Historical municipal sources on the Halifax Public Gardens

In 2017 Halifax celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Halifax Public Gardens, as well as Canadian Confederation. From its humble beginnings as a few swampy acres, the Public Gardens has grown to cover 16 acres, and provides an excellent example of a formal Victorian garden and an elegant respite from the bustle of downtown Halifax. To commemorate its sesquicentennial, the Municipal Archives provides this guide to records in its holdings related to the administration and development of the Public Gardens.

Documents      Photographs        Maps and Plans        Secondary Sources

Visit the Friends of the Public Gardens website for more information about the gardens, including its history and uses, and upcoming events.


The Municipal Archives holds many photographs of the Public Gardens. Some images can be viewed in the above slide gallery, but many more remain to be digitized:

  • Recreation Department records - Halifax Parks & Grounds City Sites photographs, 1993 (file 102-114-1-2) - 73 photographs
  • Works Department photographs, 1948-1982 (series 102-39-1)
  • Tourism Halifax photographs – A-8 Public Gardens, 1970-1996 (series 102-104) - 18 photographs, including birds in park, entrance gates, fountain, bandstand and bridge, pathways and winter scenes
  • Halifax Summit photographs, 1995 (sub-series 102-106-1-11) - includes photographs of events hosted in the Public Gardens
  • Development Department project files - United Equities development effect on views from Public Gardens, 1984 (file 102-41E-005) - 8 mounted photographs showing how the proposed United Equities development on Summer St. would affect views from the Public Garden.
  • City Clerk's Office records - Historical reference files - Coat of Arms - City of Halifax, [198-] (file 102-5-1-27.1P) - 2 photographs depicting the City of Halifax coat of arms at the main entrance of Halifax Public Gardens
  • Halifax (N.S.). Police Department photographs - Historic Halifax images display, [197-?] (series 102-16N-0070)
  • Friends of the Public Gardens, 1974-1988 (series CR34) - 40 photographs, largely depicting the group’s efforts to preserve the Hart House and other period homes on Summer St.
  • Lou Collins - Research and reference material - Photographs of Canteen (aka Horticultural Hall) at Halifax Public Gardens, [196-?] (CR30B.148.1) - Includes 2 photographs of the canteen building
  • HRM Archives photographic collection - Souvenir Views of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, [194-?] (series CR6-038) - booklet of tinted images of Halifax scenes of prominent landmarks, including the Public Gardens
  • Graham Lavers' photograph collection - Photography Teaching slides, 1988-1989 (sub-series CR40-23) - 40 images of many Halifax landmarks, including the Public Gardens
  • Nola Stoddart WWII collection, 1940-1967 (series CR56) - images and ephemera donated by Nola Stoddart from her family's collection of Second World War era mementoes, including several photographs of the Public Gardens, ca. 1940
Black and white image of a fountain with a young woman, a small child, and two military servicemen nearby

Victoria Jubilee Fountain, Sept. 1940. HMA CR56.1

Black and white image of a fountain with a soldier holding a rifle on top, commemorating the Boer War

Boer War Memorial Fountain, Sept. 1940. HMA CR56.2


rules and Regulation for the Admission of visitors to the Horticultural Society Gardens

1860 Rules and Regulations for the Horticultural Society's Gardens, CR53 p4

Nova Scotia Horticultural Society fonds, 1854-1874 (CR53)

The Nova Scotia Horticultural Society (NSHS) was formed in 1836 to promote gardening in Halifax. In 1837 the NSHS started what would eventually become the Public Gardens on two swampy acres of the Commons, part of the Freshwater Brook course. This file documents the Society’s efforts, and includes by-laws, rules and regulations, memos and correspondence, receipts for flowers and plants, and financial statements. View a digitized copy of the file here.


Committee on Public Parks, Gardens, and Commons records, 1820-1940

This series consists of records of the Commons Committee (1851-1895), the Commissioners of Halifax Common (1895-1923), and the Committee on Public Parks, Gardens, and Commons (1924-1940). These various committees oversaw the management of the Halifax Commons and Public Gardens, including maintenance, financial administration, and regulating facilities use. This series is a rich source and includes detailed reports about planning the gardens, plantings, purchase of materials, etc.

