Come into Town!: A Trip to Halifax, c. 1950

Written by Vicky, staff member, Halifax Central Library

Welcome to Halifax!

It’s 1950 and this bustling seaport is ready to open its doors and empty your wallet! So, put on your good trousers, or your best “new look” dress, and hit the streets for a day on the town.

Stop One: Smith’s Bakery

The train has finally pulled into the station on the Halifax waterfront. It was a long trip from Truro, but you’re incredibly excited to trot the streets of Halifax and spend your hard-earned cash.

But wait! You can’t hit the shops on an empty stomach! You are hungry. And there’s only one place you want to go for breakfast: Smith’s Bakery at 385 Gottingen Street.

The bakery is run by Earle J. Smith, and got its start in the garage of the Smith home in the 1920s. It became an incorporated business in the early 1930s, and is known far and wide for their delectable desserts. Your mother isn’t here; who says you can’t have pie for breakfast? It’s a long walk from the waterfront, but BOY, it’s worth it!

(Not long after the above photograph was taken, this location of Smith’s Bakery was torn down as part of Halifax’s redevelopment plan in the 1960s. The Smiths moved their bakery to Argyle Street where it remained until 2019, though new owners had taken over.)

Second Stop: Kline’s Ltd

Since you’re in the neighbourhood, you decide to pop into Kline’s Ltd at 254-256 Gottingen Street. This department store has got it all. Your mother has been dying for a new pair of nylons, and the Pink Lady colour is her favourite. They’re a bit pricy at $1.75, but your mom is worth it. She’ll be over the moon!

(Kline’s Department Store would remain on Gottingen Street under various names until the 1980s when it became the Open Circle Cabaret. The cabaret did not last long, however, and by the 1990s the space had become the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre.)

A Quick Ride on the Bus!

As you step out of Kline’s, you see one of the new electric trolley coaches coming down the street. You couldn’t miss it, what with the bright yellow paint! Who wants to walk back downtown when you can ride in comfort? You happily pay the 10 cent fare and take a leisurely ride through town on the Number 7 to Barrington Street. Ahhhh. This is the life!

Third Stop: Birks Jewelry

Now you’re in the thick of it: the heart of downtown Halifax!

First on your list of to-dos: you have to find a wedding gift for your sister. You and your siblings have pooled your money together and want to buy her a sterling silver cutlery set from Birks at 493-497 Barrington Street.

They have many of beautiful styles to choose from, but you make sure to keep your budget in mind! You purchase the Saxon pattern at $17.80 per place setting.

(Henry Birks & Sons Ltd opened in Halifax in 1919. It was a store that specialized in gold and silver jewelry and household items. The building was built to be four floors tall, but only had three levels; this allowed the main floor to have a dramatically high ceiling. The store remained on Barrington until the early 1990s when it moved to Mumford Road. The Birks Building itself was ultimately torn down. A parking lot has taken its place.)

Fourth Stop: Levine Bros. Clothing

Your father never passes up an opportunity to buy something from Levine’s at 35-37 Upper Water Street. He’s given you a few dollars to pick up new socks for him. The old ones can only be mended so many times! Behind the Levine building, you can see the men at the Imperial Oil Wharf hard at work.

(Arthur J. Levine, the manager for Levine Bros. Clothing, was the son of Russian Jewish Immigrants that came to Canada sometime prior to 1916. His store was known specifically for its men’s wear selection. This building was demolished sometime in the early 1960s)

Fifth Stop: Chick’s Luncheon

Before you know it, it’s time for lunch! It’s just a quick walk up the street to find Chick’s Luncheon at 2 ½ George Street where you can get a delicious bite to eat. Nothing short of divine intervention could stop you from digging in to an order of crispy fish and chips. You chase it all down with a hot cup of coffee; you’ve got to keep your energy up!

(Chick’s Luncheon was both a lunch counter and a grocery store operated by Charles Cecil Winchcombe. The business was open for around 17 years before closing in the mid-1960s.)

Sixth Stop: Cousins Ltd.

OH NO! As you step out of Chick’s, you notice that you somehow spilled coffee on your sweater! That’ll stain for sure. But what’s this on your map? An ad indicating the map is sponsored by Cousins, a cleaning and drying company that’s been in business for 30 years! If they can’t get the stain out, no one can!

You rush up to the corner of George and Brunswick Street. Knowing you’re not in the city for very long, the staff is willing to rush the job for you; you can pick up your sweater first thing tomorrow morning. Phew!

(Cousins Limited of Halifax had a store front at the corner of George and Barrington Streets, but their main operating plant was at the corner of West and Robie Street. The business had multiple locations in Halifax/Dartmouth over the years, but ultimately closed in the mid-1970s.)

