Haligonians know the buildings between Queen Street and Birmingham Street for their long-time shops associated with them of Mills Brothers and Dugger’s Menswear. But what many do not realize is the blocks military connection, which includes 1479 Birmingham Street with this heritage. The military had a part to play in the beginnings of the commercialization of Spring Garden Road. It seems the first buildings along the road to be converted to commercial were between Birmingham and Queen Streets; as shown in the 1895 fire insurance map with buildings highlighted in blue from the Spring Garden Road Archaeological Report. This section of Spring Garden was located closet to Bellevue house which was the headquarters of the commandant for British forces in North America. Furthermore, being on a main corner to go to Artillery Park and the Citadel it would have been a convenient place to shop. It is important to educate about this past as this block will face demolition within the last six months of 2020.
To go a bit further back in time to the period of 1750 to 1840. This was the north part of block A, lots 1,2,3,4,5, and 16 of one of Halifax’s earliest suburbs of Schmidtville, which is discussed on another link on HMHPS.ca website. But in brief Schmidtville was created by the wife of the Hessian Soldier Elizabeth (Pedley) Schmidt who was left the land by her father, James Pedley. Mr. Pedley was the Arms dealer for the British Military in Halifax.
5476 Spring Garden Road (former civics in 1879- 22 to 18, In 1958- 90)
Ajax Hospitality Headquarters was created in 1942 and located at 5476 (90) Spring Garden Road; now home to Dugger’s Mens Wear. The goal of the club was to provide refuge for all Armed Forces Servicemen who served as armed marines onboard merchant ships. This headquarter office is where servicemen would register with the group and sent to the other branches such as in Hantsport and Chester. The office at this location saw 25,184 personal visits in 1944 and the organization finished with wars end in 1945. Other organizations of this type began in provinces such as Quebec and Ontario. In a way was the beginnings of the Canadian Legion.
Ajax Hospitality Headquarters was chaired by Mrs. Janet E. McEuen, affectionally known as Dolly. Mrs. McEuen from 1939 to 1942 operated the Ajax Club which end in a scandal which reached the Federal Government. If you wish to read more about the Ajax club please visit: https://novascotia.ca/archives/eastcoastport/ajax.asp?Language=English
5486 Spring Gard Road (former civics in 1879- 26, In 1958- 86)
This land was first purchased by Thomas Cummings from the Elizabeth Schmidt in 1830/31. Thomas Cummings was a member of the North British Society founded in 1768 and still operates today. The Society which is the oldest such organization outside Great Britain continues to promote Scottish tradition and heritage in Nova Scotia. The Society supports groups such as 78th Highlanders Halifax Citadel Pipe Band and The Scots’ Highland Cadet Corps.
In 1878 this was the site of Rev Gilpin’s mansion who was the principle for the Halifax Grammar School and his son Edwin Gilpin Jr. was a noted geologist. Certainly, many children of military officers would have attended the Halifax Grammar School at this time. Gilpin’s were related to Judge, Thomas Chandler Haliburton.
“The Very Rev. Edwin Gilpin B.A. (1889–1906) Edwin Gilpin B.A. was born in Aylesford, Nova Scotia and became principal of The Halifax Grammar School. When William Bullock was made Dean, Edwin Gilpin was made a Canon of St. Luke’s. He subsequently was appointed Archdeacon and in 1889 became Dean of Nova Scotia. He was the last priest to wear his cassock on the streets of Halifax. For some years, he was Chancellor of King’s College, Windsor and Examining Chaplain tothe Bishop.”
By 1895 this prominent address was converted to commercial. Within 25 years would be home to Halifax’s most notably known high-end department store, Mills Brothers. Mills Brothers operated from 1918 to 2015 and was the anchor store for business along Spring Garden Road for that time. Hugh Mills one of the Mills brothers was very active in the theatre gild in Halifax. He began a radio program called Uncle Mel’s and was the driving force behind the Halifax Concert Party, which raised funds, goods and entertained the troops in Halifax during World War Two.
“The Halifax Chronicle reported at the time of the Halifax Concert Party Guild's 2000th performance on May 21, 1944, that the Guild had collected supplies valued at $11,510,000, which were made available to ships of any country and to all military units in transit through Halifax. The papers of Hugh O. Mills, the primary mover behind the Halifax Concert Party, include a number of letters from military units, Canadian ships, merchant marine ships, and foreign war ships thanking the Halifax group for their assistance in helping to organize and to supply the military entertainments.”
Through this effort Mills Brothers and its owner contributed immensely to the war effort. Mills brothers was more then just a store it was a place where many generations worked together for many causes that made Halifax a better place to live. If you wish to listen the Uncle Mel’s please click on the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRB5Vrdtsjs
1479 (57/59) Birmingham Street
This property was lot 16 of Block A of Schmidtville owned again by Thomas Cummings as with the original lot 2 where Mills Brothers first began. The building functioned as the Halifax Grammar School in 1879 to 1880. In 1881 and this mirror image second empire house became the Recreation Rooms for the 66th Princess Louise Fusiliers. According to the McAlpine’s Halifax City Directory remained such until 1884. See link: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/military-history/history-heritage/official-military-history-lineages/lineages/infantry-regiments/princess-louise-fusiliers.html
After which time 57/59 Birmingham converted back to residential use and remained such until it was bought by Mills Brothers in 1972 and made into the store’s menswear department. It now serves as the Daily Grind café until it will be demolished along with the rest of Halifax’s 50% downtown heritage already lost to the wrecking ball.