Nova Scotia

Halifax homeowners hope to identify mystery woman after photo found in wall

The owners of an old home in Halifax have uncovered a treasure trove of forgotten documents and items within their walls, including the photo of a mystery woman they’re hoping to identify.

Portrait was found in the wall of a Hydrostone home on Duffus Street during renovations this summer

This old sepia portrait of a woman wearing a high-collar, ruffled blouse was found during renovations of a north-end Halifax home. The identity of the woman is a mystery. (Submitted by Sarah Warford)

The owners of an old home in Halifax have uncovered a treasure trove of forgotten documents and items within their walls, including the photo of a mystery woman they're hoping to identify.

"It's quite old. I think it's over 100 years old," Sarah Warford told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Tuesday.

"I'm not a historian really and I'm not a fashion expert by any stretch, but when I look at the clothing that she's wearing, my guess is that the photo was taken in the late 1800s or very early 1900s."

Warford and her husband own a Hydrostone unit on Duffus Street in the North End — one of many built for working-class families displaced by the Halifax explosion in 1917.

Receipts and coupons for local grocery stores were found inside the walls of the Hydrostone home on Duffus Street. (Submitted by Sarah Warford)

The family started renovating their kitchen, removing cabinets and repairing walls this past summer. That's when they discovered documents and photos left behind by previous owners.

"We found some really, really interesting things," Warford said.

She said within the walls were a mint condition copy of the Canadian Railway Employees monthly magazine, a Simpson's catalogue, 2½ cent coupons for Acadia Stores Ltd., and several Christmas cards.

She even found rent receipts from 1924 — when rent was just $25 a month — from the Halifax Relief Commission.

A rent receipt from 1924 was also found in the walls of the home. Rent cost $25 a month, according to the receipt. (Submitted by Sarah Warford)

Although these items are intriguing, it was the photo of the mystery woman that piqued Warford's interest.

The professional portrait is enclosed in a stained mat and features a young woman with coiffed hair, wearing a high-collar, lacy blouse.

"This [photo] was planned. Her hair is perfect. Her makeup is done. There's not a detail missed in her look, so a lot of intention went into the photograph," Warford said.

Warford said all she knows about the photo is that it was taken in Halifax by photographer Harry J. Moss.

The homeowners are hopeful they will be able to identify the mystery woman and return the photo to the family.

"The house has been good to a lot of people for a long time, and we would like to just give a little bit of that love back," she said.

She has since turned to social media and her neighbours to help identify the woman and the families who once lived in her home.

"The neighborhood is so interconnected. Everybody lives so tightly together that there's just such an incredible sense of community," she said. 

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"There's been a number of people who have lived in the neighborhood over the years [who] … are just recounting names and places and individuals, helping to solve the mystery of who all of these people are and where they might be."

Warford said they've already uncovered the names of several families, including the Coolens, the Dalrymples, the Burns and Huttons.

"If there's family members who would find [these items] of value, we would love to share them with those family members," she said.

"There's just so much history packed into these homes."

One of the families who lived in the home in the early 1900s were the Coolens. The Coolens received the Canadian Railway Employee Monthly magazine. (Submitted by Sarah Warford)

Warford said the renovations are complete and the items are being displayed inside the home, which will be going up for sale.

She said it will be up to the next owners to uncover the rest of the mysteries within the walls.

"We didn't open up any walls upstairs, so who's to say what's hiding on the next floor?" she said. "That will be for somebody else at another time."

Several cards were also found within the walls, including one prepared in 1923 by the Byrnes family and intended for an address in Massachusetts. The card was never sent. (Submitted by Sarah Warford)

With files from CBC Radio's Maritime Noon

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