Nova Scotia Archives

'An East Coast Port': Halifax in Wartime, 1939-1945

William D. (Bill) Naftel is a long-time resident of Halifax and the author of two recent books focussing on the city: Halifax At War: Searchlights, Squadrons and Submarines 1939-1945 (Halifax, 2008) and Prince Edward's Legacy: The Duke of Kent in Halifax: Romance and Beautiful Buildings (Halifax, 2005). After attending the University of King's College and Dalhousie University, Bill began employment in 1963 at the (then) Public Archives of Canada in Ottawa, transferring subsequently to Parks Canada. The remainder of his working career, first in Ottawa and eventually in Halifax, was spent supporting the Parks programme, with research on a variety of topics from 19th century ranching in the Canadian west to canal transportation, and ending up as Chief of History for the Atlantic Region.

Wherever possible in the text below, discussion of specific locations, individuals or events has been linked directly to corresponding photographs or digitized records featured elsewhere on this Website.

'An East Coast Port' At War, 1939-1945

Let's step back and visualize for a moment the old city of Halifax and its neighbours as they appeared in the summer of 1939..... For 190 years the vast harbour known to the Mi'kmaq as Chebucto, and to the English as Bedford Basin, had sheltered Great Britain's Royal Navy — and latterly, since 1910, the untested ships of Canada's own fledgling Royal Canadian Navy. The harbour was a busy place even before the outbreak of war — there were no container facilities or suspension bridges yet, but a steady traffic of ocean-going vessels, coastal traders, harbour ferries and the remnants of the age of sail provided plenty of activity for the observant and curious.

On a high rocky peninsula forming the western side of the channel connecting Bedford Basin to the open Atlantic lay the provincial capital, Halifax, established in 1749 as a counterpoint to the then French base at Louisbourg — and since 1759, home to HMC Dockyard, a sprawling establishment strung out along the shoreline just north of the centre of town. The downtown business district, with Barrington and Gottingen Streets as the main commercial thoroughfares, was dominated by Fort George or 'The Citadel,' a relic from Halifax's days as a British army garrison.

Facing Halifax across the harbour was the town of Dartmouth; in 1939 it supported its own healthy economic and industrial base and was not yet quite a satellite of its larger neighbour. Ten miles north at the head of the basin lay Bedford; fading in its role as a summer resort, it was just beginning to explore a new future as a bedroom community, encouraged by its position on the Canadian National Railway's commuter rail service from Windsor Junction, and by the glamorous new concrete highway into Halifax.

The withdrawal of British forces after 1906 and the consequent loss of identity as an Imperial outpost and garrison city was a psychological and economic shock to which, in 1939, Halifax was still adjusting. A brief boom during World War I brought some relief, but when that faded away the local economy was left to struggle through the 'Roaring Twenties' and into the 'Dirty Thirties'. By 1939 the city was tired, faded and perhaps in search of a new identity.

Many of the neighbourhoods which made up the city of Halifax were slightly seedy — it was a seaport after all — but for those with income and family connections, it was a comfortable enough place in which to live. It was less attractive for those without income and connections. Like everywhere else, the social safety net then was a grudging, intrusive and parsimonious combination of public and private charity, stretched thin by both ideology and demand. Halifax had more than its share of slum housing, especially through the downtown waterfront; in the outlying communities of Beechville, Africville and Preston, de facto racial segregation had isolated African Nova Scotians of all economic grades.

Part of this website features a virtual tour of the city's modest urban fabric and its equally modest local services, as they appeared just before World War II. Notable among them were a shaky municipal water supply system for the peninsula of Halifax; electrical services for both the city and region, generated by the privately owned Nova Scotia Light & Power, which also supplied coal gas to many homes, distributed through a network of underground pipes; and an urban street railway, also operated by NSL&P, which by 1939 was overdue for major capital investment in renewed equipment and extended trackage.

