Nova Scotia Archives

'An East Coast Port'

Halifax in Wartime, 1939-1945


War Comes to the City

It did not take the citizens of Halifax long to realize that the war, once begun, would take place right on their doorstep. Canada entered the conflict on 10 September 1939. Three days later, 216 survivors from the torpedoed British passenger liner Athenia were brought into Halifax on the City of Flint. Three days after that, on 16 September, 'The Battle of the Atlantic' began with the departure of Convoy HX 1 from Halifax Harbour. War had indeed come to the city.

At first, the soldiers and parades and convoy departures were exciting, and the flush of wartime spending even hinted at prosperity to come — but reality set in before long, as the city was turned upside down. Hundreds, then thousands of service personnel, senior staff, civilian support personnel, merchant seamen, civil servants, war workers, wives and children flooded in and out of the city, staying for a day, a week, a month.... or maybe for the duration. There was, quite simply, nowhere to put all these people. Wartime housing projects began to change the look of the city and eased the over-crowding somewhat — but not nearly enough.

Wartime restrictions and security requirements added to general tensions. Night-time blackouts, the submarine net, searchlight installations, air-raid sirens, and the importance placed on Civil Defence reminded citizens and soldiers alike that danger and death lurked just beyond Chebucto Head at the mouth of the harbour — and perhaps much closer.

By the end of 1941, it was clear that World War II would be a long haul, requiring fundamental civilian adjustments. Victory Bond campaigns persuaded wage-earners to invest every spare dollar in the war effort. Initial friendly persuasion to reduce the consumption of sugar, eggs, rubber, gasoline and other war essentials gave way to controlled prices and food rationing. Within a year, as Bill Naftel remarks in his article elsewhere on this website, "just about everything that was not immoral or illegal became either unobtainable, required a coupon, or needed a permit to use or obtain it."

The virtual exhibit presented here captures the everyday look-and-feel of a city and a population at war — people stretched beyond their normal limits of endurance, 'fraying at the edges,' making do with less in every aspect of their lives; and when all else failed, falling back on the weather as a safe topic of conversation.


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City of Flint Steaming Steadily Toward Halifax with 216 Survivors on Board 
Date: 13 September 1939
Reference no.: John F. Rogers Collection Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1995-370 no. 51

War Comes to the City

Aerial View of Passengers and Crew on Board the Middle Open deck of City of Flint 
Date: 13 September 1939
Reference no.: John F. Rogers Collection Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1995-370 no. 52

War Comes to the City

Aerial View of Passengers and Crew of the Torpedoed SS Athenia on the deck of the City of Flint 
Date: 13 September 1939
Reference no.: John F. Rogers Collection Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1995-370 no. 53

War Comes to the City

City of Flint with SS Athenia survivors on board 
Date: 14 September 1939
Reference no.: John F. Rogers Collection Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 2004-047 no. 50

War Comes to the City

Athenia Survivor Sari Maritza Holding Baby Nicola, Daughter of Ernst Lubitsch 
Date: 14 September 1939
Reference no.: Robert Norwood Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1991-447

War Comes to the City

Broadway Column Stirs Memory of Halifax Drama 
Date: 14 September 1939
Reference no.: Robert Norwood Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1991-447

War Comes to the City

City of Flint Docking at Halifax 
Date: 14 September 1939
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives

War Comes to the City

World War II Convoy Leaving Halifax - film clip 
Date: 1939
Reference no.: Mary Elizabeth Lynch collection Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1987-64 Vb 255

War Comes to the City

Halifax Rifles on Citadel Hill 
Date: 1940
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 23 vol. 22 no. 14A: Halifax Rifles Book no. 13

War Comes to the City

Halifax Rifles on Citadel Hill 
Date: 1940
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 23 vol. 22 no. 14A: Halifax Rifles Book no. 13

War Comes to the City

Halifax Rifles on Citadel Hill 
Date: 1940
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 23 vol. 22 no. 14A: Halifax Rifles Book no. 13

War Comes to the City

Halifax Rifles on Citadel Hill 
Date: 1940
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 23 vol. 22 no. 14A: Halifax Rifles Book no. 13

War Comes to the City

Halifax Rifles on Citadel Hill 
Date: 1940
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 23 vol. 22 no. 14A: Halifax Rifles Book no. 13

War Comes to the City

Halifax Rifles on Citadel Hill 
Date: 1940
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 23 vol. 22 no. 14A: Halifax Rifles Book no. 13

War Comes to the City

Halifax Rifles on Citadel Hill 
Date: 1940
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives MG 23 vol. 22 no. 14A: Halifax Rifles Book no. 13

War Comes to the City
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