In its origins, the North End grew up around the north suburb of eighteenth century Halifax where the Foreign Protestants - German and French speaking immigrants - were domiciled, the naval yards were established, and early merchant-traders held waterfront property. Oral history has it that, as the city became better established, Irish Catholics migrated out of the early central waterfront district. This story claims that the area directly north of the Citadel became the home of many Irish Catholics during the second half of the nineteenth century. It is the neighbourhood which gave birth to Saint Patrick's Catholic Church, and in the 1950s, congregations there hit 5500 people per Sunday.
In the late nineteenth century, however, this neighbourhood housed quite a few other churches: Presbyterian, Church of England, Baptist, Methodist, Universalist, and Plymouth Brethren. This profusion of churches raises a question about the ethno-religious character of the neighbourhood. Was it really as Irish Catholic as our oral history suggests?
The data we are developing suggests that it was in fact. Working with an initial sample of about fourteen hundred people from that neighbourhood in 1881 (n=1363), 34% were Roman Catholic, 23% Church of England, 15% Baptist, 14% Methodist, and 13% Presbyterian, with the remainder being Plymouth Brethren or Universalists (with just 2 missing values). Of course, the religious affiliation doesn't say anything about ethnicity - perhaps these were French Catholics, or English or Scottish Catholics fleeing persecution - but the data also provides information on ethnic origins. Of the Catholics in the Old North End, 75% were Irish, 12% English, and 6% Scottish, the remainder being German, French, Swedish, and Welsh. Significantly, with the exception of the Irish, all of the other ethnic groups in the Old North End were largely Protestant. The French population there, for instance, was largely French Protestant. The oral history is, therefore, consequential. While the very early character of the neighbourhood in the eighteenth century was Foreign Protestant, the great migration of the Irish to Halifax following the Napoleonic Wars spilled over into the Old North End and, by the 1880s, the dominant character of the community was Irish Catholic.
The boundaries we are using to define the 'Old North End' are mapped by North Street, Windsor Street, Cogswell Street, and the Harbour. This area is that which comprises the bounds of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Parish which served the needs of the Catholics in that district. Located on Brunswick Street, then the beating heart of that district, St. Patrick's jostled for space with five other churches in the space of two blocks - the Little Dutch Church, St. John's Presbyterian, St. George's Church of England, Church of the Redeemer Universalist Unitarian, and Brunswick Street Methodist. The timing of the Irish occupation of the neighbourhood is further evidenced by the timing of St. Patrick's church construction. The initial church took occupation of an already existing building, which was being leased as a Garrison Chapel, on Brunswick in 1845. With the further development of the district in the second half of the nineteenth century, the parish outgrew its building, and a new church building on the same site was commissioned with plans by Henry Peters, a prominent local builder, and the cornerstone was laid in 1883. The upper church and the lower floor in the new, more capacious, building could accommodate about 3000 people.
This period in the late 1870s and early 1880s is a moment of special focus, however, as it sets a baseline from which earlier and later studies can be measured. These years are significant as the first point at which the "mapping" of population really got underway. In 1878, the Hopkins Atlas of Halifax was published, covering the entire peninsula of Halifax. It provided mapping for all streets and lanes, numbered homes and businesses, and provided identification for all significant properties. During the following year, the panoramic map, providing a bird’s eye view of Halifax, was printed offering comparative documentation with Hopkin’s endeavours. Two years later the Canadian Census of 1881 provided the first "sociological" survey of all residents, using what have become important contemporary variables - name, relationships, gender, age, ethnic identification, occupation, and religion. A final valuable source remains the yearly Halifax directories by which linkages may be made with all the foregoing. These multi-layered sources offer an exciting opportunity to view a world captured briefly in time. Within that neighbourhood, we have a full enumeration of all the households with primary name, occupation, street addresses and geocodes. We have further developed a sample of several hundred households which have been linked with the 1881 census data.
This was late Victorian Halifax - a city of tradition and innovation, a hub of international communication and trade, all organized in a complex web of family, mobility, social gradations and intersecting networks. Photographs and
newspapers offer insight into contemporary intellectual themes and aspirations. A reconstruction of these detailed records of neighbourhood life can provide lessons for the present about the changes which have occurred since then. In this task, the moral sciences can help with an assessment of our self-understanding, of how we conduct our responsibilities to the disadvantaged, sustain the environment, improve economic conditions for all, and retain that which upholds the good. In this sense, we might think of this project as a contemporary version of King William's Domesday Book, "for as the sentence of that strict and terrible last account cannot be evaded by any skilful subterfuge, so when this book is appealed to ... its sentence cannot be quashed or set aside with impunity" (FitzNeal, c.1179).