Then and Now Post 3. The Old North End, Past and Present #change #UrbanRenewal #Hopeful

Over the last few days I have done quite a bit of walking across the North End of Halifax, taking in the sights and reflecting on myself and the city around me. I have always been fascinated with Gottingen Street and the area that surrounds it ever since I was a young child. It was always the route that we took to get Downtown Halifax and it was shrouded in mystery. One minute you were travelling past old houses in various states of repair, then past uniform apartment buildings with the odd empty lot and then all of a sudden you were in the middle of Halifax, surrounded by shiny buildings and the Fortress that has guarded our city for hundreds of years.

As the years went by the empty lots grew more and more frequent and by the late 1990’s and into the mid-2000’s the area looked like a neglected bombed out shell of a neighbourhood. It was a place you were told not to walk through at night, and the only view you got was as you drove through on your way Downtown. A lot has changed since the mid-2000’s but we will get to that later. I would like to start this then and now post before I was born in the mid-1960’s and explore the transition of the Old North End of Halifax.

I like to imagine that every moment, era and even neighbourhood has a soundtrack. This is mainly because I define what is going on in my life with the music that I am listening to at that moment in time. It is rather appropriate that I have been listening to Alexander (Alex Ebert) and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros for the last few days that I have been dreaming up this post. Alex Ebert is the lead singer for both bands and the music reminds me of another era with a simplistic optimism that I believe goes along with the theme of this post.

Alexander, In The Twilight

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Man on Fire

In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Gottingen Street area was a vibrant shopping and entertainment district in Halifax. The area was full of people who lived and worked in the neighbourhood, which was serviced by street cars, had two theatres, banks and many shops. Last week I was talking to my mother who remembered shopping on Gottingen Street when she was younger and she had a fond memory of going to the Vogue Theatre to see a Beatles movie.


The Beatles, I want to Hold Your Hand


Bob Dylan, Mamma You’ve Been on my Mind – I created this video with shots of the area over the years.

Gottingen Street Halifax, Then and Now from Jeff Smeltzer on Vimeo.

So what happened to his vibrant area of the city? One of the main factors that contributed to the demise of this area was the policies of urban revitalization of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. 

CasinoTheatre3 Gottigen Street 1962
Gottingen Street at night during the 1960’s. Notice the lights and the street car tracks.

Halifax has always been looking for the next mega project that will help us become a “World Class City”, a term that I very much dislike. Part of the demise of this area of the city came about because of a growth plan that consisted of urban renewal plans that were all the vogue during this period of the 20th Century. A report created by Gordon Stevenson in the 1950’s was the catalyst that demolished dozens of blocks of old housing, forcefully relocated Africville residents and relocated them to newly constructed public housing on Gottingen Street.

The highlighted area shows the blocks of housing that was destroyed to build the Cogswell Interchange.

After 30 years of neglect and missed opportunities, the Old North End is on the cusp of change. New condo buildings are going up, old homes restored and trendy cafe’s, bars and artistic venues rising out of the ashes of the past. All this revitalization has mixed effects, families that settled in the North End are being pushed out by rising home prices, with single family homes selling for over $300, 000 in an area ten years ago the same property would sell for $100, 000 and less. There are some groups trying to deal with the potential displacement of residents, the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia has proposals in to build two large buildings that will have a mix of market value and subsidized units. The Creighton/Gerrish Development Association has built a number of affordable homes in the area though their most recent proposal Gottingen Street Terrace failed due to funding and support of the city. Hopefully more mixed use and truly affordable housing will will get built and the community can move towards revitalization without displacement.

The sign for Gottingen Street Terrace. Since removed was controversial in the area.

For my part I am excited and hopeful about the next phase in this wonderful area of Halifax. A few weeks ago I left a concert at the Bus Stop Theatre and was amazed at how vibrant the street was in the evening. It was a mix of people from different backgrounds and as I looked at a new condo building and a wall of beautiful street art I felt that at the present time there was a wonderful but delicate balance in this part of Halifax. So as much as I like to look back with envy and nostalgia at the past of this area I believe that in neighbourhoods, relationships and our lives we should cherish the fleeting moments and run towards the future with our eyes wide open and hopeful.

Street Art, Graffiti, Halifax, North End, Gottingen Street
One of my favourite pieces of street art on Gottingen Street.
Street Art, Graffiti, Halifax, North End, Gottingen Street
Another beautiful piece of Street Art on Gottingen Street.
Halifax, North End, Restaurant
Edna, a fantastic restaurant on Gottingen Street.
Old Houses, Street scape, North End, Halifax
Beautiful old houses in the Old North End of Halifax.

Street Art, Graffiti, Halifax, North End, Gottingen Street

Street Art, Graffiti, Halifax, North End, Gottingen Street
A beautiful piece of street art on Gottingen Street.

The Littl’ans feat. Pete Doherty, Their Way

Some Useful Links with interesting information on this area of the city:

North End Halifax in Transition

The Old North End – A Blog

The Old North End a Visit to Brunswick Street in 1966

Tear Down this Wall – The Cogswell Interchange


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