Early Halifax History
Nova Scotia was among the early discoveries of the explorer and navigator John Cabot, who claimed Cape Breton for the king of England. France sent Samuel de Champlain to the area in 1604, who first wintered in the area and the next year he founded Port Royal in the Annapolis River valley. The French named the area around the Bay of Fundy “Acadia” the “peaceful land”.
The area changed hands between the French and the English (who named the area “Nova Scotia”, Latin for New Scotland) several times, even after the French built the Fortress of Louisbourg on eastern Cape Breton. In 1758 Louisburg again fell under the leadership of the gallant Wolfe, who then captured Quebec City in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The Treaty of Paris ceded the entire continent of North America to England.
British Colonial Period
The new British governors expelled 10,000 Acadians from the Atlantic colonies in 1753 and again in 1758, mostly to what is now the State of Louisiana, immortalized by the epic poem “Evangeline”. The British under Colonel Edward Cornwallis brought 2500 settlers who founded Halifax along what is now Barrington Street. The settlement was named for Lord Halifax, then president of Britain’s Board of Trade and plantations. By 1752, Dartmouth was settled and ferry system was begun, The harbour was also fortified with several batteries, and the Halifax Citadel was completed in 1856. The British began settling the territory with pro-crown settlers, mostly from Germany, Switzerland, as well as French Protestants, and then Scots. The area filled up with another 25,000 Loyalists who came north after the American Revolution, several thousand American blacks after the War of 1812, and shiploads of Irish between 1815 & 1850.
In 1758, Nova Scotia had it first elected government. Following the 1837 Rebellion, the colonial legislatures were restructured in 1848, when Queen Victoria gave Nova Scotia “responsible” government, with a legislature of elected colonials advising the colony’s Queen-appointed governor.
Halifax was quickly maturing as a community and quickly grew to 50,000 by the early 1900s. In 1802, Saint Mary’s was Halifax’s first university with the founding of Saint Mary’s, with Dalhousie University following in 1818. Samuel Cunard started a Halifax-based shipping empire in 1839, later adding steam-powered ships so he could guarantee timely trans-oceanic delivery of the Royal Mail. In 1842, the City of Halifax was incorporated, electing its first mayor. One of the wealthiest cities in the colonies, Halifax was the birthplace for two of Canada’s biggest financial institutions: the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia (in 1832).
By 1861, Nova Scotians approved joining a union of the North American Provinces, followed by the 1864 Charlottetown Conference that led to the formation of Canada on July 1st, 1867 under the British North America Act. The new nation included New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Upper Canada, and Lower Canada, with PEI joining in 1873, and Newfoundland much later, in 1949.
In 1876, a new railway connected Nova Scotia to Central Canada, and an 1881 provincial rail line connected major towns. Ocean-going trade and shipbuilding boomed in Yarmouth and Halifax. Coal mining near Springhill and Amherst helped to power the new steam ships. Following the1913 sinking of the Titanic nearby, many bodies were buried in Halifax.
During the First World War (then called “the Great War”), Halifax was the assembly point for shipping convoys, which enabled the navy to protect trans-Atlantic shipping form the fleets of German submarines (U-boats). The Halifax Explosion occurred December 6, 1917 when the French Steamship “Mont Blanc” and the Belgian Steamer “Imo”, carrying 400,000 pounds of TNT, collided in the Halifax Harbour, caught fire, and exploded killing 1900 people instantly, and injuring over 9000 and destroying 1600 buildings. It was the largest man-made explosion in history, prior to the atomic era, and was felt and heard in Sydney, Cape Bretton, 420 km away.