Seventh Stop: Fader’s Pharmacy Ltd.

All that panicking about getting your sweater clean has given you a headache. Better head down to Fader’s Pharmacy at 141-143 Hollis Street and pick up some medicine.

Thankfully, their tablets are always in good supply. You make sure to pack the rest of the pills away in your bag. You never know when the next pain might kick in!

(Originally from Chester, Charles E. Fader owned and operated Fader’s Pharmacy. In the 1920s, the shop employed Jack Snow, better known as famous country singer Hank Snow. Snow was paid $3/week to deliver prescriptions and other items to Fader’s clientele.)

Eighth Stop: Phinney’s Limited

Now, this is the part of the trip you are most excited for: a stop into Phinney’s at 456-460 Barrington Street. They’ve got all the best electronics and you’ve had your eye on a portable radio. At a cost of $39.95 it’s a BIG investment, but you know your summer camping trips will be better with it, than without it!

(In the 1950s, Norman D. Phinney was the president of Phinneys Limited. The Phinney Building on Barrington Street had 4 stories. Televisions, radios, and other electronics were on the ground floor, sporting goods and pianos on the second floor, offices on the third floor, and a service department on the top floor. Phinney’s served the people of Halifax for 80 years before closing its doors. The Phinney Building, which still bears the name, now houses Elle’s Bistro and Lounge.)

Ninth Stop: Garrick Theatre

Your arms are full of packages and bags, and your feet are killing you from all this walking around. You need to sit down and relax a little. Thankfully, the Garrick Cinema isn’t too far away at 56 Sackville Street. You decide to take in a show!

You’re in the mood for a laugh, so you decide to see Don Juan Quilligan, a comedy about a man who accidentally marries two different women. The film stars William Bendix, Joan Blondell, and Phil Silvers.

(The Garrick Theatre originally opened in the late 1920s as a home for vaudeville productions, but after a devastating fire, as well as the stock market crash of 1929, the business was forced to close. The following year, the theatre reopened as a cinema where it had success for more than 30 years. The site became a part of the newly founded Neptune Theatre in the mid-1960s.)

Tenth Stop: The Carleton Hotel

After an enjoyable show, you’re looking forward to finishing the day off with a good meal and a long rest. You head down Argyle Street to number 55-65 and check in to The Carleton Hotel.

The Carleton Hotel was originally the home of Richard Buckeley, a military man and administrative assistant to Governor Cornwallis. The house was built in the late 1700s, supposedly from stone that had been moved from the recently seized Fortress Louisbourg. In the early 1900s, the house and a few neighbouring buildings were covered in stucco and became the large Spanish Mission style building we know today. The hotel has 100 guest rooms and 30 private bathrooms for its visitors, and with rates from $2.50-$5 a night ,it’s hard to go wrong. Your stay is nothing short of fine. You almost wish you didn’t have to go home!

(As time went on, The Carleton fell into disrepair. It was scheduled to be demolished in the early 1990s, but was saved by the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia and building’s new owners. Today, The Carleton is widely known as a popular live music venue featuring artists like The Mellotones, Ben Caplan, Ashley MacIsaac, and Madison Violet.)

A Fine Trip

After a good night’s rest and a refreshing breakfast, it’s time to head back home. You stop in at Cousins where, as promised, your sweater is as good as new! As you board the train back to the North Shore, you think back wistfully on your trip to Halifax. You simply cannot wait until the next time you can come into town!

Oh the Places We Did Go!

Library Sources

  • Ancestry Library Edition
  • Chronicle Herald microfilm, various dates, July – August, 1950
  • Halifax and Dartmouth City Directories, 1920-1980, 917.1622 H17…
  • Halifax Public Libraries Blog: From the Birney to the Bus: A Brief and Not At All Definitive History of Halifax Public Transit          
  • Halifax Public Libraries Postcard Collection
  • “Historic Annapolis Valley: Rural Life Remembered” by Mike Parker, 2006, p. 66; 971.633 P242h
  • “Historic Halifax Streetscapes Then and Now, Three Walking Tours V.1” by Barbara Delory, 2016, p. 67; 917.16225 D362h v.1
  • “I’m Movin’ On: The Life and Legacy of Hank Snow” by Vernan Oickle, 2014, p. 30; 781.642092 S674v
  • “The Official Bicentenary Guide Book of Halifax”, by The Halifax Advertising Bureau Reg’d, 1949, p. 11, 13,109, & 110; 917.1622 H17o
  • “Walk Historic Halifax: An Historic Walking Guide to Halifax” by Grant MacLean, 1996, p.46; 917.16225 M163w

Online Resources