DARTMOUTH – I reached Dartmouth’s Alderney Gate Ferry Terminal by walking down a quiet street that is devoid of overhead utility wires (a rarity in HRM), past a public library, public art, and a pocket park. I walked in view of a monument left by a G8 Conference and down through a landing with an open view of the ocean to the south and Darmouth’s sister community, Halifax, to the west.
It is no secret that these communities are the daughters of this harbour: at the time of settlement she was seen as one of the greatest nature could provide with major opportunities for transport, industry, commerce and a facilitator of quality of life.
But in the centuries since that time this harbour has become a barrier to parts of the downtown: geographic, political and psychological. This barrier has become division; and Dartmouth an estranged sister.
This can be seen in the nickname “The Darkside”; one that is being lovingly reclaimed by residents but often still a term outsiders use with disdain. Just as this name is being reclaimed, so too might these barriers to Dartmouth reaching its full potential be overcome.
The geographic barrier could be overcome if the city would take the initiative and commit resources to a 24-hour Dartmouth-Halifax ferry that operated even once an hour in off-peak times (rather than the seemingly politically motivated alternative that will jet Bedfordians to the Halifax waterfront at $7.50 a ride). This harbour is no barrier; it is a transportation corridor.
The political barriers could be duly addressed with a fresh perspective, renewed energy and amicable political will to work as a partner and collaborator with the peninsular Councillors coupled with a considerably greater focus on economic development. Another key will be deeper and more direct civic engagement to harness Dartmouth’s concentration of technically skilled trades people, health care and environmental professionals (all situated between a world-class industrial/business park that is a leader in industrial ecology and the NSCC’s Centre for the Built Environment). The King’s Wharf development is poised to become an anchor of economic renewal on the eastern banks of the harbour that could help shift the perception of Dartmouth. It is not surprising this development includes a water taxi to Halifax’s waterfront.
It is evident that Dartmouth’s biggest challenge will be overcoming the psychological barrier that has mired this ventricle of the HRM’s heart into stigmatized atrophy.
This part of the downtown core should be reframed as a place of great opportunity and potential. It already possesses desirable elements for urban areas: lakes and ponds, considerable and largely connected green spaces, schools, boutiques, coffee-shops, award-winning restaurants, housing that is affordable for young families (considerably closer to Halifax’s downtown than living beyond the Armdale Rotary, might I add), and as mentioned has a considerable population of up-and-coming potential civic contributors.
It boils down to this: HRM, beyond the region, as much as I love it, is not a major player by almost any metric. So it is essential that the stigma and constructed barriers to revitalizing the economic and social engine that is Dartmouth be overcome. We are far too small to play this game. Additionally, as we are too politically fractured we will require that our organic leadership, the citizenry, not continue to discount half its heart merely because of an intervening arm of ocean or tribal, sophomoric sentiment. The future prosperity of downtown, and HRM as a whole, relies on reframing barriers that should be seen as opportunities. The Municipality must work harder on rebranding and highlighting Dartmouth; Councillor McClusky (easily one of the most effective Councillors) must focus more closely on integration and amicable relations.
Only through this shift in perception towards opportunity will our community collectively benefit from light that shines from the Darkside.