Jay White

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John C. Weaver




Halifax, Nova Scotia was arguably the most strategic Allied navel base in North America during the Second World War. This dissertation assesses the impact of wartime social change on Halifax by placing the war within the context of long term urban development. This departs from the prevailing "top-down" perspective informing much of the current historiography on Canada's home front during the Second World War. A housing and population survey conducted by the federal government in 1944 formed the basis for statistical reconstruction of the physical and social structure of wartime Halifax. The findings show that the most serious issue facing Halifax during this period was the shortage of adequate and affordable housing. Public sector initiatives aimed a relieving housing congestion found little political support, due to a well-entrenched rentier class who benefited from wartime conditions, and an unwillingness on the part of lower levels of government to undertake projects without the participation of the federal government. The housing emergency exacerbated social tensions in an urban population already fragmented along racial, socio-economic, and service-civilian lines. These tensions erupted into civil disorder on V-E Day when civilians and service personnel ransacked the central business district. Geographically, Halifax was ill-suited to deal with rapid urban expansion, yet the war forced the city to undergo the difficult transition fro small provincial city to medium-sized metropolis under conditions of extreme duress. The wartime military buildup brought rapid change to Halifax, but the underlying patten of class relations and the pace of urbanization were only temporarily disrupted. The real transformation of Halifax occurred several years after the war, when a more stable economy and population base stimulated sustainable urban growth. Even so, the major developmental issues challenging Halifax in the 1950s were essentially no different from those confronting the city in 1920. The Second World War defeated Hitlerism, but it did not solve the housing problem in Halifax.

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