Building a History

If these walls could talk is a common phrase. Many of us wish that we could learn more about the history of our homes, and the buildings we see and visit every day. Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn more about their design, who lived there before, or how neighborhoods grew and evolved around them?


If you can make an educated guess, as to when a building was built, start by checking local directories or phone books. This way, you can learn who was listed as living at different addresses through the years. Central Library has directories for Halifax and Dartmouth, dating back to 1869. You can find a resource spotlight focused on directories on our website.


Once you find names of previous tenants/owners, the next step is to research those names using genealogical resources, such as Nova Scotia's Historical Vital Statistics, opens a new window, or Ancestry Library Edition. You can find more information about using Ancestry at the Library, as well as getting better results from your searches by checking out this blog.

On the shelves

There are other resources belonging to the library that you may want to investigate in your hunt for architectural answers:

Maps - Central Library’s Local History Room has several historical maps of Halifax. 

Local history books - You can also learn more about the area you live in by reading books about your local history. Here are a few examples within HRM:

 Books on local architecture - The look and design of local buildings has changed frequently over the years:

Outside of the Library 

Nova Scotia land registries - These offices hold records pertaining to land and property ownership, dating back to 1749. You are able to search by parcels of lands, and results will show how the property has changed hands over the years. There are fees attached to this service which you can see here on Access Nova Scotia’s website.

Nova Scotia archives - The provincial archives have their own in-depth guide for researching the history of houses and buildings in Nova Scotia (you can find the guide here on their website). They also have historical documents tied to land ownership.

Property assessments - Each year, the Property Valuation Services Corporation provides assessments all around the province. Using that website, you can search and find the values of different properties going back 5 years. You can find the website here.

Untold stories

Combing through old records and histories can sometimes lead to dead ends, but when you finally come across that piece of information that fills in a blank, all those dead ends are worth it. Hopefully this guide will help direct you to resources that can provide more of the background detail in the story of your family or community.