Halifax Municipal Archives: Explore History With Digitized Content

Written by guest blogger, Elena Cremonese, Halifax Municipal Archives, opens a new window Assistant

Browsing the database

Did you know, Halifax Municipal Archives’ electronic database, opens a new window is fully searchable online? While only a small fraction of the Archives’ complete holdings are digitized, you can use an advanced search option to take a look at only those records which have been scanned and uploaded to the web.

The Halifax Municipal Archives is operating by appointment-only for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19. You can schedule an appointment here, and learn more more about their public reference services here. Searching online is a great alternative to visiting in person, and exploring at your leisure, from home!

Searching the database is a bit like reading a Wikipedia article. It's easy to explore—just click on something new, and another, and then another! You never know what interesting historical odds and ends you may turn up while browsing through the Archives’ database. Some of the most interesting finds come not from looking for something specific, but instead from researching out of sheer curiosity.

For example, below is an example of an item I hadn’t realized was in the Archives’ collection until I did a sample search just recently. I am particularly interested in importance of body movement to good health (a welcome reminder!) but also to the changes made to the registration card.

Another personal favourite is a letter, opens a new window from Helen Creighton to the Mayor of Dartmouth in 1932, asking that certain streets should be closed in the winter for hours at a time to allow safe “coasting”—that is, sledding—for children.

Surprise yourself with the reference collection

Maybe you’re interested in some of the digitized material in the Archives’ reference collection, which includes municipal reports and studies about projects and developments in what is now the Halifax Regional Municipality. These reports are a wealth of information, and you may surprise yourself what piques your interest.

Using source guides & exhibits

If you’d like a more guided look at what the Municipal Archives has to offer, the website includes source guides, opens a new window and exhibits, opens a new window

Source guides 

Source guides are an overview of what the Archives has to offer on particular topics, such as the Fire Department, Africville, and Point Pleasant Park. While not all of the records mentioned in the source guides are digitized, all the records are kept at the Archives and are available to view in-person, such as this blueprint of the Point Pleasant Park gates.

Other source guides, like those for the historical council minutes, opens a new window, are much more comprehensive. The Halifax Municipal Archives has digitized all council minutes for Bedford, Dartmouth, Halifax County, and the City of Halifax. These are fully searchable online, and you never know what you may find.

For instance, you might learn that the City of Halifax leased the Common to Colonel Francis Ferrari’s Trained Wild Animal Arena in 1912. And then, you might spend an hour or so Googling and learning everything you can about the interesting history of Colonel Francis Ferrari’s Trained Wild Animal Arena!


Exhibits are shorter snapshots of particular historical events and periods such as the Riot at Halifax City Hall in 1918, opens a new window, the Port of Halifax Exhibition in 1948, opens a new window, and the process of urban renewal in Halifax in the 1960s, opens a new window, which also includes a large photo album.

Walk down memory lane with digitized photographs

If you like to flip through photos, there are quite a few themed photos albums on the Halifax Municipal Archives' Flickr, opens a new window database. 

Maybe you could even help us out and browse through the Flickr Unidentified Photographs Album, opens a new window. We recently added more than 60 images of Dartmouth and Halifax streets and buildings that we need your help to identify.  There’s nothing like a good old fashioned historical mystery.

Share your history: personal archives & records donation

As you browse through these archival collections, you may be inspired to look through some of your own records. Perhaps you have an itch to do a bit of spring cleaning, and to organize your personal records—correspondence, photo albums, important documents, mementos—into a personal kind of archives. While this type of organizing can feel a daunting (I am pointedly ignoring certain desk drawers as I type this), approaching it with the same curiosity you might have for other historical records could make it feel more fun.

If you uncover anything in your personal collection you feel could add to the historical picture of Halifax, keep the Municipal Archives in mind for donation—we are always looking to expand our holdings to represent as much of Halifax’s history as possible. While we have a wide collection of municipal records—from Bedford, Dartmouth, Halifax County, the City of Halifax, and the Halifax Regional Municipality—we know that an important part of the historical narrative comes from you.

Any questions you may have about the Halifax Municipal Archives and donations can be directed to archives@halifax.ca, and we will respond as quickly as possible. You can find more information about donating your own records by visiting our Donation Page, opens a new window.  

Happy browsing!