Nova Scotia

Former home of Nova Scotia's first Black doctor granted heritage status

Halifax regional council has voted to register as a heritage property the former home of Clement Ligoure, the first Black doctor in Nova Scotia and an unsung hero of the 1917 Halifax Explosion.

Clement Ligoure was also unsung hero of Halifax Explosion

A woman in a dark coat stands on the sidewalk in front of an old green house with white trim.
Peggy Cameron, from the non-profit Friends of Halifax Common, stands in front of the building that once housed Dr. Clement Ligoure's Amanda Private Hospital in Halifax. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Halifax regional council has voted to register as a heritage property the former home of Clement Ligoure, the first Black doctor in Nova Scotia and an unsung hero of the 1917 Halifax Explosion.

Originally from Trinidad, Ligoure graduated in 1916 with a medical degree from Queen's University, in Kingston, Ont. He would later become editor of Nova Scotia's first Black newspaper, the Atlantic Advocate.

Ligoure established a private clinic inside his home in the north end of Halifax after he was denied hospital privileges.

On Dec. 6, 1917, a collision in Halifax harbour between two wartime ships caused a massive blast that killed almost 2,000 people and injured another 9,000.

In the weeks that followed, Ligoure worked night and day at the clinic and in the city's devastated streets, treating hundreds of blast victims.

Community activists were worried his former home would be demolished to make way for a new development, but the heritage designation should protect it for years to come.

Dr. Clement Ligoure treated hundreds of patients after the Halifax Explosion devastated parts of the city in December 1917. (Queen’s University Archives, V28-P-301. C. C. Ligoure)

His home on North Street was built in 1892. It represents two architectural styles that were typical of that time: Queen Anne Revival and Second Empire style. At one point, half of the building was torn down to make way for development, but the city's heritage advisory committee determined that what remains is worth recognizing.

Coun. Lindell Smith said neither the city nor the property owner — a local developer — had any plans to demolish the building.

"The owner was very clear," Smith told council. "There was no intention to demolish this property.... No matter what, they're happy with whatever decision we make."

Future of house 'remains unclear'

Smith said talks are underway with Nova Scotia Health about transforming the house into a clinic, but he stressed those discussions are at the preliminary stage.

Peggy Cameron, director of the Friends of Halifax Common — a group that works to protect public space in the city — said council's decision marked a step forward for Ligoure's legacy.

"The city council understood the value of the property, and it's hoped they will work with the developer to have something appropriate done with the property in the future," said Cameron, who drafted the application for the heritage designation.

Cameron said she was thrilled to learn of Smith's suggestion for a health clinic. But she stressed that more work needs to be done because the heritage status may not be enough to protect the building from demolition if the owner decides to redevelop the property.

"The future for the house remains unclear," she said. "There's still a lot of questions unanswered."

Treated blast victims free of charge

David Woods, a writer, playwright and cultural advocate in Halifax, is writing a play about the doctor.

Woods told CBC's Information Morning Ligoure ended up in Halifax after he was recommended to be the medical officer for the No. 2 Construction Battalion, the first military unit in Canada made up of mostly Black personnel.

But Woods said Ligoure ended up being denied the position.

"He had to write an exam to qualify for the military standard of being a medical officer. It was announced he'd passed. Somewhere in between him passing and the battalion leaving, there was some kind of nefarious decision that they did not want a Black officer because him being an officer meant he had rank," Woods said.

He said Ligoure received a letter saying he had actually failed the exam by one point, so he couldn't be part of the Battalion.

But Ligoure decided to stay in Halifax, Woods said. He established the Amanda Private Hospital, named after his mother.

After the Halifax Explosion occurred, Woods began picking up patients and treating them for free.

Local artist and writer David Woods believes a building on North Street in Halifax should be granted heritage status. He tells us why the former home and clinic of Dr. Clement Ligoure is one of the most significant sites for Black history and culture in the city.

"He was seeing close to 200 patients a day for the initial week, literally working almost 20 hours a day, almost superhuman," Woods said. "He was doing this out of his humanity and his altruism."

Woods added that the heritage status of the former hospital represents a first "step" in the recognition of Ligoure's contribution in the aftermath of the explosion.

Preferably, the next step would be to turn the building into a museum, he said, as the history of the location brings together the history of the Halifax Explosion, prominent Black figures in the city and connections to the Second World War.

"It's certainly better than when I started [research] in the 1980s, when nobody even knew who he was. So it's a step," Woods said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

With files from Information Morning

now