Harbour Drive and the Cogswell Interchange

In the 1960s, the City of Halifax wanted to build an expressway through the downtown, but their road had many obstacles.

As part of Halifax’s urban renewal in the 1960s, the City of Halifax planned to build an expressway in the central business district. Following the Second World War, families began moving to the suburbs, which was considered a more desirable place to live at the time. As such, mid-century urban design increased its focus on roadways, since more people were commuting to and from cities. Halifax’s first Master Plan in 1945 included multi-lane thoroughfares around the city, and Gordon Stephenson’s 1957, Redevelopment Study of Halifax, suggested a highway be built along the waterfront. Both indicated that several blocks of the downtown should be razed to make way for highways. According to the Master Plan, these areas were to be cleared anyway because of "slum or blighted conditions."

The original design for the new roadways was created by DeLeuw, Cather and Company of Canada Limited and accepted by City Council on August 22, 1966. The plan had three parts: a four-lane expressway called Harbour Drive would run along the waterfront from the container terminals to the foot of George Street. There it would intersect with the Cogswell Interchange, which would connect to a northern extension of the expressway from Cornwallis Street to Gerrish Street. The plan was revised in 1967 by the engineering firm, A. D. Margison and Associates, who proposed adding two more lanes to Harbour Drive for better traffic flow. The construction of the expressway and interchange was supposed to dovetail with the construction of Scotia Square, with both completed by the end of 1969.

To make room for the expressway and interchange, several hectares of the downtown needed to be cleared - everything east of Barrington between Prince and Proctor Streets. In 1958, the City began clearing the Central Redeveloment Area - all properties east of Brunswick Street between Duke and Proctor Streets. While every building west of Barrington Street was cleared by 1967, in the blocks to the east, only dilapidated buildings had been razed. The distinct wedge-shaped Pentagon Building, for instance, was demolished in 1962 following a fire. Once plans for Harbour Drive and the Cogswell Interchange were in place, the City of Halifax set their sights on expropriating properties on Water Street between Prince and Proctor Streets. Some members of the public protested the proposed demolitions, including Allan Duffus from the Halifax Association of Architects, the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, and Louis Collins, who later became the City’s first Honorary Civic Historian. They wanted to preserve several historic buildings including the Morse’s Teas building and a group of old warehouses on the waterfront. But the City of Halifax was in a contract with the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which had agreed to fund land expropriations for the construction of Harbour Drive. What’s more, the developers behind Scotia Square insisted that Harbour Drive was integral to the mall’s success. With mounting pressure from the public, the City of Halifax asked A. D. Margison and Associates to create alternative designs for Harbour Drive that would preserve the historic waterfront buildings.

Meanwhile, the Cogswell Interchange project moved forward, since it didn’t interfere with any of the historic buildings. Beginning in 1968, all buildings were cleared along Upper Water and Barrington between Buckingham and Proctor Streets. The hundreds of people who lived in these buildings had to find new accomodations, since space was limited in the new public housing in the North End. The construction of the Interchange continued through 1969 while City Council debated plans for Harbour Drive. But since no redesign was able to avoid all of the historic buildings, the expressway was eventually scrapped. The Cogswell Interchange opened in 1970 with narrow city streets feeding into the labyrinth of lanes and overpasses - a ghost of a grand plan.