A History of Nova Scotia Page


Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
(1815-1867)
Chapter 40, Halifax, A Description Through The Years

The buildings at Halifax, as of 1822, were mostly built of wood other than about twenty built of more sturdy stuff. These other buildings were made of either stone, or brick. Province House1, Government House, Dalhousie college, The Black-Benney House (1819) on Hollis (just north of Government House), Admiralty House (1819); Walter Bromley's school house ("Royal Acadian School," on the east side of Argyle Street between Duke and Buckingham Streets), and the Bulkeley house (corner of Argyle and Prince Street) were made of stone (Louisbourg stone). The county court house, four or five houses on Hollis Street and two or three on Argyle were made of brick. "The rest of the town was all of wooden materials, mostly of one or two stories high ..."2

As of 1830, we have the contemporaneous description of Captain Moorsom:

"We still see, in travelling along the principal roads, an apt illustration of the progress of agriculture, dating within the last fifty years. A hut formed of rough logs, or long, straight trunks, placed one upon the other as they are cut from the forest, has now become the gable-end, or (as we should deem it in England,) the 'washhouse,' to a neatly boarded cottage; a little farther on is seen a wooden frame house, of two or three stories, sufficiently full of windows to create astonishment in the mind of any English tax-gatherer, and standing in a well-stocked garden. Ask their owner the history of these buildings, and he will tell you -- 'Fifty years ago my father was living in that log-hut, which he set up when the first clearing was made about this place: we finished the boarded cottage together; and here my father died. I built this frame-house a few years ago, and my son has the cottage, till he can find time to build a house for himself.'"3
Beamish Murdoch described in History of Nova Scotia a gay and animated scene at Halifax:
"On 19th July [1826], Wednesday, there began a regatta in the harbor. The wind on that day was light and baffling, but the scene was highly animated, and one of peculiar beauty and interest. The hills commanding a view of the harbor - the wharves, shipping, &c., were all thronged with spectators of the interesting scene. The day was fine, the wind moderate, the competition great, which, with the classification of the boats, all produced a most pleasing effect. The boats started at one o'clock, and it was five before the contests were determined. At that hour a large party assembled aboard of H.M.S. Jupiter, at the invitation of rear admiral and Mrs. Lake, where a dinner was provided; after which, dancing commenced, and it was not until a late hour that the company separated. Among the guests were their excellencies Sir James Kempt and Sir Howard Douglas, the misses Douglas, major general Sir John Keane, the members of his majesty's council and their families, the officers of the garrison and squadron, and a number of respectable inhabitants of the town. The race course on Thursday and Friday exhibited all the animated scene of the preceding day - it was lined with spectators, as was also the North-western side of the Citadel hill. The running excited a strong interest, and no accident occurred to interrupt the amusements. His excellency the lieutenant governor gave a ball and supper to a very large party, among whom were his excellency the earl and her ladyship the countess of Dalhousie, his excellency Sir Howard Douglas, lady Douglas, the misses Douglas, rear admiral Lake and lady, miss Lake, major general Sir John Keane, captain Sir William Wiseman, &c. The scene was unusually gay and animated."4
Thomas Beamish Akins described a popular promenade through Halifax, c.1820:
"Old Fresh Water Bridge, so well known in former times, crossed the stream from Smith's Tanyard nearly in the same place as the present abutment. It was a rickety old wooden structure with a rough curb or rail. It was a favorite resort of the young of both sexes on Sundays and summer evenings, and the old wooden rail was covered with names and initial letters carved with the pen knife by visitors. The walk down Pleasant Street and up the road now known as Inglis Street and round the new road, as the Tower Road was then called to Pyke's Bridge, and thence down Spring Garden Road to Government House, was the fashionable promenade for all classes on Sundays and holidays."5
Akins continued and pointed out Black Rock Beach at Point Pleasant (a park these days), again, c.1820:
"At a very early period, however, there had been a broad carriage road all along the shore to Point Pleasant, but the earth had fallen in or been washed away by the tide. Black Rock, a point running out south from Trider's old lime kiln, was then, and for many years after, the resort of bathers. There was a fine gravel beach outside the old Freshwater Bridge leaving a large expanse of gravel when the tide was out. It was customary for gentlemen's servants, truckmen and others who came morning and evening to water their horses in the stream above the bridge to ride their horses in the surf at low water."6
The influence of the French Revolution on British Society cannot be overemphasized. For one thing it drove the upper classes to embrace religion to a greater extent that had been the case for many years.
"The French Revolution ... inevitably caused among the well-to-do over here [England] a horrified recoil from a considerable freedom of thought in religion and politics, to the hard and narrow timidity of a class alarmed for its privileges and possessions. There was a concurrent change in manners from license or gaiety to hypocrisy or to virtue. Family prayers spread from the middle to the upper class. 'Sunday observance' was revived and enforced. 'It was a wonder to the lower orders,' wrote the Annual Register for 1798, 'throughout all parts of England, to see the avenues to the Churches filled with carriages. This novel appearance prompted the simply country people to enquire what was the matter?'"7
Akins and his description of the brilliant spectacle of a Sunday as Halifax's best fill up the pews at St. Paul's, again, c.1820:
"Sunday presented a gay scene at Halifax in those days. There being then no garrison chapel for the troops, the regiments in garrison, preceded by their brass bands playing, marched in full dress to St. Paul's and St. George's churches amid the ringing of bells and the sound of martial music. The carriage of the Governor (who was then always a general officer) in full military costume, with his aids-de-camp, drove up to the south door of St. Paul's, the whole staff having first assembled under the portico which then ran along the southern end of the church. His Excellency, followed by a brilliant display of gold lace and feathers, the clank of sabres and spurs, and the shaking of plumed hats of so many officers, many of whom were accompanied by their ladies, on entering the church, presented a most brilliant spectacle. All this was followed by the old Chief Justice Blowers in his coach and livery, the carriage of the Admiral, and those of several members of Council."8
Our contemporary observer, Captain Moorsom, wrote of a bustling scene at Halifax, c. 1830:
"The spring and autumn, or about May and October, are the periods at which the port shines to the greatest advantage: the wharfs are then crowded with vessels of all sizes discharging their cargoes or taking in the returns. Signals are constantly flying at the citadel for vessels coming in; merchants are running about, in anticipation of their freights; officers of the garrison are seen striding down with a determined pace to welcome a detachment from the depot, or a pipe of Sneyd's claret for the mess; and ladies, tripping along on the tiptoe of expectation, flock into two or three soi-disant bazaars for the latest a-la-mode bonnets."9
A description of Halifax, circa 1850:
"Halifax was then very different from what it is today [1947]. There were no paved streets. The water supply came from big wooden pumps in the streets. Most of the washing was done at two points, at Fresh Water, the foot of Inglis Street and at Egg Pond, behind the Citadel. Here almost every day you could see women hard at work, with clothes spread out in all directions, and their little ones playing about. ... [It was the time of] the night watchmen going his rounds, announcing the hour in a strong, clear voice and saying that all was well. 'Twelve o'clock, and all's well'; and so on throughout the night, at each hour, until the morning."10

NEXT: [Chapter 41, Dining]

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Peter Landry