Top 5 Walks to Discover Hidden Halifax History

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Blog written by Stephen Cushing

In Halifax, there is no shortage of history to explore. Some of the oldest structures in our region include St. Paul’s Church, the Little Dutch Church and the Sambro Island Lighthouse. The Halifax Public Libraries website has great resources for those looking to learn more about Halifax’s history. For the adventure-inclined, there are hidden examples of culture and built history that you won’t find in a tourist brochure.

  1. Granville Mall, Halifax, NS

The stone, concrete and cast-iron facades that front the Granville Mall typify how successful Halifax was as a commercial leader in the late 1800s. The hidden history here is how this streetscape has changed in the last 150 years. The Great Halifax Fire of 1859 destroyed 60 buildings downtown, including much of this streetscape. In place of wooden buildings, Italianate, Romanesque, Gothic and Norman styles of architecture with improved building standards were used.

  1. The hidden graves of Spring Garden Road, Halifax, NS 

There are many things that make Halifax unique, including the number of cemeteries in our city. In the 1700s, many less wealthy people were buried in unmarked graves after passing. One of these cemeteries is underneath the St. Mary’s Basilica parking lot, where around 2,000 people are buried. Across the street at the old Halifax Central Library, roughly 800 bodies of the poor and unclaimed lay to rest underneath the park on the corner of Grafton Street and Spring Garden Road. This cemetery dates back to the 1700s and 1800s. Given our age as a historic city, there are bound to be more unmarked cemeteries like these.

  1. Cole Harbour Heritage Park Trails, Cole Harbour, NS

One of the most well-traveled trails in our region, the Cole Harbour Heritage Park trails, are rich with natural and cultural history. Looping 12 kilometers, they pass coastal, forested and meadow landscapes, often revealing wildlife. Most people don’t know that this property was formerly the home of the Halifax County Poor Farm, established in 1887. When you visit, you will see remnant building foundations, old apple orchards, and gravestones of about 300 people. The trail head is accessed at 256 Bisset Road in Cole Harbour. The closest Halifax Transit route is the #59, which involves some walking to the trail head. More information is available from on the Halifax website.

  1. Deadman’s Island, Halifax, NS

You may have passed this picturesque place on your way around the Northwest Arm without even noticing. This park (which is actually a peninsula) has historic connections to the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. During all of the above conflicts, prisoners were held and transported through this island to a nearby jail on Melville Island. The bodies of French, Spanish and Americans were buried on Deadman’s Island. Since the early 1900s, Deadman’s Island has changed ownership and has been used as an amusement park, a pleasure park, a municipal park and memorial. Every year, a ceremony is held to remember the nearly 200 American Prisoners of War that are buried in the park. It can be accessed off of Pinehaven Drive off of Purcell’s Cove Road. The #20 bus will bring you close to the park entrance on Purcell’s Cove Road.

  1. Mi’kmaq Petroglyph, Bedford, NS

The Mi’kmaq First Nation has lived in Nova Scotia for thousands of years. They have expressed and passed down their culture and stories in a number of ways, including art and carvings. Believe it or not, rock carvings dating back to the early 1500s are hidden in a park between suburban developments in Bedford! So, why are these carvings unique? The patterns were cut with stone tools, predating European tools made of steel. These are the earliest remaining examples of carvings by the Mi’kmaq people. The eight-pointed star, found as a carving in this park, is a well know symbol in Mi’kmaq hieroglyphics as representing the sun. These petroglyphs are recognized as a National Historic Site. For more information and directions to this site, see the Parks Canada webpage.