Step back into history using Halifax Public Libraries’ collection of vintage postcards. This collection of 500 postcards gives a glimpse into the past of Halifax and surrounding areas.
Halifax Public Libraries staff members have delved into our Local History collections to learn more about the scenes depicted in selected postcards. Take a trip down memory lane with these journeys into familiar and forgotten Nova Scotian scenes. We look forward to sharing more postcards here with you and on our social media channels, so check back again soon for updates!
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Halifax Memorial Library
Written by Amy LeMoine
The history of the Spring Garden Road Memorial Library tells the story of public library service in Halifax. Before its opening date on November 12, 1951, library services in Halifax were lacking. The Citizen’s Free Library had begun sharing books since 1864 and, in 1890, was located inside City Hall. Over the years, Haligonians clamoured for a public library that was more spacious and open to everyone.
After World War II, it was determined that a new library building would be built that would also form a war memorial. The three-storey limestone building was designed by renowned local architect Leslie R. Fairn and was built on top of Grafton Park. The war memorial artifacts added over the years included the Books of Remembrance, a Silver Cross, and flags.
The library boasted 20,000 books when it first opened and housed a children’s library, reading room, and cataloguing department. The first librarian was Mary Cameron. Library membership was free but cost 10 cents for a registration card. Late fees were two cents per day.
By 1955 the space was already deemed inadequate, with more books than shelf space. However, it wasn’t until 1974 that an addition to the building was built, adding 13,000 square feet to the library. This new section gave the library an elevator, new nonfiction stacks, and a new program room.
Once again, the library was full again just a decade later, and the demand for more space grew. Over the next 20 years, debates ranged on how to increase the space—from the addition of a new annex to a completely new building. It was eventually decided in 2008 to construct a new Central Library, and on August 30, 2014, the library closed to prepare to open the new library.
For over 60 years, the Spring Garden Road Memorial Public Library provided books, reference services, youth activities, programs for all ages, and a welcome refuge for all in the heart of downtown. As of 2023, the future of this site and Grafton Park, on which it sits, remains uncertain.
Written by Jamie
Anyone who drives along the Bedford Highway has probably seen this beautiful building on their journey. Did you know that it has been there for over 200 years? It is known as the Music Room, aka the Round House, or the rotunda. This is the last of a once great and sprawling estate that covered a large area in the Rockingham/Birch Cove community that became known as Prince’s Lodge.
Prince’s Lodge was originally built by Sir John Wentworth and included a villa, library, gardens, servants’ quarters, stables, and barns, all of which are long gone. Eventually, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, started staying here with his mistress, Madame de Saint-Laurent, while stationed as garrison commander starting in 1794. Over the next several years, he completely transformed the Lodge, which included the building of the Music Room. Also notable, he played a major role in the building of the Clock Tower at Citadel Hill and St. George’s Round Church.
The Music Room was built right on the edge of the basin so it could be seen from the lodge. Interestingly, no musical performances happened inside the building—they were performed outside on the lawn, where guests could enjoy the scenery. Here, Prince Edward’s regimental band played for him and invited guests. His post in Halifax only lasted a few years, and eventually, Prince’s Lodge was abandoned altogether. By the late 1800s, it was mostly in ruins. Many years later, it became a popular destination because of its backstory and unique layout.
The Music Room has remained a curiosity and attraction all through the 20th Century, and fortunately, stood the test of time with a variety of owners. The trees have grown up around it, but it currently looks much like it did in 1796, complete with all of its pillars, dome roof, and golden ball on top. The government purchased it in 1959 and has been responsible for it ever since.
The Old Town Clock
Written by Dandan
The Old Town Clock, located on the east slope of Citadel Hill, began keeping time for the garrison on October 20, 1803. Initially ordered by Edward, Duke of Kent, in 1800 as a timepiece to regulate the garrison, it has served the residents of Halifax for almost two centuries and has become a universally recognized symbol of Halifax.
In the early years, the clock building was used as a guardroom. James Deckmann was appointed the first "keeper of the government clocks." At other times, the building served various roles as an armoury and as a temporary hospital.