The city's ornaments were its fine parks — Point Pleasant and the Public Gardens on the peninsula; Sir Sandford Fleming Park ('The Dingle') on the North West Arm; and a series of lakes behind Dartmouth that provided unparalleled winter and summer recreation, while at the same time supplying ice for ice boxes throughout Halifax, Dartmouth and beyond (the modern electric refrigerator was rare back then).

For just a few days in June 1939, this little world on the periphery of Atlantic Canada shimmered like a mirage.....before disappearing forever. The Royal Visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada and the United States in May and June lifted the entire country into temporary euphoria, and Halifax was their next-to-final stop. The gleaming white Empress of Britain sailed away in summer sunshine, carrying the King and Queen onward to Newfoundland (then a separate Dominion) and home to Great Britain, while thousands waved and sang goodbye along the shoreline.

It was the last hurrah. The faint hope of peace inspired by the Munich Agreement of 1938 vanished within months. On 1 September 1939, Germany, expecting nothing but hot air from Britain and France, moved into Poland. To Hitler's annoyance the two European powers objected strenuously after all, and on 3 September World War II began. It was not altogether a surprise. Quietly, the Canadian Navy had already begun to set up a local war infrastructure, while for months the RCMP and Nova Scotia Light & Power had been making thoughtful preparations to protect essential services from possible sabotage or outright attack.

To make a constitutional point, the Dominion of Canada under Prime Minister Mackenzie King's Liberal administration did not declare war officially until 10 September; unofficially, however, Canada was moving in lockstep with Britain's preparations from the very beginning. At the end of August, anticipating the worst, local army and militia Reserves were called up and sent to garrison the old Imperial harbour forts, which still ringed the Halifax-Dartmouth shoreline from the Dockyard out to the harbour entrance. Most of the RCN's small Pacific fleet hotfooted it through the Panama Canal and around to Halifax, where the action would be. By the time they arrived in mid-September, Britain's Royal Navy under Rear-Admiral Stuart Bonham-Carter was established in HMC Dockyard to co-ordinate the western end of what would be the vital sea-lane to Britain — just like the good old days before 1906.

'The Battle of the Atlantic', as it was known and is still remembered, began with the departure on Saturday, 16 September 1939, of Convoy HX 1 from Halifax. Germany's decision to try and starve Britain into submission, particularly after German forces had seized most of continental Europe by the spring of 1940, turned the entire North Atlantic into a battlefront. 'Wolf packs' of submarines ('U-boats') and initially a few surface raiders such as the famous Bismarck sought to strangle traffic on the shipping lanes, which after the fall of Europe were Britain's only source of supply for everything from military hardware to building materials to food. Anything that moved on the surface of the ocean was fair game for German torpedoes, and until 1943 it looked as if those torpedoes might win.

This struggle for control of the sea lanes — 'The Battle of the Atlantic' — lasted until the very end of the war. For purposes of security and defence, dozens of vessels were collected together at strategically-located embarkation points like Halifax, where they were loaded with troops, munitions and supplies, and then sailed east to their destination port in huge groups, or convoys, stretching across miles of ocean. These flotillas were accompanied by naval escort vessels armed with both guns and underwater depth charges, and as time went on, by small aircraft carriers and long-range aircraft patrols.

There were convoy routes all over the world — to the Mediterranean, the Far East and Australia, and to Russia via the northern port of Murmansk. Most convoys assembled in Halifax, however, sailed to destinations in Great Britain, or undertook the lengthy and very dangerous 'Murmansk Run.' Under this relentless pressure, the Royal Canadian Navy — untested at the beginning of the war — pulled itself together with remarkable speed; within two years it had asserted itself sufficiently to claim ascendancy in its eastern home-port, and was well on its way to becoming a power on the North Atlantic.

Until the United States entered the war in December 1941, Halifax — the terminus of the transcontinental main line for freight and passengers and the closest large Canadian port to Great Britain — was the principal North American assembly and staging point for supporting the war effort overseas. Even after American cities such as Boston and New York took over leading roles, Halifax's fine harbour, its proximity to the main ocean shipping lanes, and its well-established naval and marine facilities guaranteed that the city remained critically important, right to the end.

