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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Preserving the past in Halifax

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HALIFAX – It’s not uncommon to encounter contrasts of old versus new, bleak versus shiny, defensiveness versus forward-thinking-ness.  That is particularly the case in Halifax, which enjoys a vibrant present as well as a rich and not always happy history.  I was reminded of that on a single day last week.

First, I tried to visit the World War II observation posts and gun batteries  at York Redoubt historic park near Fergusons Cove. Besides being a pleasant walk, this is usually a great spot to view the entrance to Halifax harbour — which is also why antisubmarine nets were stretched from here to McNabs Island 65 or so years ago, protecting the harbour from the U-boats that plied Canada’s east coast, torpedoing naval and merchant ships. You can’t get to the WWII location now, though.  Parks Canada has cordoned it off because it is sufficiently decayed and unmaintained that it might be a risk to park visitors.

That was my exposure to a bleak bit of history — as well as current underfunding to preserve our city’s legacy.

Next I went downtown. Lots is happening there. What caught my eye was the bright new paint on a local-food restaurant at Grafton and Prince, with perfect blue skies behind. New in a good way. Forward-thinking. And a human-scale building that combines modern function with a respect for history.

photos by Lawrence Plug