In the 1960s, Dennis Gill lived part of his youth with his family in the clock. His father worked for the parks service as the clock caretaker, and he and his family lived inside the clock. The base is a small bungalow with a cellar below and a tower above. Dennis remembered that when they first moved there, the clock was heated with coal. On many occasions, his dad had to wake up in the night and shut everything down because the whole clock would be filled with smoke owing to the very unreliable furnace. He reminisced about his childhood in the clock and the wonderful feeling of security when they lived there.
Today, The Old Town Clock continues to tick away the minutes and hours, although the Georgian Building, which served roles over the years, has been altered a couple of times and majorly restored in 1960. It is maintained and operated by Parks Canada, whose staff wind the clock twice a week to minimize stress on the mechanism.
Picturesque Corner, Herring Cove, N.S.
Written by Joanna Veale
A lovely little house sitting to the side of a lovely little bridge. Where is this "picturesque corner?"
Both the house and bridge were located in Herring Cove at the head of the cove, on the road now named Powers Drive. A building has existed in about the very same spot, at least as far back as 1845. A map from 1864 shows the property was owned by M. Power, and it was later owned by members of the Power family up until the mid-twentieth century. According to photographs, the house appears to have stood at least until 1949, but no longer exists today. The wood and stone bridge that crossed the brook draining Powers Pond into Herring Cove has been replaced by a plainer concrete structure.
The property backs onto the old St. Paul's Catholic Cemetery, now largely abandoned. A stone in the cemetery marks the burial of Michael Power, possibly the same M. Power of 1864. The 1891 Census lists Michael as a fisherman. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had eight children at home, four of whom were sons in their twenties. Like their father, all were listed as fishermen. As of the 1901 Census (five years before the postcard photograph was taken), Elizabeth was widowed, and all her children remained at home. All six of her sons had become fishermen.
The fisheries had been a mainstay for the community of Herring Cove since its beginnings. Only in more recent times has that shifted; the last working fisherman retired in 2018.
Herring Cove was originally known by the Mikmaw as "Moolipchugechk," meaning narrow and deep chasm or valley. It was later known as Dunk Cove after George Montagu-Dunk, the 2nd Earl of Halifax (and namesake of Halifax), and finally as Herring Cove, either because of the bounty of herring in the waters or for the surname of past residents.
Bircham House/Birchdale Hotel
The Bircham House, later known as the Birchdale Hotel, was located at the bottom of Coburg Road and overlooked the stunning Northwest Arm. Robert Morrow Jr. inherited the property from his father and, with his wife Helen, built the house on the land. Constructed in the mid-19th century, the lavishly designed house had some unique features, including a saltwater aquarium in the basement where Morrow, a man with a keen interest in natural history, kept live fish for his studies.
In 1906, F.W. Bowes purchased the Bircham property, along with its neighbour, Bloomingdale, with the intention of creating a tourist hotel by combining the two. Bowes, who was a former director of Carleton House on Argyle Street and a former news editor of the Halifax Chronicle, named his new hotel Birchdale, taking elements from both Bircham and Bloomingdale. He transformed the Bircham house into a hotel, adding two new wings to the building. The Birchdale Hotel had many amenities, including a ballroom, a large library, and even its own newspaper, the Birchdale Bugle. Its prime waterfront location allowed guests to enjoy boating on the Northwest Arm and was a popular destination for tourists in the summer and for locals year-round.
After its time as a hotel, the Birchdale building was sold to Dalhousie University, where it was briefly used as a residence for men. King's College then took over the Birchdale when the school relocated from Windsor to Halifax in 1923. Over the years, the building served many purposes, including a grand house, hotel, and university residence. However, by the early 1930s, it was demolished, bringing its story to a close.
Ballard, J. M. A. (2018). Historic house names of Nova Scotia. Nimbus Publishing.
Dawson, T. (2011, March). The many chapels of King’s College” The Griffin, 36(1), 3-5.
Places: Halifax, Halifax Co.: Houses: Birchdale: formerly Robert Morrow’s “Bircham” lately residence of King’s College, Coburg Road. (1931). [Photograph and caption]. Nova Scotia Archives Photographic Collection. https://archives.novascotia.ca/photocollection/archives/?ID=6696
Regan, J. W. (1978). Sketches and traditions of the Northwest Arm: Illustrated and with panoramic folder of the Arm (first printing 1908). Hounslow Press.
