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Halifax History

Originally named Chebucto – or biggest harbor – by the Mi’kmaq Indians who lived here, Halifax was founded in 1749 by the British as a naval and military base. Named in honor of Lord Halifax, president of the British Board of Trade, the fledgling community would eventually become a major center for international trade for the same reasons it was selected as a military and naval base: its geographic location and magnificent harbor.

From the start, Halifax proved to be quite an innovative community. It boasted Canada’s first newspaper (1752), first post office (1755), and first representative assembly (1758). But it was war that contributed to the rapid development and growth of the community. Halifax was a strategic base of operations for Britain in the Seven Years’ War, the War of American Independence, the Napoleonic wars, and the War of 1812. As a result of these wars, more and more people were calling Halifax home and the community began to grow beyond a handful of fortifications and residential streets in the downtown core. By 1818, Halifax had become a free port allowing for the free movement of goods through the port.

In 1842, the City of Halifax incorporated and elected for the first time its own mayor. Now the wealthiest city in the Dominion per capita, Halifax would serve as the birthplace for two of Canada’s biggest financial institutions: the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Nova Scotia (1832). And Halifax was the home of entrepreneurial pioneers like Samuel Cunard whose steamship service earned him the name ‘Steam Lion’ for revolutionizing transatlantic shipments. The city even had its own stock exchange as early as 1874.

Although war had contributed significantly to Halifax’s growing economic fortunes, it was also the cause of one of the worst man-made disasters the world has ever seen. On December 6, 1917, two ships, one of which was laden with munitions for the war effort in Europe, collided in the harbor. The resulting explosion decimated much of the city’s north end and claimed the lives of approximately 2000 people. The fact that the shattered city was eventually rebuilt is a testament to the resolve and courage of the people who live there. Years later, the Second World War brought considerable economic prosperity and growth to the city, again demonstrating its importance as a naval and military base.

In the years since then, Halifax has evolved into a successful and fully modern city undergoing perhaps its biggest change yet in 1996. That year, Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, and Halifax County amalgamated forming the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). Shortly after amalgamation, regional business and political leaders came together to form the Greater Halifax Partnership. The Partnership has since become the recognized leader for sustained economic growth for Greater Halifax.


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