No city in Canada was closer to the front lines of battle in 1942 than Halifax, Nova Scotia. But Halifax, like the rest of the country, was unprepared for a long war and the city struggled to cope with the heavy demand placed on her housing stock and municipal services. In one respect, Halifax was ready: the massive federal investment in new piers and rail facilities, begun before the First World War, enabled the port to accommodate huge British battleships and passenger liners converted into troopships. Her commodious harbour provided safe haven from German U-boats to hundreds of Allied merchantmen. But on the domestic front, Halifax could not even begin to manage the effects of a 70% rise in population in less than two years. Few industrial jobs, limited housing construction, a very high transient population, and a reluctance on the part of the federal government to accept responsibility for local problems all contributed to Halifax having a "rather uncomfortable rail seat at the spectacle of war."
--quotation from "Gateway to the World", film produced by the Nova Scotia Department of Industry and Publicity, 1946.
En 1942, aucune ville du Canada n'etait aussi proche du front que Halifax, en Nouvelle-Ecosse. Pourtant Halifax, pas plus que le reste du pays, n'etait prete a soutenir une longue guerre, et la ville avait beaucoup de mai a satisfaire la lourde demande en logements et en services municipaux. Par contre, son port etait pret. En effet l'enorme investissement national dans la construction de nouvelles jetees et installations ferrovaires, commencee avant la premiere guerre mondiale, permit a Halifax d'accueillir les enormes navires de guerre britanniques et les paquebots affectes au transport des troupes. Son vaste port offrait un asile sur aux containes de navires marchands allies, menaces par les sous-marins allemands. Mais la ville de Halifax etait completement depassee par l'accroissement de sa population (70%) en moins de deux ans. Le peu d'emplois dans l'industrie, le ralentissement de la construction de logements, l'extreme mobilite de la population et le peu d'empressement du gouvemement federal a assumer la responsabilite des problemes locaux firent que Halifax "eut un role difficile a jouer sur la scene de la guerre".
--Citation tiree de "Gateway to the World", un film realise par le ministere de l'industrie et de la publicite de la Nouvelle-Ecosse, en 1946.
(The Native Speaks)
I do not think of Halifax With great ships at her feet, But only of a leafy lane, A garden gay and neat. Only of bright sails skimming The waters of the Arm, Of April-blooming dogwood, October's vibrant charm. I see no mighty fortress With stern face to the foe, But just an old and quiet town Wrapped in December snow. For Halifax is cobbled streets, And tall trees in a park. And thin mist blown by salty winds, A foghorn through the dark. And all the cherished things that warm The heart, remembering still The grey and patient city Beneath its ancient hill. (1)
This quaint portrait evokes an urban landscape far removed from the rough and sometimes disorderly bustle of a seaport and garrison town. Poetic licence is compounded by a twofold irony: these verses appeared in 1949, in the wake of a period during which Halifax faced its greatest wartime challenge. The military presence so obviously downplayed here was more pervasive in the preceding decade than it had ever been in the city's 200-year history. Second, the author was Agnes Foley Macdonald, wife of Canada's wartime Minister of National Defence for Naval Services, Angus L. Macdonald. Few observers were more ideally positioned to celebrate the role Halifax played in the Royal Canadian Navy's maturation into a battle-hardened fighting service. Yet the author chose to express the ambivalence felt by many Haligonians toward the military in general, the Navy in particular, and the changes wrought by a long and difficult war. The stated accent on a tranquil past rather than the use of realistic images of the city may simply reflect the poetess's insulated social position. However, it also serves to introduce questions about how enduring the impact of the war had been. This article examines the physical and social impact of the Second World War on Halifax, and explores the strained relationship between community identity and the role Halifax was expected to play as Canada's foremost military base. It proposes that the war had modest lasting effects on the city. There was considerable continuity in its development.
The social structure and urban character of Halifax were cast in the mold of an eighteenth century outpost of British sea power. By the end of the nineteenth century, the urban-military matrix which had directed the course of urban development since 1749 was beginning to break down. After imperial forces withdrew in 1905, Halifax began to search for an alternative role for itself within a continental economic framework. The quest failed because Halifax never succeeded in overcoming its locational disadvantages. Instead, the city became a regional entrepot while continuing to maintain traditional trade linkages with Europe and the Caribbean. In the interwar period, the state of Canadian military preparedness was influenced by both international convention and domestic economic conditions, neither of which induced federal authorities to upgrade or even maintain the elaborate harbour defence and dockyard complex built by the British nearly a century before.
The Second World War necessitated …