50 more things you don’t know about Halifax

At least one person in City Hall had a sense of humour in 1979. When Dartmouth city clerk Neil Cohoon retired on June 20 of that year, someone filed a fake set of council minutes along with the real minutes for the day’s meeting. According to the alternate minutes, council proposed that a missile-launching site be set up on Lawlor’s Island, “with missile pads aimed at City Hall.”
Halifax is a treasure trove of weird-but-true trivia. Back by popular demand, here are 50 more unbelievable, remarkable, and strange things you don’t know about Halifax.

Business Beginnings

1. In the late 1800s, Dartmouth’s Starr Manufacturing was one of the world’s top producers of ice skates.
2. Samuel Cunard was the first merchant to purchase tea directly from Canton, China. In 1826, he put 6,517 chests of tea up for sale in his Halifax warehouse.
3. In 1926, marine biologist Archibald Gowanlock Huntsman invented fast-frozen fish fillets. At the time, he was Director of the Fisheries Experimental Station in Halifax.
4. Haligonian William Piggot opened the first licensed coffee house in Canada on April 8, 1751. It was located on Argyle Street, close to Blowers Street.
5. In 1960, the Nova Scotia Technical College on Spring Garden Road became one of only three locations with the new “electronic brain”, a computation device used for mathematical or technical calculations. It was a Royal McBee (LGP 30) computer.

Odds & Ends

6. Haligonian Peter Cox was Halifax’s Town Crier, serving from 1974 until 2008.
7. The Mi’kmaq people originally called the Dartmouth area Boonamoogwaddy.
8. In the 1980s, Halifax held an annual Mardi Gras celebration that, at its peak, attracted over 40,000 people. In a 1990 council report, Alderman Fitzgerald stated that the event was simply a “drunken brawl.”
9. In 1900, the Halifax Crescents became the first team from Atlantic Canada to play for the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Shamrocks won the two-game series, played in Montreal, 10-2 and 11-0.

Language & Literature

10. “Haligonian” is formed from the Latin “Haligonia.” Historians suggest that Thomas Chandler Haliburton coined and popularized the term around the 1850s.
11. Thomas Chandler Haliburton also invented a number of popular expressions, including “barking up the wrong tree”, “early bird gets the worm,” and “facts are stranger than fiction.” These expressions were introduced through his Sam Slick character, who featured regularly in Joseph Howe’s newpaper, The Novascotian.
12. Harold “Hal” Rudolf Foster became known as “the father of adventure comic strips,” when he created the Prince Valiant strip, which debuted in 1937.
13. The first trade bookstore in Canada was the Wesleyan Book Room, later known as simply The Book Room. The store opened in 1839 and closed in 2008.

Hometown Heroes

14. 1936 Olympic bronze medalist Aileen Meagher was also a teacher at St. Patrick’s High School. Her dual career earned her a nickname: the “Flying Schoolmarm.”
15. Dartmouth’s Flying Officer Allan Selwyn Bundy was the first black Nova Scotian combat pilot to fly with a frontline RCAF squadron. He flew 42 operational missions in Europe during the Second World War.
16. Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney embarked on Canada’s first cross-country road trip on August 27, 1912. They reached Vancouver in 52 days.
17. Anna Leonowens, former teacher to the King of Siam and subject of The King and I, was a patron of the Victoria School of Art and Design (now NSCAD).

City Hall Oddities

18. In 1939, a woman wrote Mayor Walter Mitchell a letter, asking for his help in finding a suitable partner. He posted a notice in the Halifax Mail, making eligible bachelors aware of her availability.
19. In 1918, an angry mob swarmed City Hall and pushed a police vehicle into the harbour—all because a drunken soldier was arrested.
20. Dalhousie University used to sit on the land where City Hall is now. Some of the university’s timber and stones were used to build City Hall.

Bizarre By-laws

21. A 1961 bylaw stated that anyone who wanted to raise, collect, or solicit money had to be approved by City Council. It has since been repealed.
22. A 1893 ordinance stated that no one could “ride, drive, lead, or back any horse, cart, waggon, sled, sleigh, handcart, wheelbarrow, bycicle, trycicle, or velocipede” on a sidewalk, unless the sidewalk had to be crossed in order to park the vehicle.
23. The same 1893 ordinance stated that no one “shall put up or exhibit any pictures of the human form in a nude or semi-nude state or in what is known as ‘tights’.”
24. A 1921 ordinance stated that, from May to September, barbershops had to remain closed from 12:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
25. A 1927 ordinance ordered citizens to purchase bicycle licenses, for a fee of $1.00.

Street Names

26. Argyle Street was originally named after the Duke of Argyll, Archibald Campbell.
27. The southern part of Brunswick Street was often referred to as “Knock ‘em down Street” because of the frequent fights outside the nearby brothels and taverns.
28. Young Avenue was named for Sir William Young. His will provided $8,000 to complete the road.
29. Tower Road was named after the Prince of Wales Tower in Point Pleasant Park. British forces built it in 1796 to protect Halifax from French attacks.
30. Sir Sandford Fleming once had a cottage on Dingle Road. Dingle is the Old English word for “forest dell.”

