JOHN DeMONT: Connection through time in an old city directory

HALIFAX, N.S. — Since my idea of ​​prudent financial planning is whether to buy a Velcro wallet or one with zippers, the other day I spent more than anyone probably should on a Halifax-Dartmouth City Directory 1945.

Although it sounds like an impulse buy, it wasn’t.

Recently I noticed on Twitter that someone had found a copy of the St. John’s yellow pages directory in their mailbox and reacted with disbelief isn’t it strange that such a thing still exists in the age of cell phones, research and online data. .

I took some umbrage at this since the white and yellow pages, and their more illuminating cousins, the city directories, have long been a big part of my professional and personal life.

I also have an abiding interest in what Halifax was like before I walked its streets. Old Town directories help fill in the blanks.

As great as it is to look through columns of long-dead names, see what people have done to put bread on the table, and find out who lived where and when in directories that can be searched at the Nova Public Archives Scotia website, I find it helps me to understand things to hold these volumes in my hand, and to touch the old paper, to feel the weight of time.

And so, finding that a 1945 yearbook was in stock at John W. Doull, I made for Dartmouth’s venerable seller of used and rare books, dropped off some dough and drove home with my price.

A look inside a former City Manager for Halifax and Dartmouth. – Personal

It’s sitting on my desk as I write this; orange hardcover adorned with advertisements for the Halifax and Dartmouth companies of the day — Breton’s Dairy, Mulroney Sight Specialists, Thomas, Adams & Co., Purdy Mothers Limited Marine Machinists, Mitchell Fur Co., Soulis Typewriter Co. — its weight, at 590 pages, similar to that of a church hymn.

The tome is thick because there’s so much in it: a nice historical sketch of Halifax; various information on the different levels of government.

The collection of statistics at the beginning of the yearbook lets the reader know from the start that Halifax-Dartmouth of 77 years ago was not the great city-state of today: the war had swollen the population of the Twin Cities to 116,661 in 1945, a little less than a quarter of our current size; instead of stretching as far as the eye could see, Halifax-Dartmouth of yesteryear had a combined landmass of less than 10 square miles and a mere 54 miles of paved streets, over which ran 18 miles of electric railway lines, under which 96 miles of sewers meandered.

You might find it interesting to know that at the end of World War II we had only 13 bank branches, plus four decent sized hotels with a total of 570 rooms and 43 schools where 15,979 students learned their ABC.

Our counterparts in 1945 had the choice of 286 separate grocers, instead of a handful of big-box stores owned by some distant corporate entity, to go with a dozen butcher shops and 10 fruit stalls.

I know this, just as I find it intriguing that the Halifax Police Department headed by Judson J. Conrad had 93 men and only one female officer – compared to the current strength of 530 sworn officers, including 109 women – which makes it smaller than John W. Churchill’s fire department with its 127 brave firefighters, plus seven fire trucks, early-era hook-and-ladder vehicles, a fireboat, and a vehicle in which the chief itself can move.

Yes, times were different when barbers, as well as beauty salons, outnumbered lawyers, when six of the 48 pages of the classified business directory were occupied by insurance companies, and Halifax and Dartmouth had 69 judges of peace and boasted of having a tinsmith, a pair of harness makers and five ice cream vendors.

Companies like this are all gone now. But the municipality then seemed more closely tied to the ocean than it ever was, listing 11 ship bunkers, 41 docks for use and 69 steamer lines doing business here.

This would not surprise a modern-day Haligonian or Dartmouthian. What might, however, is that our counterparts in 1945 had the choice of 286 separate grocers, instead of a handful of big-box stores owned by a distant company, to go with a dozen butcher shops and 10 meat stalls. fruits.

A title page in a 1969 municipal directory for Halifax and Dartmouth.  - Personal
A title page in a 1969 municipal directory for Halifax and Dartmouth. – Personal

They had 34 places to mend their shoes and 29 laundries where someone ironed their shirts and ironed their dresses. When their kids wanted candy, there were 73 different places they could buy Smarties and Lik-M-Aid.

Health care was different then, even though Camp Hill, the Victoria General and the Halifax Infirmary already existed. During wartime, a Royal Canadian Navy hospital was located at HMCS Stadacona, while a hospital served inmates at Rockhead Prison, and those infected with tuberculosis also had their own place to receive care.

It must be said that it was a decidedly Dickensian sound for a town that ran reformatories, as well as orphanages for Protestants, homes for boys and girls, “old men” and “old ladies” and various other “retirements” and “asylums”.

I can’t tell from my yearbook if it was a particularly happy place, with the VE Day riots that happened later that year being sparked by not being able to get a drink anywhere on the peninsula.

Still, something strong that burned must have been available at some of the 112 restaurants and canteens listed, some of them precursors to modern places to sip and dine like Alexanders Sweet Shop on Barrington Street, now the location of Bearly’s House of Blues & Ribs, under the ownership of Mimi Iatrou, the grandson of one of the original owners, and the Garden View, still on Spring Garden, one of many Chinese restaurants of the time.

Some of the social clubs of 1945, I know for a fact, provided distractions from the stresses of everyday life, because they still did in my time: the Resolute and City clubs, the Greek-Canadian club, then on Hollis Street, which moved over the years and ended up a few blocks away under the ownership of my friend Mike Michalos.

I spent time in there, listening to the click-click-click of the billiard balls, the jokes of the poker players in the corner, the old stories that acquired the resonance of ancient myth over the years.

Now all I have to do is open this old directory, see the name of the place, feel this connection through time. It may not matter to some, but it matters to me.

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