The Uniacke Square Redevelopment Project

Expanding the Boundaries of 'Urban Renewal'

The Uniacke Square development in Halifax's north end was built in the 1960s to house working-class residents displaced by 'slum clearance' throughout the city. But as plans for the development ballooned, more people were displaced by the project than it rehomed.

In the mid-1960s, the City of Halifax built Uniacke Square, a 250-unit public housing neighborhood in Halifax's north end. This housing development was part of a city-wide scheme to modernize Halifax and resolve a housing shortage following the Second World War. Halifax's redevelopment was funded in large part by the federal government through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The federal money was for "slum clearance" and housing redevelopment, so the City of Halifax went aboard demolishing large swaths of low-rent housing and erecting new public housing neighborhoods such as Mulgrave Park. However, Mulgrave Park only housed approximately 1200 people, which left thousands more without homes. 

To alleviate the growing housing crisis, the City of Halifax planned to construct new public housing on the site of the School for the Deaf on Gottingen Street. The school was moving to Amherst and the land was plentiful, so in 1958, the City of Halifax acquired the property for a housing development – what would be known as the Uniacke Square Redevelopment Project. 

The City of Halifax's original plan was to demolish the school and build public housing on the property. But by April 1960, the Redevelopment Committee floated the idea of expanding the boundaries of the Uniacke Square development and acquiring and demolishing several blocks of housing nearby. The expanded area included blocks bound by Gerrish, Gottingen, North, and Brunswick Streets – about 29 hectares total. In 1962, planners surveyed the area and proposed building over 1000 units of public housing on approximately 9 hectares of that land.

The expanded boundaries contained an established Halifax neighborhood that was home to 4090 people or nearly 1000 families. Unlike downtown Halifax, urban planners and Council members noted that this part of the North End was not particularly "blighted" and hardly a contender for "slum clearance." Residents were primarily working-class renters who paid 20 dollars a month or less in rent, and almost half of the 436 structures in the area were owner occupied. In 1963, many owners signed a petition against the redevelopment project. They had seen much of their neighborhood bought by the City and left to decay.

By 1963, the City of Halifax had acquired hundreds of properties around the former school. According to Council Minutes, the Municipality offered homeowners above market prices for their properties, however, the financial records show that many houses were sold for less than half of their assessed values. Numerous residents informed the City that their offers did not allow them to buy comparable accommodations. Many therefore had to move off the peninsula and into the suburbs – an ironic outcome of the city's modernization scheme, which identified suburban sprawl as a drain on city resources. By 1976, demolitions throughout Halifax had forced families to migrate to mainland suburbs, and the North End's population had decreased 42% from 1961.

In 1963, the City of Halifax's plans for Uniacke Square took an unexpected turn. The CHMC agreed to fund the construction but in phases, meaning of the 1100 proposed units, they had to build them 150 at a time. When Phase I of Uniacke Square opened in 1966, it contained 184 units of public housing. These units only occupied a small portion of the land from the School for the Deaf, yet the City of Halifax had demolished 3 blocks of housing adjacent to the former school property. The rest of the land acquired by the City was either used for later phases of the development, built in the late-1960s and into the 1970s, or was sold to private developers. Today, much of the housing in the area is, in fact, privately owned.

Uniacke Square was supposed to help displaced working class families in Halifax, but there were conditions. Firstly, the City and CMHC only committed to rehousing one-quarter of displace families, which meant single people or childless couples whose homes were demolished did not qualify for a spot in public housing. Secondly, families had exhibit a certain "moral character" to be offered a unit – an outgrowth of the CMHC's and City's belief that improving a family's living environment would make them better citizens. Even more problematic was the cost of rent in Uniacke Square, which was far higher than what low-income families could afford. Even though many could barely pay rent across town at Mulgrave Park, the City charged more at Uniacke Square, in some cases, as high as $65 a month. Many families wrote to the City to explain that they simply didn’t make enough money to pay rent at Uniacke Square. One newspaper reported that a family evicted from their home, which was slated for demolition, had to turn down a unit at Uniacke square, as it cost over twice their previous rent.

Uniacke Square was a direct result of the City of Halifax’s efforts to modernize and increase housing. However, their attempts to "modernize" the North End only resulted in further decline. Halifax's widespread and rapid redevelopment left little room for the City to learn from its mistakes. Many of the problems experienced by Mulgrave Park residents were only replicated and intensified at Uniacke Square. While the City hoped that these housing developments would improve the lives of low-income families, their ill-considered plans were born in a boardroom by people who would never have to live with the choices they made.



Uniacke Square is private property.