Although local residents were well aware of these constant comings and goings, and the city was full of the merchant sailors and naval ratings who manned the convoys, it was officially forbidden to talk about them or their cargoes. Indeed, until war's end, none but those directly involved were aware, for example, that billions of dollars of British, French and Norwegian state gold reserves had flowed across the ocean to Halifax, where they were immediately unloaded and transhipped several hundred feet to waiting trains, then hauled off for safekeeping in bank vaults in Ottawa and New York City.

To all this and much more, the citizens of the mysterious 'Canadian Eastern Coast Port' — as the official press censors soon designated the city, for security reasons — had a ringside seat through the six long years that Halifax served as Canada's front door. Its citizens watched as the harbour filled and emptied constantly — merchant ships and naval vessels coming and going in their dozens, from magnificent liners in camouflage, to brand-new destroyers, frigates and submarines, to near-wrecks barely afloat, battered by man and nature. They lived with noise and confusion as constant backdrops to their lives, trying unsuccessfully to shut out the unending racket.

Overhead, and as long as the fog and clouds allowed, aircraft engines roared endlessly. In the piers and sheds of the Ocean Terminals in the south end of the city, and through the rail-yards there and in Rockingham, a few miles away, the noise never stopped. Locomotives chugged and whistled twenty-four hours a day — shunting freight cars, coaches and sleepers, and transhipping goods, materiel and troops from the continental hinterland on to waiting ships to be convoyed overseas. The Terminals also welcomed a constant stream of soldiers, sailors and airmen invalided home, as well as countless diplomats on missions, royalty and refugees, prisoners of war, and flocks of excited 'Guest Children' fleeing Britain's blitzed cities for a safe Canadian haven.

Further north along the harbour, the clang of rivet guns and the hiss of welding torches rang out from HMC Dockyard and the extensive facilities of the Halifax Shipyard on both sides of the harbour, repairing or refitting ships of all kinds and all nations. A myriad of small ship-repair firms supplemented the heavy facilities at the Shipyard, which focused mainly on endless repair work — almost as much from storm damage or collisions in the close quarters of a convoy, as from enemy action. The only significant new construction undertaken in Halifax during the war years was the destroyer HMCS Micmac, launched in 1943, although there were many smaller wooden support craft built elsewhere in the province.

Once damage from savage weather or enemy attack was repaired, once troop ships were loaded, once convoys were organized in the expanse of Bedford Basin, the flotilla was ready again to face the unending challenge that waited beyond the anti-submarine net strung across the mouth of the harbour, between McNab's Island and York Redoubt . This massive curtain of steel hoops, held in place by buoys, hung between the surface and the harbour floor, and was intended to prevent the undetected entrance of enemy submarines and surface raiders. The net was always closed; arriving convoys or naval ships stopped at an 'examining battery' off McNab's to identified themselves, after which two small 'gate' vessels pulled back a section of the net to allow them through into the harbour; the reverse took place as vessels exited the port.

On the other side of the harbour the small but viable Imperial Oil refinery, built just south of Dartmouth in 1918 and surrounded by its own self-contained company town ('Imperoyal') expanded quickly in response to the need for oil, gasoline and petroleum products; it soon became a keystone in the supply line feeding Britain, the RCN and the RCAF. In the same vicinity, RCAF Station Dartmouth grew rapidly out of a small World War I US Navy seaplane base; it provided modern paved runways in place of the quaint but obsolete grass fields of the Halifax Civic Airport at 'Chebucto Field', and created a small town of its own in the process, with barracks, homes, churches and schools.

Other local industries, from the Moirs Chocolate Factory in downtown Halifax, to Brandram & Henderson's Paint Works on Kempt Road and the Plymouth Cordage Company's ropeworks in north-end Dartmouth, all operated during the war years under immense and constant pressure to produce; and all of them, despite shortages of equipment, materiel and employees, boomed.