The series has been digitized and over 3000 pages can be viewed through the below links to the Archives Database:

  • Committee minutes, 1874-1919, 1923-1940 (102-7A)
  • Committee correspondence, 1820-1935 (102-7B)

llustrated article on the History of the Halifax Public Gardens in The Busy East, 1919 (102-7B-7)

This article is in one of the many gems in the Committee records. Click on the image to read the early history of the Public Gardens and see images of the gardens from 1919.

Committee on Works records, 1880-1995 (102-39)

The Committee on Works was responsible for managing Halifax’s municipal infrastructure. In 1940 the Committee assumed the responsibilities for managing Camp Hill Cemetery, the Halifax Commons, the Public Gardens, and other city parks, except for Point Pleasant Park. This series includes committee meeting minutes, correspondence, reports, photographs, maps and plans, and legal agreements. 

City Council minutes and submissions, 1841-1996 (102-1A and B)

Council minutes and submissions are an excellent source of information about decisions and development of municipal issues, including issues relating to the Public Gardens.

We recommend you start by searching the indexes to find relevant references, and then consult those minutes directly. Submissions are not included in this digitized content; contact the Municipal Archives to obtain copies of submissions.

Civic Reports, 1865-1920 (series 102-1I)

Black and white image of an excerpt from an annual report

Excerpt of annual report hiring Richard Power, 1871-1872, p.24-25. HMA 102-1I

This series consists of annual reports from each municipal department head, and detail the inner-workings of the city. Reports of interest will be City Auditor’s reports, detailing expenditures and estimates; reports from the Clerk of Works and the City Engineer, detailing works projects; and, after 1872, reports from the Commissioners of Common and Public Gardens and/or the Superintendent of the Public Gardens.

The excerpt from the 1871-1872 annual report (102-1I) of the Committee of Common details the hiring of Richard Power as superintendent of the Public Gardens. Power served in this capacity until his retirement in May 1917, and was instrumental in the layout and development of the gardens.

View searchable copies of the Annual Reports. Note: the Municipal Archives does not have annual reports 1872-1879; these years are available through the Halifax Public Library or the Nova Scotia Archives.

City Manager's Office subject files, 1943-1994 (series 102-4)

The City Manager was responsible for overseeing all executive-level activities of the municipality. These two subject files cover various management issues relating to the Public Gardens.

  • City Manager's Office subject files - Public Gardens, 1983 (file 102-4.06.512C)
  • City Manager's Office subject files - Public Gardens, 1963-1980 (file 102-4.06.512.6)

Note: These files may contain information restricted under access and privacy legislation; contact the Municipal Archives for further information.

Mayor’s Office correspondence - Public Gardens, 1991-1995 (file 102-3-4-024)

This file includes correspondence to and from the Mayor of Halifax relating to the Public Gardens.

Clerk’s Office records

Black and white technical drawing showing the layout of the Public Gardens, including pathways and other features

Technical drawing showing layout of the Public Gardens, 1954. HMA 102-5-1-67.1

  • Historical reference files - Public Gardens, 1958-1974 (102-5-1-67)
  • Acquisition of Property and Deeds case files - Public Gardens, [196-?]-[199-?] (102-5-4-T-54-P-16)

J.D. O’Connell Picnic for Orphans held in the Public Gardens

New Brunswick philanthropist J.D. O’Connell bankrolled annual “orphan picnics” across North America. One of the early annual picnics in 1920 saw over 700 children frolicking in the Halifax Public Gardens, eating ice cream, playing games, enjoying magic shows. By 1933, there were over 1,000 sometimes unruly children let into the Gardens–perhaps not all from the targeted children’s institutions–sparking an alderman to ask the Chief of Police to bring the event under better control. City officials helped out with organizing the picnic and Mayor John Murphy was such a supporter that O’Connell, from his winter residence in Cuba, chose Halifax as one of the 5 or so Canadian cities bequeathed a $10,000 Trust Fund to continue the annual O’Connell Picnics and provide a Christmas treat to children in local institutions.

View excerpts from Mayor’s (102-3-4-007) and Clerk’s Office (102-5A.113) files about the O’Connell Picnics when they were held in the Public Gardens. Later picnics were held at other locations, such as the 1956 picnic held at the Halifax Citadel and Cornwallis Junior High School. As orphanages were replaced by foster homes during the 1970s, the City found it increasingly difficult to spend the Trust Fund in the agreed upon manner. By 1996 the O’Connell Picnic Trust Fund had grown to $133,148 and was transferred with the monies from other defunct trusts to the Halifax Foundation (102-1A-1996-03-28 and VFE-064-V).

