20 Fascinating Haligonians
There’s no shortage of fascinating people in Halifax’s history, but sometimes it seems like the same few people get all the attention. Check out our list and get to know some of the influential, inspiring, and downright dastardly Haligonians you’ve never heard of.
Rev. Darlene Young
Young made a number of contributions to the community over the course of her life, working on the boards of Bryony House, Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, and the Interfaith Coalition for Equal Marriage. In addition to that (and more), she served as the first minister of Safe Harbour Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian church founded by members of Halifax’s LGBT community. She died in 2008.
Thomas Beamish Akins
In 1841, Akins wrote to the Halifax Mechanics Institute (which would eventually house the city’s first library) to request the creation of “a Depository of Colonial Records.” It took 16 years, but in 1857, Akins was appointed Commissioner of Public Records. Some 50 years later, Ontario appointed Canada’s first provincial archivist.
Alexander “Sandy” Keith Jr.
Alexander “Sandy” Keith Jr. has a sordid history, but his worst deed has to be the one that earned him the nickname “The Dynamite Fiend.” While living in Germany in 1875, Keith organized an insurance scheme that involved shipping a moreor- less-worthless barrel and insuring it for 150 British pounds. Then, using a clockwork device and about 318 kilograms of dynamite, he blew the ship up, murdering 81 people. Leaving a guilt-wracked note, he then killed himself. For more on his strange story, read The Other Alexander Keith.
Maria Louisa Angwin
Angwin decided to become a physician when Canadian medical schools weren’t accepting women. Undaunted, she took a teaching job in Dartmouth so she could raise enough money to attend the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She graduated in 1882 and soon returned to Nova Scotia to become the first woman licensed to practice medicine in the province.
Edward William (Billy) Downey
Some 50 years ago, when Halifax was mired in racial segregation affecting everything from hockey leagues to music clubs, hockey team manager Billy Downey decided to turn a condemned house on Creighton Street into a music club. The tiny venue, Halifax Arrow’s Club, grew quickly, moving to Agricola Street and eventually, Brunswick Street. Thanks to Downey’s strong entertainment management skills, the venue attracted impressive acts, including Ike and Tina Turner, Ben E. King, and The Bluenotes.
Before Fong co-founded renewable energy company LightSail Energy, she was a junior high dropout. But here’s the thing—she left junior high for Dalhousie University, where she majored in computer science and physics. After graduating from Dal at the age of 17, she started a PhD at Princeton University, but left to co-found LightSail, which is based in San Francisco. Its backers include computing tycoon Bill Gates.
Frank Baldwin, a British deserter from the Royal Navy, founded The North Street Shop, a tattoo shop on the corner of Barrington Street and Hurd’s Lane, back when the street corner still existed. It was the 1920s and the shop’s dockyard-adjacent location led to a booming business. After the First World War, tattoo artist Charlie Snow joined Baldwin at the shop, and it was later passed down to Sailor Jerry Swallows.
James Forman was the Bank of Nova Scotia’s first cashier, and he worked there from 1832 until 1870, when accountant J.C. Mackintosh discovered that Forman had embezzled $314,967.68. The bank decided not to prosecute, and Forman returned some of the money, then left for London. He died in early 1871.
Ada McCallum owned a brothel located at 51 Hollis Street, which, often boasted long line-ups that extended outside. According to the same story, she took good care of her employees, ensuring that they were safe, fed, and sheltered. She provided the same courtesy to her clients, protecting their names to the point where she would destroy their cheques whenever she thought a police raid might be coming.
One of the first members of the Mi’kmaq community to graduate with a master’s degree in social work, Glode was the executive director of Mi’kmaw Family & Children’s Services in Nova Scotia. Her advocacy work was recognized with a Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, the Order of Canada, and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for public service.
Born in Latvia, Strombergs moved to Canada in 1948, where he taught piano and founded the Halifax Symphonette (which became the Halifax Symphony Orchestra). He also conducted orchestras at the Nova Scotia Opera and the Halifax Ballet Guild before moving on to new things—including the Stratford Festival Theatre Orchestra and the Banff School of Fine Arts.
Chris Doyle, who passed away in April of 2011, was more commonly known as the Clyde Street Pirate. Fondly remembered by the people who passed him every day, Doyle panhandled in front of the Clyde Street NSLC for years. According to an article by Hillary MacDonald, Doyle lost his hearing at the age of three, but taught himself to read lips by watching close-captioned television. He moved to Truro when he met his wife, and worked for a while at Stanfield’s Ltd., but returned to Halifax in 1986. The circumstances that led him to panhandle are unclear, but his perseverance was remarkable.
Frances Gwendolyn Castens
Castens was the great grand-daughter of Samuel Cunard. She made our list simply by being daring enough to wear this incredible Noah’s Ark themed skating costume in public.
Activist Betty Peterson has been advocating for peace since the Second World War. Before moving to Halifax in 1975, she also participated in the Chicago civil rights movement, the Vietnam War protests. Since then, she’s been an active member of the Voice of Women and the Raging Grannies.
Septimus D. Clarke
Born in 1787, Clarke came to Nova Scotia with a group of 2,000 former slaves after the War of 1812. He settled with his family in Preston Township in 1816, where he built a life as a farmer. He also spent years serving his community through organizations like the African Friendly Society and the African Baptist Association.
When Africville was razed, Carvery refused to leave. And except at night, you can usually still find him there, in a trailer with the words “Africville Protest” written in red across sides. For 46 years, Carvery has stood firm, withstanding slurs, development, and even bullets.
Jock William Craig
Craig, born in 1790, was a letter carrier for Halifax’s General Post Office. But he was also a writer who worked under the name “Will the Ranter of Craig Lee”. He once criticized Joseph Howe for becoming a Conservative cabinet minister—and he did it in rhyme. From the Nova Scotia Archives:
What has come o’er our champion Joe
That he has been converted so
Why should he go and join the foe…
Go with the traitors one and a’;
You’ve sold yourself to Ottawa….
This early member of Halifax’s Greek community was a restaurateur, an insurance agent, and the owner of a jewelry business on Spring Garden Road. He was known for helping Greek jewellers get established in the Maritimes.
Journalist Nancy Lubka was the “Women’s Editor” for The 4th Estate, a Halifax newspaper. Her articles included “Freedom Coming Slow for Canadian Women” (May 15, 1969, p. 9) and “Society Has Sick Attitude toward Women” (June 12, 1969, p. 8).
Although his estate was located in Queen’s County, Koretz spent enough time in Halifax to earn honorary Haligonian status. The subject of Dean Jobb’s book, Empire of Deception, Koretz lived large in Nova Scotia under the name Lee Keyte, after robbing investors of US$30 million in Chicago. Eventually, he was found out and arrested at the Halifax Hotel on Nov. 23, 1924.
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.