In addition to being the provincial capital, by the 1930s Halifax had also become the largest government service centre in Atlantic Canada, accommodating local offices and agencies for both the federal and provincial governments. Wartime bureaucracy, along with wartime industry, now expanded dramatically. Many a citizen — including for the first time women, who began to revel in their new independence — laboured to administer the food and fuel rationing, commodity price controls, and citizen registration requirements that reached into every corner of every home.

In the early months of the war, citizens watched as their old town began to shine a little, money began to flow along with new jobs, and fresh young faces in uniform began to appear at parties and dances. Christmas 1939 even took on a little forgotten glitter and excitement. Tourists from the United States, still at peace with everyone, flocked in to watch the show. If war was going to be like this, reasoned Haligonians, perhaps there was something to be said for it.

But it was a false dawn. As the months passed, citizens watched the trickle of a few hundred fresh young faces morph into a torrent — thousands upon thousands of transient sailors, soldiers and airmen, many of them in town only for a day or a week on their way to somewhere else. Increasingly, they were bored, idle, or back from patrol duty in an unforgiving North Atlantic, looking for diversion, entertainment and a way to forget. This was not going to be so easy after all.

Joining the uniformed throngs were newly-arrived war workers, brought in to staff temporary government and military offices or to keep war industries going at all hours of the day and night; less necessary were the camp followers — wives and families of workers and servicemen from away, who against all advice flocked into the unprepared city by the thousands. There was, quite simply, no place to put them. Patriotic and well-meaning citizens responded to public appeals and took in boarders and roomers, providing conditions that were as good as could be expected; the opportunistic among them, however, rented and gouged the newcomers to a degree that left behind a legacy of ill will for at least a generation after the war ended.

The vacancy rate for apartments, rooms and houses sank towards zero as the city's population jumped from an 1939 official total of 67,872 for Halifax and 9,964 for Dartmouth, to a 1944 high of 106,742 and 17,277 respectively. Unofficial accounts put the figures higher. The Government of Canada and the Department of National Defence were only minimally helpful in addressing the housing issue. True, beginning in 1941, a policy of erecting 'pre-fab' houses for war workers was instituted across the country, and over a thousand were constructed in Halifax. But in a city where apartment blocks were virtually unknown, 'flats' were scarce, and boarding-house rooms even scarcer, the situation was desperate. Barracks were built for single workmen and for merchant seamen on shore leave, and both the army and the RCAF gradually took responsibility for housing most of their people. But the RCN steadfastly refused, until nearly the end of the war, to provide housing for any of the thousands of their personnel on shore leave or shore duty, casting them forth instead upon the uncertain mercy of local landlords.

Since the departure of the British forces in the early years of the century, Canada's 'East Coast Port' had somehow become a prim and proper place; at the best of times, there was not a lot for these new and constantly-changing hordes of servicemen and war workers to do. Drink was available but under such restricted circumstances that bootlegging and speakeasies were a natural market response; given that strict social conventions of the time also cast a jaundiced eye on informal mingling of the sexes outside of marriage, it was inevitable that nature and free enterprise took their accustomed course. Throughout the war, street life on payday weekends in Halifax took on a Dante-esque quality never to be seen again.

From the very beginning, a few enlightened citizens saw the need to welcome the strangers into their midst, and to provide them with opportunities for rest and relaxation appropriate to their stressful and often lonely circumstances. What these few individuals undertook in the early years of the war evolved into a shining example of community spirit, little recognized for what it was, then or now. It all started with the establishment of the North End Canteen in Saint Mark's Parish Hall, by Janet McEuen and a coterie of naval wives in the autumn if 1939. In the early weeks of the war, they saw city streets filling up with bored, idle and penniless young men from ships in port and saw that they needed a place to go and something to do.

