Halifax's 'Urban Renewal' in the 1960s
Following the Second World War, the City of Halifax wanted to usher in a new era of growth and prosperity for the city. Despite Halifax's expansion, the downtown hadn't evolved much and failed to meet modern needs: the streets were narrow and congested with car traffic, and many of its buildings were weathered and worn. What's more, an influx of wartime workers caused overcrowding especially in low-cost housing, which then further degraded and became "slums." So, in 1945, the City of Halifax devised its first ever Master Plan – an idealistic revitalization plan that would "renew" the city core through demolition and redevelopment.
A decade passed before the City of Halifax was able to actualize these plans. The 1944 National Housing Act allocated several million dollars to grants for "urban renewal" projects in cities across Canada, administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). But these grants only covered the cost of slum clearance if new housing developments were built in their place, which wasn't what the City of Halifax had in mind for its downtown. In 1956, the Act was amended to allow cities to receive funding for redeveloping slum areas according to their “best use,” rather than just residential. That same year, the City hired Gordon Stephenson, a professor of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Toronto, to produce a housing survey of Halifax and proposal for the city’s redevelopment. Submitted to City Council in 1957, Stephenson’s report stated that slums were spreading throughout the city, the worst of them in the downtown and North End. He proposed that these "blighted" areas be cleared and properties downtown be purchased by the City for new commercial development. The cleared area would also make room for new roadways to facilitate better traffic flow, including a highway from Water to Cogswell Streets. Stephenson recommended that the residents of the slums be moved to new public housing outside of the downtown. He also recommended that Africville be razed and its residents relocated to public housing – a proposal in step with the City of Halifax's long-standing vision for Africville, which they rezoned for industrial development ten years earlier.
With Stephenson’s proposal and CMHC funding in place, in 1958, the City of Halifax began a ten-year program of demolition and new construction, much of it concentrated downtown. This program dramatically changed the face of the Halifax and the lives of many of its residents, especially African Nova Scotians, who, because of anti-Black racism, often struggled to find new accommodations on the peninsula.
This tour tracks some of the buildings, sites, and areas in Halifax that were heavily affected by Halifax's "urban renewal" in the 1960s. The stories are roughly organized chronologically. This is not a comprehensive tour, however, as it does not include Africville, for instance. That community deserves its own tour, given its long, rich history and the decades of racial and environmental injustices that led to Africville's destruction. We hope an Africville tour will soon come to light. We hope, too, to add more stories to this tour over time, as there are many still to tell about Halifax's "urban renewal."