Before the Public Gardens

What we now call the Public Gardens, the Halifax Common, Halifax, and Nova Scotia are all a part of Mi’kma’ki, or the land of the Mi’kmaq.

Long before there were flower beds, bandstands, and ornate gates, the Mi’kmaq lived here. They hunted the moose, beaver, duck, and trout that lived in the woods, bogs, and ponds of what is now the Halifax Common and the Public Gardens. For example, Ben Morris relates the following about an earlier Ben Morris:

“Old Ben Morris, a blind Micmac [born ca 1818], said that on the Halifax Common, when he was young, there was a quantity of White Pine and Red Oak, and he used to shoot ducks at the Black-duck Pond...” (The Old Man Told Us p. 209).

Here’s another description of the final days of hunting on the Common:

“Mrs. Andrew Paul, of Tufts Cove, Dartmouth, now about 84 years of age [she was born about 1831], says her grandfather Toney trapped beaver with wooden dead-falls at Black-Duck Pond (Egg Pond) on the flat part of the Commons at Halifax, and that afterwards when work was done there remains of Beaver work cuttings were found there, in her own recollection. Her father Joe Toney, who died at age of 102 years, was the last man to kill a Moose on [what is now] the Halifax Common near the Pond” (The Old Man Told Us p. 184). [1]

These accounts capture the utter transformation of Halifax’s ecosystem, human-animal relationships, and human connection to the land. Mrs. Paul’s story recounts the end of a tradition and a way of living—her father, Joe Toney, is, after all, the last man to kill a moose in this area. Black Duck Pond, a life-giving site of sustenance in these accounts, became in the early twentieth century the recreational Egg Pond. (Settler) Haligonians swam, skated, and boated on Egg Pond. In the 1960s, the pond disappeared completely: it was drained and is now part of the Halifax Skate Park (Cameron, Writing the Common p. 18). During the nineteenth century, the Mi’kmaq were pushed out of lands where they had once lived, since Halifax’s growth compromised their food sources like moose, waterfowl, and beaver.

The settlement of Halifax, as with the settlement of Canada more generally, reshaped the land in ways that often ignored indigenous presence and traditions. Or settlement heavily overlaid indigenous culture with European (specifically British in Halifax’s case) ideals of land use and community. Nineteenth-century, and later, descriptions of the cultivated Public Gardens as a source of civic pride are specifically articulations of settler civic success and refinement, as we’ll see in the next landmark


Cameron, Peggy. “Foreword.” Writing the Common. Poetry Commemorating The 250th Anniversary of The Halifax Common, 1763-2013. Gaspereau Press Limited, Kentville, N.S., 2013.

Whitehead, Ruth Holmes. The Old Man Told Us: Excerpts from Micmac History, 1500-1950.  Halifax, N.S. : Nimbus, 1991.

1 Both Ben Morris and Mrs. Andrew Paul relayed their accounts to Mi’kmaw elder Germain Bartlett Alexis [alias Jerry Lonecloud] who then told them to Harry Piers, Nova Scotia Museum curator and historian, in December 1915. These accounts are housed at the Nova Scotia Museum Library, in the Piers papers, and some are published in The Old Man Told Us: Excerpts from Micmac History 1500-1950 by Ruth Holmes Whitehead.

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