Before long, an astonishing network of 'huts', hostels and canteens sprang up throughout the city and beyond, catering to servicemen and seamen, providing them with food, drink, a bed, a bath, a friendly ear — and sometimes even a few days' vacation away from the city and the intensity of war. There were Merchant Navy Hostels, YMCA Huts, Knights of Columbus Huts, Salvation Army Canteens and IODE Canteens, while every major church congregation in the city set up its own facilities to welcome members of that denomination who were in town or passing through. Not only were the number of these facilities far out of proportion to the size of the community, but they also functioned almost entirely with unremitting volunteer labour.

Haligonians struggled to adapt to these new tensions in their city, but frequently could not. With the best will in the world, the provincial temperance community focused on the highly-visible side effects of excess liquor consumption; leveraging their influence in high places, they strove to regain control over community standards by securing strict enforcement of laws meant for another time and place. The result was national derision, and a local harvest of resentment and cynicism.

At the pinnacle of the pyramid of volunteer efforts was 'The Halifax Concert Party' organized by the gregarious and charismatic Hugh Mills, with constant support from his wife Jean and sister Gertrude. Together, they created an entertainment organization out of freely-given volunteer talent, putting on show after show for an unending sea of men in uniform. Nothing was too difficult, no audience was too small, no time was ever inconvenient, no venue was too remote — and no money ever changed hands. As if that was not enough, they collected and handed out 'extras' of all kinds — gramophones, pianos, piano rolls and records, musical instruments, jigsaw puzzles, curtains, furniture, costumes and lighting equipment for plays — to supplement the thin gruel of official and authorized comforts.

Private consumption for the rich and the poor began to falter in the autumn of 1941. Up until then, wartime spending had suffused the economy with a rosy glow of prosperity. By the end of that year, however, it was becoming increasingly clear that World War II would be a long haul, requiring fundamental adjustments as much at home as at the battlefront. Production of war materiel would have to supplant consumer goods of every kind, and citizens would have to be persuaded, by whatever means possible, to contribute to the effort. Relentless pressure on wage-earners to contribute to the war effort directed any disposable income into payroll deductions for Victory Bonds, thereby deferring civilian consumption until after the war. Initial friendly persuasion to reduce the consumption of sugar, eggs, rubber, gasoline and other essentials gave way to controlled prices and rationed food, in order to make sure that Canada could not only feed and supply itself, but a beleaguered Britain as well.

To better regulate the process and ensure fairness, the federally-mandated Wartime Prices and Trades Board was established nationwide in October 1941. Within a year, just about everything that was not immoral or illegal became either unobtainable, required a coupon, or needed a permit to use or obtain it. Every family in the entire Dominion of Canada was equally subject to these regulations, but the country's 'East Coast Port' seems to have been 'more equal' than others. A veritable cornucopia of goods and foodstuffs flowed down the CNR tracks into town, then right onto freighters and across to Britain. Moreover, when those convoys steamed away, their cooks and galleys left behind them local stores as empty of groceries as if they had been sacked and looted by the Germans.

The merchant convoys, along with their naval and air force escorts, also combined from time to time to suck dry the refinery at Imperoyal, already staggering to make up for interruptions in crude oil supply, thanks to the German U-boat harvest of inbound tankers. As if all this wasn't enough, market gardeners from Cole Harbour and the African Nova Scotia communities outside Dartmouth, bringing their produce to Halifax for sale on market days, struggled to find space for their baskets and wagons on the tiny harbour ferries, jammed as they were with military vehicles and personnel. No bridges then, or even trucks available to transport civilian goods. It mattered not that the hapless householder had a ration book either; when he or she arrived, the shelves might well be bare and the service station pumping fumes.

