Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Douglass St. Christian


“Renaissance”, “revitalization”, “vibrancy”, and “gentrification” are all terms popularly used to describe the processes currently transforming Halifax’s North End. The longtime neglected, presumed-to-be dangerous, and widely avoided area is now said, by realtors, business owners, and City officials alike, to be a creatively-thriving and socially diverse community, and up-and-coming hotspot for independent business. Home to a large population of Halifax’s “creative class” of artists, musicians, and gays, the historically African Nova Scotian neighbourhood has, over the past decade, undergone a facelift, with some historic homes having been “flipped” three times, and their value sometimes quadrupled. Once-derelict buildings now house luxury condominiums, gourmet restaurants, and boutique retail shops. While some residents celebrate the neighbourhood’s supposed “renaissance,” others bemoan the loss of its rich history and character, perceiving this “revitalization” as “gentrification.” For many newer residents, the influx of new residents, businesses, and vision has inspired a renewed inspiration and hope for the area’s future. Others, cognizant of the area’s deeply-rooted Black culture and longstanding population of African Nova Scotians and Africville descendants, are, however, concerned that the area’s current transformation is pushing out poorer Black and white residents, and, is, in short, “another Africville.” This dissertation emerges out of fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork that examined how longtime residents are affected by perceived gentrification in Halifax’s North End. I focus on how current social tensions within the area emerge from competing understandings of the area’s history and emergent future. I argue that perceptions towards what some are calling “gentrification” in the North End splinter along the lines of a contentious history – the displacement of Africville. Varying narratives of this history – what I call Narratives of Revitalization and Narratives of Neglect – and its salience today are ultimately shaping whether or not longtime working-class and African Nova Scotian residents imagine themselves in the neighbourhood’s future. I offer a critical, ethnographic, historically-rooted contribution to the gentrification literature that takes the micro-geography of North End Halifax as an historically-unique yet underexplored starting point. My approach offers a more nuanced, locally-grounded and critical perspective on how longtime residents perceive, experience, and respond to neighbourhood change.