Nova Scotia

Tracking Halifax's history: Tram tracks, cobblestone uncovered on Spring Garden Road

A streetscaping project has offered a glimpse into how Haligonians once travelled through the city's historic downtown, as cobblestone and long-buried streetcar tracks were unearthed Friday.

'All walks of life travelled on the tramcars — doctors, lawyers, professional people of all types'

A map of tram routes from 1927 shows how important the streetcars were to get people into the downtown area. (Halifax Municipal Archives)

A streetscaping project has offered a glimpse into how Haligonians once travelled through the city's historic downtown, as cobblestone and long-buried streetcar tracks were unearthed Friday.

The pieces of history were uncovered on Halifax's busy Spring Garden Road, which is undergoing a major revitalization project.

Don Artz, co-author of The Halifax Street Railway 1866-1949, said the good condition of the tracks after all these years was unexpected.

"I was surprised that they were in such good shape on Spring Garden Road and the roadbed was in good shape. I mean, they've been under the pavement for, what, 60, 70 some years and haven't seen daylight for that period of time," he said.

The tramcars were once an important mode of transportation around the city, and were pivotal in getting people down to Barrington Street where most businesses were located, said Artz.

At a time when motor vehicles were not affordable to most Haligonians, the tramway was the easiest way to get around.

"All walks of life travelled on the tramcars — doctors, lawyers, professional people of all types. The blue-collar workers all travelled by trams," said Artz, a former inspector for the Halifax Transit Corporation, which is now known as Halifax Transit.

He said tramcars would run about 18 hours a day because the streets were always bustling, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when people would visit the downtown theatres.

The tramcars could hold up to 32 people seated. (Halifax Municipal Archives)

Artz said the trams were vital during the First World War and the Second World War, specifically the ones that ran along Barrington Street. They would go all the way down to where the dockyard is today. 

The tramway system was powered by the Nova Scotia Light and Power Company, which was responsible for providing power to Nova Scotians from 1866 to 1972.

Tramcars were slowly phased out beginning in the 1930s. The last tramcar in the city ran the tracks for the final time in 1949.

A streetcar is seen on Spring Garden Road. Tramcar enthusiast Don Artz says around 33 million people used the tram system every year. (Halifax Municipal Archives)

Changes coming to Spring Garden Road

The streetscaping project on Spring Garden Road will involve the creation of more green spaces and the addition of amenities at bus stops.

Part of the busy shopping area will be closed to vehicles until the end of November, though it will remain open to pedestrians.

Klara Needler, a spokesperson for the municipality, said archeologists have been on site all week documenting what's been uncovered as part of the work.

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