Read more about The Picnic King.

Planning Department reference files (series 102-105-3)

Files selected for this guide focus on proposed development projects and their effects on the adjacent Public Gardens, and can include correspondence, reports, publications, maps, photographs and news clippings.

  • Summer Street/Spring Garden Road - PAC [Planning Advisory Committee] Public Hearing (February 1984)
  • Summer Street/Spring Garden Road - [Case 4495] - [Friends of the Public Gardens Dec. 1983-Apr. 1984], 1983-1984
  • Public Gardens - Development Control, 1986
  • Proposed Development Agreement - Spring Garden Road and Summer Street (Case 5621) [1], 1990

Friends of the Public Gardens fonds, 1974-1988 (series CR34)

These records document the Friends of the Public Gardens' activities, focusing largely on their campaign against the United Equities condominium proposal and for the preservation of Hart House. Records include correspondence, reports, studies, newspaper clippings, copies of letters from citizens, copies of legal documents, photographs of Hart House and houses on Summer Street before and after demolition, a 1983 petition to Halifax City Council to save Hart House, maps of the Public Gardens, and videocassettes depicting the group's demonstration activities. 

Lou Collins records (CR30)

Local historian Lou Collins collected files about the Public Gardens, both for general interest and research, and in his work advocating for the preservation of local built heritage. Collins was also a member of the Landmarks Commission and the Heritage Advisory Committee, and there may be some overlap here with the records from those entities.

Tours, lectures and events (sub-series CR30A)

  • CR30A.9 Public Gardens tour, Dalhousie early print course, 1980-1981

Research and reference material (sub-series CR30B)

  • CR30B.1 Public Gardens - Clive Schaefer, CHNS - Aug. 1, 1972
  • CR30B.53 Notes, drafts, articles - Public Gardens, gardening, markets 1979-1980
  • CR30B.148 Public Gardens, 1967

Writing and editing (sub-series CR30C)

  • CR30C.73 Letters to the editor, 1992, 1997 (includes letters about the Halifax Public Gardens and the Historic Properties site)

Civic activism and service (sub-series CR30D)

  • CR30D.18 Memos - Public Gardens Canteen, Waterfront 1995

Civic activism and service - Halifax Landmarks Commission (sub-series CR30I)

  • CR30I.162 Redevelopment of the Halifax Public Gardens, 1971

Civic activism and service - Heritage Advisory Committee (sub-series CR30J)

  • CR30J.76 Letter from the Friends of the Public Gardens, notice of meeting, agenda, and other related documents [September 16, 1995]
  • CR30J.119 Letter and related documents from Friends of the Public Gardens, March 13, 1985
  • CR30J.128 The Hart Property, April 1984

Maps and plans of the Public Gardens

Colour image of a plan showing the Halifax Common and surrounding area

Plan of Halifax Common, 1859. HMA CR10-064 (composite, cropped from original)

Plan of the Halifax Common

This 1859 plan by William Gossip shows the Halifax Common area, including the land leased to the Horticultural Society for the Public Gardens. The adjacent "Grass Field" would eventually also become part of the Gardens, and included a pond which connected the Egg Pond on the Commons with the Freshwater Brook water system.

102-39P Halifax Engineering & Works plans

The following lists of plans can be viewed at or copies requested from the Municipal Archives:

