5 P)

Edited clip of Lou Collins discussing the Mi’kmaq Saint Aspinquid Festival, 102-103-6-037, 1987:

Sources  Available Elsewhere

The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre is a non-profit, board governed organization that opened in 1973.

The Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre provides education, demonstrations, and workshops.

Library and Archives Canada has an extensive guide to their Indigenous holdings from across Canada, including genealogical information, residential school records, and photographic collections.

The Nova Scotia Archives Mi'kmaq Holdings Resource Guide includes Treaties, Commissioner of Indian Affairs records, photographs and videos, as well as petitions and legal records, including the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr., Prosecution.

Halifax Public Libraries have a Mi’kmaq History and Culture page which includes guides to library holdings as well as information about events, programming, and local history.

Donating Records

The Halifax Municipal Archives invites donations of records that should be preserved and made accessible to the public, including documents, photographs, maps, plans, books, sound recordings, and film created by individuals, families, businesses or community organizations active within the municipality. See the donation process here.

The Municipal Archives values the inclusion of community records as an important complement to our government records, particularly as we endeavour to better represent Halifax’s diverse community and our histories. However, the Archives is also aware that different practices, such as traditional oral histories, as well as Halifax’s colonial history, may mean that donating to the Municipal Archives is not possible or preferred. The Municipality encourages organizations, businesses and families to care for their own historical records. Advice is available through our Guide to Archiving for Community Organizations, as well as through the Council of Nova Scotia Archives.

 

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