Explosion in Halifax Harbour, 1917 (2015)



It was Canada’s 9-11: 2,000 civilians killed outright, many thousands injured, 10,000 left homeless and 1,600 homes and businesses destroyed. In the words of one contemporary observer, it was “worse than war.” The most frequently quoted fact about the catastrophe is that it was the “largest man-made explosion before the Atom Bomb,” a claim that may or may not be true. Certainly in terms of loss of life and property damage, however, the explosion of a munitions ship in Halifax harbour on 6 December 1917 surpasses any other disaster in Canadian history.



Military Units of Halifax Fortress in Two World Wars (2014)


York Redoubt in WWII

Halifax was heavily defended in both world wars but the army performed very different duties. Powerful searchlights, anti-submarine nets, and inspection of neutral shipping were common to both wars, but troops in WWII spent a lot more time camouflaging emplacements and learning anti-aircraft tactics. Many more units moved in and out of Halifax in WWII for training in Bedford, and there was a high volume of overseas drafts. Halifax experienced explosion accidents and major riots in both wars; the army played a significant role in responding to these traumatic events.



The Garrison Response to the Halifax Explosion (2014)

Client: Parks Canada Agency

Married Quarters, Wellington Barracks

When disaster strikes anywhere in the world, first responders become front line soldiers. In Halifax, no Emergency Measures Organization existed to deal with the calamity of December 1917. It fell to 5,000 soldiers of the Halifax Garrison and Canadian Expeditionary Force, working with civic authorities, to undertake rescue and recovery work. The military also built emergency housing for thousands of homeless civilians. This report investigated the role played by garrison troops in the response to the Halifax Explosion.



Norwegian Contributions to Canadian Arctic Exploration (2013)

Client: Canada Post Corporation



Norwegians played a key role in exploring Canada’s far north at a time when significant areas remained unexplored and uncharted. In 1906, Roald Amundsen successfully navigated the Northwest Passage; another Norwegian, Henry Larsen, repeated the feat 40 years later. Today, two Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers are named after these intrepid explorers.



Canadian Arctic Expedition (2012)

Client: Canada Post Corporation

Canadian Arctic Expedition photograph/Dartmouth College Archives


Although events did not unfold as planned, the Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913-1918) accomplished a great deal of pioneering scientific work on arctic flora and fauna, as well as learning about the social life of the Copper Inuit. The Canadian Museum of History exhibition linked here was an essential source for my report.
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Transatlantic Cables and Cable Ships (2011)

Client: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic



Undersea cables for telegraphy and telephone communications have been in use in Nova Scotia for more than 160 years. This report focused on recent developments in this industry for a museum exhibit.




An East Coast Port: Halifax in Wartime, 1939-1945 (2009)

Client: Nova Scotia Archives



The Ajax Club was founded in Halifax in 1940 as a social club for Royal Navy seamen. Its motto was “beer in decent surroundings.” In 1942 temperance advocates succeeded in having the club closed, heightening civilian-military tensions in Halifax for the duration of the war.
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Canadian Navy Centennial (2008)

Client: Canada Post Corporation

IKMD-04050-SAGUENAY_001/National Defence Image Library
A compilation of visual material used for the design of two Canada Post stamps marking the centenary of the Royal Canadian Navy.
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MS St. Louis and the Hamburg-American Line (2008)

Client: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic



Research for a museum exhibit about the notorious liner St Louis and its fateful voyage in May-June 1939.




“Canada’s Ocean Playground”: Early Tourism in Nova Scotia (2008)

Client: Nova Scotia Archives



Part of a virtual exhibit hosted by the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, this web essay is based on an article published in the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society Journal.
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Captain Robert A. Bartlett, Arctic explorer (2007)

Client: Canada Post Corporation



Captain Bob Bartlett gained worldwide fame through his association with American polar explorer Robert Peary. This report supported the production of a stamp issued by Canada Post.



Ocean Liners and Nova Scotia (2000)

Client: Maritime Museum of the Atlantic



From Halifax-born Samuel Cunard’s famous shipping line to the “Lady Boats” plying the Caribbean in the 1930s, ocean liners have played an important role in connecting Nova Scotia with the wider world.



Scoping Study of the Performing Arts in Canada (1997)

Client: Parks Canada, Ottawa



This report identified potential persons of national historic significance in the fields of Cinema, Radio, Television, Dance and Music.




4 comments on “Projects
  1. Hi there,

    I really enjoy your website. Just wondering if you have any information on the Halifax Coffee & Spice Mills?


    • Dear Kevin,

      Thanks for your message. I’m not familiar with this company; is it possible you are referring to J.P. Mott’s spice mill in Dartmouth? This was in operation ca. 1870-1920. See Harry Chapman’s history of Dartmouth (In The Wake of the Alderney) for more info. Nova Scotia Archives, Dartmouth Heritage Museum and Dalhousie University Archives (for business records) are other possible sources of info.

      Best wishes,


  2. Hello, Jay:

    I recently read your article, “Halifax, Nova Scotia In World War II: An Allied Staging Area”, and I found the history quite fascinating. I was born and raised in Halifax, so I’m intrigued by the interesting stories of years gone by. I’ve recently purchased a home in my old neighbourhood, the West End, and I’m trying to determine if the house was constructed by Wartime Housing Limited in the 1940’s. The home is on Cork Street, between Connolly and Oxford Streets. The house certainly appears to be a “pre-fab” when I look at the style and the construction of the house (sections connected by carriage bolts), but I can not seem to find any historical evidence of where exactly the pre-fabricated homes were constructed in the city. Do you know if any such information exists?

    Greg O’Brien

    • Hi Greg,

      Thanks for your message. Aside from my own dissertation, I’m not aware of any scholarship focusing specifically on WHL projects in Halifax. Jill Wade’s 1984 Master’s thesis explains the background very well, but contains little reference to Halifax; she focuses on projects in Vancouver. There are WHL houses all around the West End; more than 1,000 were built & it would be interesting to know how many survive — I suspect most because the area has not undergone major redevelopment since the 1950s.

      The stretch of Bayers Rd from Connaught to the Bi-Hi on-ramp is the most visible group of WHL houses. Cork St was only one street away from Ardmore Park, a 200-house subdivision built by the city in 1942 with money borrowed from the feds. I expect that some if not all of those houses were WHL designs, which are fairly easy to spot despite many exterior modifications over the years.

      I would think the carriage bolts are a dead giveaway to pre-fab construction, but a property title search would probably settle the matter. Most WHL houses were rented initially and renters were given the option to purchase later on (early 1950s IIRC). Some WHL houses were also built for veterans; not sure how many of those exist in Halifax or precisely where they were located, but all construction was completed by 1947. I’ve seen a reference that the city financed more than 600 loans so that homeowners could have basements dug under their WHL houses. The municipal archives over in Burnside Industrial Park would be the logical place to go to look for more information on the wartime WHL projects:

      Hope this helps,
      Jay White

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