Welcome to Halifax Literary Landmarks!

L.M. Montgomery, the Prince Edward Island author of Anne of Green Gables (1908). Charles Dickens, a novelist best known for his London work, including Oliver Twist (1837-9) and Great Expectations (1860-1). John William Robertson, a formerly enslaved Black Loyalist born in Virginia, who wrote a slave narrative, The Book of the Bible Against Slavery (1854). Alice Jones, who explored Canadian topics and changing social norms, like the emergence of the “New Woman,” in her writing.

What do these disparate individuals have in common? Well, they are all, in fact, writers with a connection to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Montgomery was a student at Halifax’s Dalhousie College and later a journalist in the city; she chronicled her experiences of the city in her journal and fictionalized them in her novel, Anne of the Island (1915). Dickens came to Halifax on a literary tour, describing the city, including his arrival in the harbour, in his American Notes (1842). Robertson, found refuge from American slavery in Halifax, publishing his slave narrative here. He was one of the thousands of formerly enslaved people who escaped to Nova Scotia from the United States, many of whom landed in Halifax. Some Black Loyalists like Robertson, Boston King, and David George wrote about their experiences, including the harsh conditions that met them in Nova Scotia. Jones was the Halifax-born daughter of the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, and the city often figures in her fiction, including, for example, Halifax blockade-runners in her American Civil War adventure, The Night-Hawk: A Romance of the ‘60s (1901).

This project, Halifax Literary Landmarks, offers snapshots of such different accounts of the city. These snapshots—what we’re calling landmarks—are focused either around an author, like L.M. Montgomery; a text such as her novel, Anne of the Island, based in a fictional Halifax; or a theme/topic like ghostly apparitions in the Old Burying Ground.

Landmarks are also arranged geographically into tours. Right now, you can tour the Public Gardens—with some references to the wider Halifax Common that the Gardens were carved out of—and the Old Burying Ground, which includes two stops in the nineteenth-century Grafton Street Park, now long gone. Landmarks and tours relating to the Northwest Arm, the Harbour, and Point Pleasant Park will be added soon. Other parts of the website include an overview of the Mi’kmaq’s relationships to Kuowa’qamikt (“Place of white pine; white pine forest”), the place now usually known as Halifax (specifically the peninsula), and to the Mi’kmaq’s many ways of making sense of and communicating information about this land (see the Mi'kmaw Place Names Digital Atlas for place name's definitions, orthography, and pronunciation). There is also a Sources section overviewing the texts we cite and consulted in the making of the project, while the Further Reading page (coming soon!) will include a list of Halifax-related reading organized by genre (including children’s books, young adult writing, fiction, poetry, various forms of non-fiction). A Storytellers’ Bios section (also coming soon) will include biographical information about the storytellers and writers included in this project. Finally, the Acknowledgements page thanks and credits the many, many people who made this project possible.

This project’s landmarks highlight stories of Halifax’s green spaces: the Public Gardens, the Old Burying Ground, the Northwest Arm, the Harbour, and Point Pleasant Park. Green spaces encompass “bodies of water or areas of vegetation in a landscape, such as forests and wilderness areas, street trees and parks, gardens and backyards, geological formations, farmland, coastal areas and food crops,” as defined by Lucy Taylor and Dieter F. Hochuli. Urban green spaces have an important role to play in the present era of environmental degradation and climate change. In the twenty-first century, over 80% of Canadians live in urban or suburban spaces, so ecological challenges in cities impact most Canadians directly, while urban Canadians’ behaviours have a profound impact on the environment. Many urbanists and urban planners believe that cities can offer cultural ‘fixes,’ helping to solve the social, political, and ecological challenges that plague the planet, as described by urban sociologist Kevin Loughran. By, for example, improving urban air quality, reducing flooding, and developing safe, public recreational spaces, cities—including their green spaces—can counteract challenges like public health crises, climate change, and inequitable access to safe, healthy spaces; in other words, “new parks and other green spaces…will help cities save the planet” (Loughran p. 4; see also work by Robert D. Brown, et al. and Dorceta E. Taylor). Urban green spaces can improve individuals’ and community’s health and well-being, as well as encourage interest in and action on ecological issues more broadly; after all, “cities are where most twenty-first century people learn their love of nature and their desire to care for nature,” as Ashton Nichols states (p. 78).

