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The CBC Halifax Explosion Site

 

Main Page > Aftermath and Recovery > Rebuilding

Rebuilding

The city and the Halifax Relief Commission were determined to use the disaster as a clean slate: a chance to rebuild better than before. In many ways they were successful.

Working from the latest principles in town planning the Commission ordered temporary and permanent housing, including the Hydrostone[?] neighbourhood which is a city landmark today.

As the war ended, Canada faced recession, but Halifax found itself in the middle of a construction boom.

Businesses were slower to crawl back from the rubble. Some never reopened. Others joined the move from the north end of the harbour to the south, as new facilities for railways and shipping were built.

Town Planning

The commission called in an internationally respected town planner, Thomas Adams of Ottawa. The old streets had traveled straight up steep hills and were impossible to climb in winter. Adams laid out new streets that traversed the slope below Fort Needham on a diagonal, more gradual incline. He designed neighbourhoods along modern lines, with green space and community area.

Not all his plans saw reality, but many did. The work he did, and that of architect George Ross of Montreal, is still studied by planners and architects.

Housing for Now and Later

The plan was to rebuild in two stages. First came repairs to salvageable homes, and temporary apartments for those whose homes were lost. The apartments would be bare bones-- enough to shelter the homeless through the winter and until better, permanent housing was finished.

The planners didn’t want to build in a rush and leave the results to deteriorate into slums. The first-stage housing was built to last five years, and it went up quickly: at one point, workers finished one new apartment every hour of the work week. Just as quickly, new tenants moved in--many with new furniture and household goods from the American relief "stores."

The second stage was more complicated and controversial. The Halifax Relief Commission wanted to offer Explosion victims a choice: they could take a lump-sum settlement for their lost houses, or move into long-term rental built by the Commission.

Many people in Richmond were unhappy, and complained at public hearings that the Commission was being high-handed. They didn't like the new town plans, or the idea of becoming tenants instead of homeowners. They wanted to rebuild their streets and houses as they had been before.

Despite their arguments, the province and Ottawa went with the Relief Commission's plan. Parts of the city's north end still reflect that decision.

Schools and Churches

Schools and churches were the heart of a community in 1917, even more than today. About a dozen churches in Halifax and Dartmouth were either badly damaged or completely destroyed. Most were rebuilt.

Two of the Protestant churches destroyed in the Explosion were Kaye Street Methodist and Grove Presbyterian.

They shared temporary quarters, and eventually decided to make it permanent. The United Memorial Church opened its doors in 1921.

Did You Know

The United Memorial Church opened almost five years before Methodists and Presbyterians in other parts of the country founded the United Church of Canada.

Page Feature: Rebuilding of the Spirit

Houses of worship on both sides of the harbour were in ruins. All four churches in Richmond were destroyed: St. Mark's Anglican, Grove Street Presbyterian, Kaye Street Methodist; even St. Joseph's, built of stone.

Just outside that worst-hit zone, Starr Street synagogue was beyond repair, but its all-important ark containing the Torah scrolls survived. In Dartmouth, Emmanuel Anglican Church was left with nothing but its altar vessels and vestments.

Most parishes rebuilt, usually on the same sites, but in the meantime parishioners shared temporary quarters, a degree of interdenominational cooperation that was unheard-of at the time.

Two congregations--the Presbyterian and Methodist survivors of Richmond--took it one step further. They moved into a permanent building together, and eventually merged their services as the United Memorial Church.

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