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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Walk This Way, Talk This Way

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What is Swag? Walking.

HALIFAX – Haligonians enjoyed a quick respite from the seemingly endless deluge this past weekend while participating in the city’s well-timed Jane’s Walk walking series.  Over 100 people came out to walk, talk and learn about their neighborhoods.  A variety of folks, young and old, shared stories, maps and anecdotes about the places we live and the paths we use to navigate ourselves around the city.

Janet Barlow, coordinator of the Active and Safe Route to School project, kicked off the series with a walk to school in Clayton Park, a suburban development off the peninsula.  Parents from the nearby Park West Elementary joined some curious city folk for a stroll, as we meandered through the system of cul-de-sacs. Although most children live within walking distance, 25% of them are chauffeured to school, causing unnecessary traffic congestion and danger. Barlow, a treasure trove of information, showed us the paths that connect the dead-end streets meant to encourage pedestrianism.  Unfortunately, some of the residents have been successful in shutting down these paths to public usage.  What would Jane Jacobs say? Trouble arises when a neighbourhood is designed in such a way where there are no eyes on the street to collectively supervise the goings-on.

Janet Barlow shows us the way to school.

Routes that aren’t maintained deter kids from walking.

Sophia Horwitz lead an urban hike through the South End of Halifax, on an elevated trail above the train tracks.  It felt like we were walking in the countryside, far away from city life and automobiles.  We visited one of the few public access points to the harbour and talked about the encroachment of private development and the lack of protection for public access to water in our city.  We witnessed a train pass and surprised a few graffiti artists painting under the bridges along the way.  Exciting!

Sophia pointing on Picnic Point.
Right this way.
Right on time.

Sunday was a full day of walks and a joyful overload of previously unknown information.  Jayme Melrose proved herself to be a truly passionate and down to earth teacher.  Touching upon Mi’kmaq history, she delved into the details of the natural environment that defines our space.   She shared some of her knowledge of the medicinal plants growing all around us, right under our noses.  Many were eager to learn more about the Fresh Water Brook watershed buried under the city.  We huddled around a cement grate that allows you to see and hear it rushing underneath.  Whoa!

There’s a stream under the Common!
Scouting plants on the Princess Path.

Hydrostone History, led by Kate Mackay of the Cities and Environment Unit, was the most formal of the walking tours.  Kate said that it was her first time leading a walk, but she believed herself to have been a tour guide in a former life.  Was she ever!  Constantly alluding to ‘history mysteries’ and self-proclaiming ‘nerd alerts!’ in regards to her high excitement levels – she did an incredible job at making this walk around the area jam-packed with historical information in a really fun and accessible way.  Most of what Kate focused on was the planning process behind the establishment of the Hydrostone area – a truly interesting tale.  Inspired by the garden city philosophy of planning, Thomas Adams went to town implementing his vision of a post-explosion Halifax.

Walking on the grass in the Hydrostone.


The final walk of the weekend was led by City Mail letter carrier Alison Creba.  A group of 25 weaved their way up through the North End by way of the well-beaten back alleys and hidden paths of the ‘hood.  Even if you thought you knew every inch of the city, you were bound to discover a new walkway on this tour.  Curious onlookers waved from their windows and we also picked up some people along the way.  In true Halifax-style, we perused the free boxes as we went and free-shopped along the way.  We also got invited to an upcoming block party on Fern Lane.  (Is it true that Fern Lane is the Guinness World Record holder for the shortest double dead-end street in the world?)

At the gate at the corner of West and June.
Coming out the other side of the Princess Path.

Many thanks to the awesome tour guides and the lovely people who came out this past weekend for Jane’s Walk Halifax.  We want these walks to be an annual occurrence, so keep walking and talking and partaking in the sidewalk ballets of the city with one another – and nominate someone to lead a Jane’s Walk next year.

photos by Katie McKay