  • A-8-301: Superintendent’s cottage - Public Gardens, Halifax, N.S. [ca. 1880s]. 1 architectural drawing
  • BB-6-6707: Public Gardens - comfort station for women - north and west elevations. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • BB-6-6708: Public Gardens - comfort station for women - floor plan and sections. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • BB-6-6709: Public Gardens - comfort station for women/roof framing and sections. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • BB-6-6710: Public Gardens - site plan - comfort station for women [shows water main, sewer and tram tracks]. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • CC-6-5838 : Public Gardens - details of rails for repairs to fence. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • CC-6-6048: Public Gardens - 3 plans of main gates [2 sketch and 1 finished plan]. [n.d.]. 3 maps
  • CC-6-6217: Public Gardens - plan of main gates showing proposed alterations. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • CC-6-6259 : Comfort Station - Public Gardens, north & west elevations. City Engineers Office. [n.d.]. 4 architectural drawings
  • E-2-376: Plan of fowl house to be erected at Public Gardens E.H. Keating Architect. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • E-5-493: Public Gardens - Plan of proposed walks to be laid out at the west end of the Public Gardens. [ca. 1874]. 1 map
  • GG-11-6957: Proposed conservatory for Public Gardens - elevations, cross section, wall and bench plan. [ca. 1930]. 1 map
  • K-9-1653: Plan of greenhouse for Public Gardens. April 6, 1906. 1 map
  • KK-1-8158: Rough sketch with east and north elevations for proposed tea room in Public Gardens - Also formal plan with elevations and site plan. [n.d.]. 2 plans
  • LL-4-10025: Plan showing water & sewer mains from Wanderers Ground through Public Gardens to South Park Street. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • M-4-6566: Plans showing roads. Public Gardens. Microfilmed one is flat with no notations; Rolled has water information. 1928. 2 maps
  • P-13-1485: Sketch of Memorial Fountain (for Boer War volunteers, Public Gardens). [n.d.]. 1 architectural drawing
  • Q-11-1930: Suggested design for fence From Clydesdale Iron Works, Public Gardens. [n.d.]. 1 map
  • Q-11-1932: Plan of main entrance gates of fence on sides. [Public Gardens]. Canada Foundry Company. (Oversize). [n.d.]. 1 architectural drawing
  • Q-5-1774: Public Gardens - plan of Public Gardens fence. Nov. 1, 1906. 1 map
  • Q-5-1782: Plan of Public Garden's iron fence. Nov. 1, 1906. 1 map
  • Q-9-1885: Small gate for Public Garden's iron fence. Nov. 9, 1907. 1 map
  • QQ-7-12452: Workshop and garage - Public Gardens. Mar. 3, 1953. 2 architectural drawings [part A and B]
  • S-1-1981: Plan of proposed alterations to Supt.’s cottage. Public Gardens. [n.d.].  1 map
  • X-5-3927: Plan of proposed repairs to Public Gardens fence - No.1. [between 1910 and 1930]. 1 map
  • X-5-3928: Plan of proposed repairs to fence at Public Gardens - No.2. [between 1910 and 1930]. 1 map
  • ZZ-19: Site plan - showing land owned by the City Of Halifax at the corner of South Park Street and Bell Road for storage, greenhouse, caretakers quarters in connection with Halifax Public Gardens [shows Navy League buildings, trees, root house, garages]. [194-?]. 1 architectural drawing

Secondary sources

The Municipal Archives has a variety of secondary sources about the Public Gardens in our Reference Collection:

  • The Public Gardens of Halifax, Nova Scotia. [booklet; author unknown]. [193-]. (971.6225 P)
  • Detailed area planning - old South End and Peninsula Centre background report: Public gardens district study. City of Halifax Planning Department. 1979. (711.409716225 H)
  • Hart Property. Friends of the Public Gardens. 1985. (971.6225 H)
  • Heritage and development: Halifax Public Gardens. Study by Students of Environmental Planning V and VI, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. 1985. (712.5 H)
  • Effects on plants in the Halifax Public Gardens of construction of proposed condominium building, "Summer Gardens." R.G.S. Bidwell. 1985. (720.47 B)
  • The Halifax Public Gardens. The Friends of the Public Gardens - includes a pocket map: "Guide to the trees and shrubs of the Halifax Public Gardens." 1989. (971.6225 H)
  • Sanctuary: Halifax's parks and public gardens. Bruce Armstrong and John Davis. 1996. (712.5 .A7)
  • Halifax Public Gardens vertical file (VFE-067-V) - articles and newsclippings
  • Halifax Public Gardens, [200-?] (VFE-090-E) - various ephemera

Other Sources

The Friends of the Public Gardens website contains more information about the Public Gardens.

The Nova Scotia Archives has in its holdings several photographic collections (MacAskill collection, Bollinger collection, Notman collection, NS Information Service collection) which likely contain images of the early days of the Public Gardens.


Digitization of early records related to the Public Gardens was done through the Friends of the Public Gardens' Suellen Murray Educational Bursary in 2023.