The Controversy of Coasting on Citadel Hill

In the 19th century, as today, coasting – or tobogganing – in Halifax was a popular winter pastime. It was so popular that some viewed it as a troublesome and disorderly problem and an illegal use of the main thoroughfares. In light of the coasting controversy, in 1825, House of Assembly passed a piece of legislation designed to eliminate, or at least to control the problem, or so they thought...

There is evidence that coasting, or tobogganing, was taking place on Halifax’s steep streets in the mid 1820s. The English name, “toboggan,” likely derives from the word for “sled” in one of the Eastern Algonquian languages – possibly the Mi’kmaq “tobâkun” – but the device was common to several northern Indigenous peoples, designed to transport goods and people over the snow. The long, narrow, flat sled is made of thin boards that curve back at the front end, has no runners, but typically side rails. It is not known when European settlers began using the toboggan and transformed it into a recreational vehicle to coast down snowy hills. But by 1825, coasting had become quite controversial in the town of Halifax, so much so that the House of Assembly passed a piece of legislation designed to eliminate, or at least to control, what was perceived as a troublesome and disorderly problem, and an illegal use of the main thoroughfares.

The following is an excerpt of the bylaw that was enacted and published in the Acadian Recorder on December 23, 1826:

Whereas many accidents have happened by boys and other persons sliding and coasting down the hills in the streets of Halifax […] Be it enacted by the Lieutenant Governor, council and assembly […] It shall be lawful for the justices of the peace […] from time to time, to make regulations for preventing boys and other persons, sliding or coasting on the snow or ice, in sleds or sleys, down the hills upon the streets of the town of Halifax, and suburbs thereof, to enforce the said regulations by imposing a fine not exceeding the sum of twenty shillings […] the parent or parents […] shall be subject to the fine or penalty.

This legislation was largely ineffective, however, since there were too few police and the young offenders were very agile in making their escape when pursued. In the 1850s, coasting was adopted as a form of recreation by military officers and the upper class who enjoyed the fun of it in a fashionable manner in stipulated locations – often the steep slopes of Citadel Hill. Part of an article published in London’s Illustrated Times in 1859 states, “with the gentleman seated in front guiding the craft, the lady sits behind, holding on by the gentleman’s waist. If your feet cut in the crust, dry snow flew on your face, and there was a shriek from the fair companion. […] [T]he course of coasting, like true love, does not always run smooth.”