Crowds, convoys, rowdiness and rationing were by no means the only wartime 'inconveniences' experienced by citizens of the 'East Coast Port.' Ranked somewhere between inconvenience and entertainment, the Civil Defence initiative was created to protect civilians from the ravages of enemy air attack. Blackout curtains and pails of sand for dousing incendiary devices were mandated for every household — under threat of substantial fines for non-compliance. Air Raid Wardens were trained to give direction and maintain order in the event of an attack; operating from neighbourhood ARP Huts, they prowled the streets at night searching for chinks of light at darkened windows. Haligonians were also treated to simulated air raids, complete with dogfights and bombing runs; while such events brought normal life to a temporary halt, they provided a grand show as well. Civil Defence was largely a volunteer organization involving many public-spirited citizens; in many respects, it filled the gap in community and social life caused by wartime restrictions elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia Light & Power prided itself on keeping up with demands for electricity and natural gas; despite the huge increase in consumption for both private and industrial use, supplies of both remained steady and reliable, owing to the long-planned enlargement of the Black River (Gaspereau Valley) hydroelectric plant and the wartime expansion of steam-generating facilities on the Halifax waterfront. The city's tramway system, however, was another story. This was an old trolley-car operation run by NS Light & Power, and depended on tram cars, tracks and a system of overhead electrical wires — all badly in need of renewal. Additional tram cars were acquired, but the system was still unable to respond adequately to the influx of new customers resulting from gasoline rationing and the city's rapidly-increasing population. The wartime need for iron, steel and electrical cables prevented even the most basic repairs to trackage and overhead wires, let alone any expansion of the system into newer areas of the city. Instead, maintenance men in the trolley barns somehow kept the wheels rolling throughout the war, against all odds.

Similarly, the municipal water system could just barely cope in peacetime with the ordinary needs of a quiet city of 65,000 — so long as consumers didn't mind odd smells, odd colours, occasional animal life, frequent low water pressure and sporadic high coliform counts. The virtual doubling of the population during the war years was bad enough, but the need to routinely provide water for convoys of 50-100 ships ASAP left the antiquated system gasping. The situation was serious enough to warrant intervention from the provincial government; the Board of Public Utilities took over the system, operations were contracted to a private engineering firm, and in fairly short order infrastructure was stabilized and improved sufficiently to cope temporarily with the increased demand. After the war, the politically independent Halifax Water Commission was established, and continued to make significant improvements that dramatically improved the overall efficiency of the old system.

For those who noticed, hard news printed in the daily newspapers or delivered over the radio — no television or Internet back then — took on a 'fuzzy' quality soon after war was declared in September 1939. Keeping informative details such as personal names, specific events and geographic locations deliberately vague — indeed sometimes out of the public eye entirely, but never, of course, away from the gossip mills — was a balancing act between military secrecy and democratic freedom. This exercise was performed with wit and finesse by a career Nova Scotian journalist, H.B. Jefferson, whose office as official Press Censor was high up in the Federal Tower on Bedford Row, overlooking the harbour. Jefferson prided himself on his light touch, possibly because he had known and worked with most of the press corps for years and, it seems, had their respect. From this same location, but quite unofficially, he also recorded the passing parade of city life in his daily journal; and from his windows captured the ebb and flow of life in a wartime harbour through a remarkable series of clandestine photographs probably known to no one but himself.

Despite it all, life wasn't that bad in Canada's 'East Coast Port'. By and large, human nature is optimistic and people cope. Life was a struggle, but it was a shared struggle and despite unending make-do, there was a gradual awareness that all the effort and deprivation was worthwhile. The extremes of wealth and poverty were there, but the contrasts were not so glaring as in larger communities. And to off-set the shortages and irritations, moreover, there was now plenty of work — which until recently had been an impossible dream for many. For women especially, new horizons opened up for the first time in both civilian and military employment, and old barriers that had once seemed impenetrable now began to crumble.

Here in Canada's 'East Coast Port', war came as close to North America as it ever would and life was never dull. A curious teenager prowling the streets and alleyways could see more of life in a few days than most adults living elsewhere would experience in a lifetime; while out near the mouth of the harbour, the sporadic rumble of heavy artillery competed with the constant stab of searchlights at night, and the smoke of torpedoed and dying merchant vessels during the day.

