The Mulgrave Park "Experiment"

The Mulgrave Park housing development was built in the early 1960s, part of a city-wide redevelopment scheme that changed the face of Halifax.

Deep in Halifax's North End sits Mulgrave Park, a large public housing community between Barrington and Albert Streets that was built in the early 1960s. Its construction was one of the first projects in a long line of mid-century redevelopment initiatives throughout the city that changed the structure of Halifax. Like many Canadian cities at the time, Halifax was enamored with the idea of modernization, and sought federal funding to build new homes and infrastructure. To kick start redevelopment, Halifax hired urban planner, Gordon Stephenson, to redesign Halifax's core. Mulgrave Park was one of the major outcomes of his plan, as the funding through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) required that the City of Halifax rehouse families displaced by demolitions. 

Before Mulgrave Park was built, the land was occupied by military barracks in the Second World War and later, emergency shelters for people displaced by "slum clearance" in the city. Emergency shelters were common throughout the 1950s, since a housing shortage had led to overcrowding and "slum" conditions. In 1949, the Public Housing Authority operated over 1400 low rent units across the city. However, throughout the 1950s, the City of Halifax sold many of these properties, started to regulate minimum housing standards, and began work to displace whole neighborhoods for new infrastructure projects. These combined forces reduced the low-rent housing stock to less than half despite the 10% increase in population over that decade. A few people even wrote to the Mayor in the late 1950s outlining the short-sightedness of the City’s wrecking-ball approach to development. By eradicating "blighted" areas, the City only created new overcrowding issues in other parts of town – a cycle of displacement. By 1959, Halifax was already in need of shelter for 1330 families, not including the 1800 people about to be displaced by the clearance of the Jacob Street area. Halifax was in a housing crisis. 

The redevelopment of the Jacob Street area and the construction of Mulgrave Park were intended to finish at the same time to ensure that families were not left without shelter. In reality, the projects operated on very different timelines. While in 1958, CMHC architects were brainstorming plans for Mulgrave Park, the City of Halifax had already begun to expropriate and board up housing in the Jacob Street area. It is unclear when demolitions began but by 1962, the whole neighborhood sat bare. Over the course of those years, thousands of people were left without homes despite what they were promised. Amongst them were some four hundred individual roomers and boarders who had to "fend for themselves," as the City only rehoused families. Moreover, in order to qualify for rehousing in Mulgrave Park, families not only had to be low-income (and not too low), but also exhibit a certain "moral character" – an outgrowth of the CMHC's and City's belief that improving a family's living environment would make them better citizens. 

Part of Mulgrave Park opened in 1961 but the development wasn't fully finished until 1963, five years after demolitions began. By that point, the City of Halifax no longer considered the displaced residents of Jacob Street a priority for rehousing. Many had moved away or managed to find housing elsewhere in Halifax rather than waiting in emergency shelters. Instead, residents from other demolished neighborhoods, including Maitland Street and Spring Garden Road, were offered housing at Mulgrave Park first. The CMHC had committed to build new housing for only one-quarter of the families displaced by demolition and redevelopment. The rest they believed would choose to find accommodations on their own. Even still, the Mulgrave Park development only put a small dent in the amount of low-rent housing units needed for the thousands displaced by "slum clearance." 

For the 1200 people that did live in one of Mulgrave Park's 351 townhouse or apartment units, life was not always the secure, healthy environment that CMHC had promised. Though heavily subsidized, the rent at Mulgrave Park still averaged around $43 dollars every month, an amount that in some cases was over twice what families had paid downtown. Distance was also a barrier. Unlike other Canadian public housing projects of this era, Mulgrave Park was not built on top of an existing neighborhood, but rather kilometers from the neighborhood it replaced. Residents who once lived within a 10-minute walk of their work, services, stores, and entertainment, were now living in an inaccessible and underserviced region of Halifax. 

Being the first large subsidized housing project in Halifax, Mulgrave Park was an "experiment" by the CMHC. While the intentions of the project were to improve the living conditions of residents, the top-down approach to urban planning resulted in hasty and heavy-handed demolition, which displaced countless residents. Retrospectively, we can see that the Jacob Street demolitions and subsequent construction of Mulgrave Park were tests for a long-term plan that would see much of North End Halifax boarded up, knocked down, and redeveloped in the 1960s and 1970s.



Mulgrave Park is private property.