Pirates, Indians, waring colonialists and exploding ships make the history of Halifax read like an adventure story. The name the Mi’kmaq gave present-day Halifax, Che-book-took, translates as ‘great long harbor’ and the British eagerly took advantage of its potential as a port. From 1749, when Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax along what is today Barrington Street, the settlement expanded and flourished. The complete destruction of the French fortress at Louisbourg in 1760, increased British dominance and sealed Halifax as Nova Scotia’s most important city.
In the early 1800s the growing port town became home to Saint Mary’s University, followed shortly after by Dalhousie University. Despite being a seat of higher education, Halifax was still a rough and ready sailor’s nest that, during the War of 1812 became a center for Privateer black market trade. As piracy lost its government endorsement, Halifax sailed smoothly into a mercantile era, and the city streets (particularly Market and Brunswick Streets) became home to countless taverns and brothels.
On April 14, 1912, three Halifax ships were sent in response to a distress call; the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic had hit an iceberg. Over 1500 people were killed in the tragedy and many were buried at Fairview Cemetery, next to the Fairview Overpass on the Bedford Highway.
During WWI in 1917 the Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship carrying TNT and highly flammable benzol, collided with another ship. The ‘Halifax Explosion,’ the world’s biggest man-made explosion prior to A-bombs being dropped on Japan in 1945, ripped through the city. More than 1900 people were killed and 9000 injured. Almost the entire northern end of Halifax was leveled and many buildings and homes that were not destroyed by the explosion burned to the ground when winter stockpiles of coal in the cellars caught fire.
Halifax faced its worst natural disaster in September 2003 when the 185km/h winds of Hurricane Juan ripped out thousands of trees, severely damaged buildings and scarred Halifax forever. Despite the violence of the storm only eight people were killed.