Urban green spaces’ capacity to fix a whole range of (sometimes perceived) social ills goes back at least to eighteenth-century London and motivated the first generation of American urban planners in the nineteenth century (as outlined by Henry Lawrence in “The Greening of the Squares of London: Transformation of Urban Landscapes and Ideals” and Loughran in “Urban Parks and Urban Problems: An Historical Perspective on Green Space Development as a Cultural Fix”). For example, the most desirable homes of London’s wealthy West End were built on garden squares, which, increasingly through the eighteenth century, became privatized with railings and trees to keep people and behaviours that did not “belong” in these neighbourhoods out. The increasingly green squares became exclusive extensions of affluent domesticity.

Parks and other green spaces are not innocent then but have been used as a form of social control, including along class, gender, and race lines. Questions of where parks are built, who has access to them, and what kinds of activities are allowed in these green spaces evolve. The power dynamics and cultural norms of particular times and places are reflected in and propagated through green space development and governance. At the same time, citizens have used urban parks and other green spaces as places to exert political agency and build community—Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, an open-air site for public debate and discussion, and treed Zuccotti Park in New York City where Occupy Wall Street began in 2011 are two examples. Green spaces are often used in ways that aren’t predicted by or desirable to the politicians, urban planners, architects, and developers who design, create, and officially control them. And, of course, parks are places of fun, recreation, and leisure, with activities like music, sports, and picnics often a feature.

Urban parks then are complex beasts, and have been analyzed across academic disciplines (including geography, sociology, urban studies). Given their evolution over time, it’s clear “that history matters” when thinking about green spaces (Loughran p. 5). Parks have national, civic, and personal histories. This project provides some ways into the history of Halifax’s green spaces, focusing mainly on the period between 1749 and 1914. In 1749, Halifax was established as a British town; the Mi’kmaq who had lived here for thousands of years, were pushed to the urban edges because of violence, disease, and diminishing resources. Bogs, trees, rivers, and ponds began to give way to streets and buildings, utterly transforming this land and leading to the city, and its green spaces, we know today. The project ends before World War I, which thrust port city Halifax onto the world stage, as wars had done many times before. WWI transformed the city yet again. Halifax Harbour was busy with ships, ultimately with tragic consequences, when in December 1917, the SS Imo collided with the explosives-laden SS Mont Blanc, causing a blast that killed 2, 000 people, injured 9,000, and destroyed almost everything with a 800-metre radius, including the entire working-class town of Richmond and the Mi’kmaw community of Tufts Cove. The Halifax Explosion has generated its own literary responses and could easily comprise its own project of the present kind. Literary responses to the War and Explosion came later—Barometer Raising, Hugh MacLennan’s great Halifax novel of this event, was published in 1941. While some texts featured in this project were published during WWI, they are looking back at a pre-war, pre-Explosion city, before these great physical and social changes.

This project aims to recuperate these earlier stories and experiences. In the twenty-first century, many writers are chronicling urban life in Atlantic Canada. For example, in 2011, Laura Kenins described “a new breed of writer—and publisher—,” who “is telling contemporary, urban tales set in and around Halifax.” This project, Halifax Literary Landmarks, shares the longer history of Halifax’s urban tales and literary/artistic culture. In some cases, these literary landmarks share the perspectives of people who had official roles in shaping Halifax’s green spaces, like politician Joseph Howe, but mostly they share stories from people whose everyday lives as local citizens or whose journeys as travellers or tourists touched one of Halifax’s parks, graveyards, or bodies of water. This project includes the stories and voices of men and women; of professionals (writers, politicians) and everyday citizens; of British, Mi’kmaw, and African Nova Scotians; of historical figures and fictional characters. The sources go far beyond the literary emphasis of the project’s title, and relationships with Halifax are explored through fiction, poetry, journalism, memoir, and craft/handiwork. Literary, and other artistic, texts reveal personal relationships with the city, how people have thought and felt about, imagined, cared for, and been inspired by places like the harbour, the arm, the park.