Student government history: No. 26. (1974, September 26). The Dalhousie Gazette, 107(3), 2. https://findingaids.library.dal.ca/the-dalhousie-gazette-volume-107-issue-3
Watts, H., & Raymond, M. (2003). Halifax’s Northwest Arm. Formac Publishing Company.
Halifax Shopping Centre
Written by Jamie Drew
The Halifax Shopping Centre is one of the most important shopping destinations that Nova Scotia has to offer. Throughout the years, it has weathered many storms--financial woes, community opposition around multiple expansions, and changing consumer habits. Yet to this day, it has managed to remain relevant and continues to draw many customers. It is both retro and forward-thinking, creating a shopping “experience”, unlike the offerings of big box stores, outlet stores, or online shopping.
When the Shopping Centre first opened its doors in 1962, the world was a different place, and the “shopping mall” was still a relatively new concept. Malls have been around since the 50s, but nothing like this existed on the East Coast. Since its very conception, it was advertised as the “Market Place of the Maritimes.” Modern shoppers found the space appealing with its bright, accessible, fully enclosed climate-controlled environment, where one could do all of their shopping. It cost $9 million dollars to build and housed 50 shops and “ample parking for thousands of cars daily.” At the time, there was nothing quite like it. The mall reigned supreme for 10 years before the Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth became its biggest rival. In its humble beginnings, the Centre had many big-name stores, including Eatons, Sobeys, Lawtons, and Birks jewellers to name a few.
As this postcard from 1968 shows, shopping here was meant to be an alluring experience for all the senses where one could get away from their normal routine. It was also promoted as an events center with a stage for charitable, social, athletic, cultural, and promotional events beyond the regular shopping hours. As the years passed, there were beauty and baby pageants, trade fairs, celebrity appearances, visits with Santa, craft markets, and antique shows. After a number of recent renovations and expansions, it has once again found its place in the modern world with a focus on more high-end retailers and a completely revamped food court.
Halifax Ladies’ College
Written by Marisa Moreira
This imposing mansion once stood at the corner of Pleasant (now Barrington), Harvey, and Morris Streets and contributed significantly to the broader education of young women in Nova Scotia.
Originally built for Richard John Uniacke Jr.’s wife in 1821, the house was later inhabited by the Duffus family. In 1887, the property was purchased by the recently-created Halifax Ladies’ College in association with the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Immediately after it was established, Halifax Ladies’ College became affiliated with the Halifax Conservatory of Music, Victoria School of Art and Design, and later with Dalhousie University.
The college focused on teaching social skills and cultural norms for young women who were not pursuing a career, and also as a preparatory school for those that were looking for a profession. This elite school included classrooms, a science laboratory, an art studio, a gymnasium, and residential accommodations for about 100 students. Languages, math, and sciences were part of the general education. Sports were well-loved, and music, art or domestic science was the curriculum of choice for girls attending the school.
A notable alumni of Halifax Ladies’ College was Lucy Maud Montgomery. While attending classes at Dalhousie University in 1895-96, Montgomery boarded at the Ladies’ College residence; she enjoyed the proximity to Point Pleasant Park, where she loved to stroll.
In 1917, the school building was severely damaged by the Halifax Explosion but was quickly repaired to be used as an improvised treatment centre. Students and teachers played an important role in relief work.
Another outstanding event for the College was when the school received the visit of Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales. An autographed picture of the prince was published in the Halifax Ladies’ College Yearbook, the “Olla Podrida,” in 1921.
With student numbers declining during the Great Depression, the College started entering in debt. In 1939, the building and property on Barrington Street were expropriated, and it became a hostel for YMCA servicemen. After briefly relocating to Young Avenue, the college moved to Oxford Street. In 1979, the Halifax Ladies’ College became a coeducational day school, and the following year the name of the institution was officially changed to Armbrae Academy.
The original Halifax Ladies’ College building was demolished in 1963 and replaced by the Thompson Building.
-MacLeod, S. (1973). A History of the Halifax Ladies’ College, Established 1887.
-McGuigan, P. T. (2007). Historic South End Halifax.
-General Information - About Armbrae. (n.d.). https://armbrae.ns.ca/about.html