Remarkable Buildings

31. The north part of the Rona building on Robie Street was The Nova Scotia Cotton Manufacturing Company, built in 1882.
32. Bellevue Mansion was once the headquarters of the General Officer commanding Halifax. It’s now the site of the Halifax Central Library.
33. The 930 Young Avenue mansion was commissioned by tobacco merchant Rudolph Alexander Hobrecker in 1901. It was inspired by his family’s castle in Germany.
34. The former home of Melville Prison’s warden still exists today, as part of the Armdale Yacht Club.
35. 1260 Blenheim Terrace was once owned by Sir Sandford Fleming, “the Father of Standard Time”. He earned the name by inventing the world’s time zone system.
36. In 1862, the Halifax Club purchased its Hollis Street land for $8,000.

Famous Visitors

37. When Charles Dickens attended the opening of Halifax’s Legislative Assembly in 1842, he remarked, in a letter to an acquaintance, that it was “like looking at Westminster through the wrong end of a telescope.”
38. Lovelorn Adele Hugo, daughter of Victor Hugo, followed English army officer Albert Pinson to Halifax in 1863. She spent her time in Halifax living on Barrington Street.
39. The statue of Winston Churchill commemorates the British Prime Minister’s visit to Halifax during the Second World War. It was unveiled on January 20, 1980.
40. Julie de St-Laurent was the mistress of Edward, the Duke of Kent. Julie’s Walk, Prince’s Lodge, and the music rotunda beside the Bedford Highway, are all part of the estate the Duke built for her.
41. John Taylor-Wood, commander of the CSS Tallahassee, stopped in Halifax during the U.S. Civil War. When the war ended, he returned to live in Halifax.

Halifax Ghost Stories

42. “Double Alex” was a soldier who was stationed on Sambro Island. He hanged himself there years ago, and was rumoured to haunt the lighthouse. The lens from the lighthouse was moved to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. By coincidence, when Double Alex’s name was mentioned during a tour, a pane of glass shattered in a nearby exhibit.
43. It’s rumoured that a little ghost girl accompanies tours of the Halifax Citadel. A number of visitors have reported feeling the sensation of a small child was holding their hand as they toured the grounds.
44. There’s a life-sized marble statue of Captain James Augustus Farquhar in the Maritime Museum. For years, staff members have claimed that they can smell his pipe smoke in the hallway.
45. The Moxon children died from cholera in 1888 and were buried under wooden crosses. Their parents saved for and purchased a proper headstone, but were killed in the Halifax Explosion before they could place it. The gravestone is now in the Maritime Museum and, legend has it, that the children now haunt the museum.

Maritime Lore

46. In 1797, an unexpected gale pushed HMS Tribune onto the rocks of Herring Cove. 13-year-old Joe Cracker saved two of the 14 survivors.
47. The tugboat Erg sank three times in the Halifax Harbour: once during the Halifax Explosion, again after being rammed by a Norwegian freighter, and one final time after being towed into the Bedford Basin.
48. When the SS Atlantic ran aground near Prospect (en route to Halifax) on April 1, 1873, 371 of the 933 passengers survived. But when a group of survivors reached Halifax, officials initially dismissed their tale as an April Fool’s joke.

Untimely Deaths

49. Griffin’s Pond in the Public Gardens is named after an Irishman who was accused of murder and hanged.
50. In 1891, a Halifax district tax collector tried to collect taxes from a man named George Roma. His notes read: “Killed by bull. Can’t collect this.”
Writer’s note: It’s difficult to put together an article of this kind without a lot of help from knowledgeable, expert sources. Thanks to everyone who helped.
• Richard S. MacMichael, Senior Heritage Interpreter, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic: museum.gov.ns.ca/mmanew/en/home/default.aspx
• Joanne McCarthy O’Leary, Local History and Geneology Librarian and the Reference Department at Spring Garden Road Memorial Public Library, Halifax Public Libraries: www.halifaxpubliclibraries.ca
• Albert Lee, Research Associate at the Gorsebrook Research Institute for Atlantic Canada Studies, Saint Mary’s University: www.smu.ca/administration/gorsebrook/. Facts were found in Halifax: Sights of the City.
• Susan McClure, Archivist, HRM Municipal Archives: www.halifax.ca/archives/
• Barry Copp, illustrator, graphic designer, and amateur historian
The source for Number 9 is the book Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing) by Halifax Magazine editor Trevor J. Adams.
Number 34 was found on the Halifax Club website (www.halifaxclub.ns.ca).
Original sources can be provided upon request.
CORRECTION: Due to a fact-checking error, item #16 above originally gave an incorrect date for Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney’s departure. The version above is correct. 

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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