Some of these featured writers, like Montgomery and Dickens, are well known, although their connections to this city may be less obvious. Others are worth learning about. Mary Jane (Lawson) Katzmann, for example, was born in Preston, Nova Scotia and later married a Halifax merchant. By age 24, she was the editor of a literary periodical, Provincial, or Halifax Monthly Magazine, and later ran the Provincial Bookstore in Halifax; “evidence indicates that she was an astute and capable businesswoman,” according to her biographer Lois K. Kernaghan. Katzmann was also a local historian and writer, winning the Thomas Beamish Akins Historical Prize from King’s College, Windsor, in 1887 for her History of the Townships of Dartmouth, Preston and Lawrencetown, Halifax County, N.S. Another fascinating nineteenth-century Halifax woman is Marie-Christiane Paul, a Mi’kmaw craftsperson, who skillfully made and decorated canoes, snowshoes, basketry, quillwork, beadwork, and costumes, winning prizes at the 1854 provincial exhibition. She did all this while caring for a terminally ill husband, managing their home and livestock, and raising their two adopted children. Paul was well-known and connected in Halifax society. She and her husband lived in various greater Halifax locations: Dartmouth, Chocolate Lake, and on the Northwest Arm’s western side (Whitehead, Ancestral Images pp. 46-7).

These are two examples of the people you’ll meet and the stories you’ll hear in these literary landmarks. Halifax Literary Landmarks does not aim to be comprehensive but aims to give snapshots of compelling people, stories, and voices from the city’s history. Hopefully, the landmarks inspire further reading, exploration, and research.

-Dr. Kate Scarth / UPEI / November 2019


Brown Robert D., Jennifer Vanos, Natasha Kenny, and Sanda Lenzholzer. “Designing Urban Parks that Ameliorate the Effects of Climate Change.” Landscape and Urban Planning 138 (2015): pp. 118-131.

Clarke. George Elliott. Fire on the Water: An Anthology of Black Nova Scotian Writing. Vol. 1, Pottersfield Press, 1991. 

___. “‘This is no hearsay’: Reading the Canadian Slave Narratives.Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 43.1 (2005): pp. 7-32.

Davies, Gwendolyn. “Alice Jones.” TheCanadianEncyclopedia.ca, 2008. 

Kenins, Laura. “Halifax Fiction.” TheCoast.ca, 2011. 

Kernaghan, Lois K. “Katzmann, Mary Jane (Lawson).” Biographi.ca, 1982-2019. 

Lawrence, Henry W. “The Greening of the Squares of London: Transformation of Urban Landscapes and Ideals.Annals of the Association of American Geographers 83.1 (1993): pp. 90-118.

Loughran, Kevin. “Urban Parks and Urban Problems: An Historical Perspective on Green Space Development as a Cultural Fix.” Urban Studies (2018): pp. 1-18. 

"Kuowa’qamikt." Mi'kmaw Place Names. mikmawplacenames.ca, 2019. 

Nichols, B. Ashton. Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism: Toward Urbanatural Roosting. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011.

Taylor, Dorceta E. The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s–1900s: Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

Taylor, Lucy and Dieter F. Hochuli. “Defining Green-Space: Multiple Uses across Multiple Disciplines.” Landscape and Urban Planning 158 (2017): pp. 25-38.

Turcotte, Martin. “Life in Metropolitan Areas.” Statistics Canada – Government of Canada, 150.statcan.gc.ca, 2014.

Whitehead, Ruth Holmes. Nɨniskamijinaqik - Ancestral Images: The Mi’kmaq in Art and Photography. Halifax: Nimbus, 2015.

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