It all ended with, literally, a bang. The long-expected allied victory in Europe was declared on 8 May 1945. Focusing on the need for thoughtful celebrations to commemorate the great sacrifices of the last six years, civic and military authorities in Halifax were caught by surprise when it rapidly became apparent that a substantial number of residents had other ideas. Spearheaded by thousands of naval ratings — most of them still at loose ends despite recent efforts to remedy their lack of accommodations — the centre of Halifax succumbed to twenty-four hours of mob rule and looting.

By and large, the ratings focused on booze and the civilians on shoes and clothing. Although there were three deaths, some definite nastiness and much wanton destruction, by the standards of later years only the downtown merchants and the provincial Liquor Commission seem not to have had what generally passed for 'a good time'. The damage, however, was immense — both economic and political. Since a federal election campaign was underway at the time, both the RCN and its local top-gun, Admiral Leonard W. Murray — in charge of the western Atlantic for the allied navies — paid the price for the melée, in reputation and career respectively.

The VE Day riots arose from a combination of official obtuseness, both civil and military, and the sudden release of years of pent-up deprivation, tension, pressure and frustration. Nor can one discount the triumph of sheer opportunism when married to golden opportunity. In the ensuing weeks and months, however, it seemed that the ill-fated celebrations would forever leave a shadow over the 200-year-old-relationship between navy and community. Frequently, along with liquor laws and bad landlords, the celebrations of 8 May were the only memories of wartime Halifax for many; it was years before the day's events could be examined without emotion and laid to final rest.

There was still, however, one last big bang to come. In the shimmering heat of late afternoon on 18 July 1945, a careless match or cigarette butt was dropped on the grounds of the naval magazine on the shores of Bedford Basin, just north of Dartmouth. Filled beyond capacity with ordnance and ammunition stockpiled from returning vessels, the magazine caught fire and exploded into the evening sky. For the next twelve hours the air and ground trembled to the sound of exploding ammunition, and the north ends of both Dartmouth and Halifax emptied as citizens waited in fear for the 'Big One' which would repeat the catastrophe of December 1917.

But there was to be no repetition of that disaster. Good luck prevailed, and the fearless efforts of local firemen, augmented by boatloads of RCN personnel, fought the blazing hillsides into submission. By dawn the next day the thud of exploding shells and charges died away to nothing. The selfless exertions of the RCN in particular saved the community and went some way towards refurbishing the damaged links between navy and civilians.

Thus ended a six-year adventure for Canada's ubiquitous 'East Coast Port'. Much had changed. Haligonians were at first overly sensitive to the fact that many who had passed through their city during those busy years had paid no attention whatever to the immense personal sacrifices of ordinary citizens, or to the remarkable public commitment and courtesy the visitors had been shown. In later years, local residents seemed to take less pride in their sacrifices, and instead remembered only that most of their wartime visitors had come and gone, taking with them and spreading abroad complaints about rack-renting, shabbiness, Saturday-night squalor and bizarre liquor laws. It was a long time before these perceptions faded, both locally and nationally. Meanwhile, amongst the citizenry a fresh determination set in to build a new and modern community, worthy of the past six years of struggle — a city which would make the long years of deprivation, discomfort and upheaval all worthwhile.

If you were here in Halifax over those six long years, welcome back to 'the good old days'. What you see on this website will surely stir up memories. If you weren't here, come in and enjoy a visit now to another time and place, a world of black-and-white in more ways than one, a world where the focus was clear, and nobody left the house unless they looked like a million bucks. Despite the layers of official censorship which blanketed much of the story for years afterward, enough chinks in the armour have now appeared to allow a rewarding glimpse into a true community-at-war. Halifax was like no other place in North America for six long years. A new generation of inquiring minds has before it now an array of photos, film clips and documents that will open the door to what is an almost forgotten era in the history of the long-ago world known as Canada's 'East Coast Port'.

Enter and enjoy!


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