Monthly Archives: January 2015

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Harry Houdini honed his craft in Halifax

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Harry Houdini was an international legend.

Performing illusionist acts such as escaping from a straight-jacket underwater and surviving being buried alive were just a couple of the death-defying footprints he left behind in his legacy.

But, who would have thought Houdini had a connection to Halifax, Nova Scotia?


Houdini didn’t simply visit the province, he lived here for a month in 1896 as a young, aspiring illusionist. At 22 years old, Halifax and Dartmouth were crucial to his success as a world-famous magician.

His first headlining performance outside of the United States was performed in Dartmouth, and his first-ever jail break was performed at Halifax City Hall.

The City Hall (built between 1887 and 1890) at that time had an area that served as a jail.


In fact, just recently, in 2013, there was a Houdini séance (an organized attempt to communicate with spirits) held on the anniversary of his death.

Houdini died on Halloween in 1926 at age 52 and promised his wife that he would communicate with her from the afterlife.

Special thanks to local author, Bruce MacNab, for connecting all of the dots in Houdini’s Halifax history.


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Angus L. Macdonald was a total badass

All Haligonians are familiar with the Macdonald bridge — but how much do you know about the man behind the name? There are many reasons to be proud of our two-time Premier.

Angus L.” was raised in a family of 14 children and grew up to pay his own way through university at StFX. He played rugby, won academic awards, edited the school newspaper, and became the class valedictorian — but not before taking a break from his degree to fight in the First World War.

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“Angus L.” in his Sunday best. Photo credit: StFX University Library archives

While fighting on the front lines, Macdonald stepped up to the plate to lead his fellow soldiers when all of his commanding officers were killed.

He ended up getting shot in the neck by a German sniper, only to recover after 8 months in a British hospital.

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The Angus L. Macdonald bridge under construction in the 1950s.

Premier Macdonald earned the then-popular expression “All’s Well With Angus L”. He took on some of Nova Scotia’s most monumental issues and turned them into success stories. During his time in office, he was responsible for the construction of over $100 million in new roads, bridges, and extended electrical transmission lines throughout the province. All the while, dealing with the mass economic issues of the Great Depression by putting Nova Scotians to work on these projects.

Next time you’re on your morning commute across Halifax’s famous bridge, tip your hat to its namesake — he’s certainly earned it.

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Halifacts on air!

The folks over at Global Halifax were kind enough to feature us on their Morning News today, and we had a great time chatting with Paul about Halifacts.

Check out the interview if you missed it!

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Halifax was home to North America’s first professional zoo

As a resident of Halifax, how far would you imagine you’d need to go to see tigers, leopards, or a polar bear? Once upon a time, a Halifax zoo called Downs’ Zoological Gardens hosted these animals and many more.

Downs’ Zoological Gardens was in operation between 1847 and 1867 and then again between 1869 and 1872. The zoo was owned and operated by a man named Andrew Downs. Originally, the zoo covered two hectares of hilly land near where Joseph Howe Drive is today (near Morningside Drive). By the early 1860s, the zoo covered 40 hectares (almost half a square kilometre). There were walking paths throughout the zoo that led to picnic areas, statues, an artificial lake, and most notably, the Glass House.


The zoo’s owner/operator, Andrew Downs, sits on the railing in front of the Glass House (photo credit: Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada)

The Glass House contained a greenhouse and aquarium as well as a museum of stuffed animals. It was a very popular site amongst all of the attractions at the zoo.

The Downs’ Zoological Gardens was so popular that that there were two ferries operating on the Northwest Arm that would ship guests to see the zoo. The ferries were called the Neptune and the Micmac.

The zoo had become so popular by the 1860s that representatives from the American Smithsonian Museum had recommended Andrew Downs set up a condensed version of his zoo at New York’s Central Park.

The zoo temporarily shut down while Downs moved to New York, and although it was reopened in 1869, it closed in 1872 due to financial hardship.

Thanks to Mike Macdonald, fan of Halifacts, for suggesting that we look into this piece of Halifax history. Feel free to send along your suggestions too!