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POI Descriptive Title

Penitentiary/Poor Asylum/People’s Heat and Light Company





POI Historical Details

The property which is now Inglewood Drive (a residential street in Halifax's South End) was first the site of what was eventually called the Dominion Penitentiary, following Confederation in 1867. The penitentiary had been constructed in 1841 as the Provincial Penitentiary. The corner stone was laid by Grand Master Alexander Keith on June 24, 1841 as part of a Masonic ceremony.[1]

The penitentiary was closed in 1880 when it was replaced by the new Dominion Penitentiary opened in Dorchester, New Brunswick. The Northwest Arm site was then used for a time to house the inmates of the city’s Poor Asylum after it was destroyed by fire on November 2, 1882. The property contains at least one grave, where the remains of an unknown woman who died at the prison are buried.[2]

Between 1893 and 1896 the property was converted into the gas works of the People’s Heat and Light Company. The company had been chartered in April 1893 by H.M. Whitney (president), W.B. Ross (vice-president), and B.F. Pearson (secretary) to convert coal into illuminant gas which was to be sold for heating gas to consumers, for metallurgical purposes, and to heat the boilers of the Halifax Electric Tramway Company, a separate company in which the People’s Heat and Light Company’s directors were also investors. Other saleable products produced at the gas works site included fuel gas, coke, coal tar, sulphate of ammonia, sulphuric acid, sulphur, benzol, and potassic ferrocyanide.

According to research conducted by Kyle Jolliffe for his 1995 article “A Saga of Gilded Age Entrepreneurship in Halifax,” the economic feasibility of the People’s Heat and Light Company was based upon the fact that Whitney, Ross, and Pearson were all board members of the Dominion Coal Company of Cape Breton (DOMCO). (Whitney Pier, Cape Breton was named to honour H. M. Whitney and his contributing to the local economy through the establishment of DOMCO.) The three used these business connections to arrange for the sale of coal from DOMCO to the People’s Heat and Light Company at prices below market value. Indeed, it seems that the main reason for the creation of the People’s Heat and Light Company was to allow its investors (including Whitney, Ross, and Pearson) to make money on speculation of company stock. However, between the establishment of the company and May 1902, when the company’s assets were liquidated, People’s Heat and Light Company encountered several problems which affected its viability.

The company’s first problem was the declining consumption of coal gas in Halifax and the related increase in the use of electricity in Halifax. At the time the city’s electricity was being produced by the Halifax Illuminating and Motor Company, a company in which both Pearson and Whitney were also share holders. Second, legal proceedings had been launched by both George E. Francklyn, owner of the Emscote estate, and the Imperial War Office. These legal challenges threatened the company’s ability to produce coal products at the Northwest Arm plant. Franklyn was suing the People’s Heat and Light Company for having contaminated his estate with fumes from the gas works emitted to the point that Emscote was uninhabitable. In the case of the War Office, it had formally complained to the Lieutenant-Governor that the pollution from the gas works was affecting the growth of trees in Point Pleasant Park – trees which the War Office understood to offer valuable camouflage to it fortifications in the park. Finally, the price of coal had risen so much between 1896 and 1902 that the People’s Heat and Light Company could no longer continue to produce its coal products without either severely harming the profitability of its coal suppliers and/or breaking legally-enforceable pricing promises it had made to its customers.

In 1902 the People’s Heat and Light Company was sold to the Halifax Electric Tramway Company, which replaced the Northwest Arm gas works with a new facility on the site of the former Halifax Gas Light Company plant. The Halifax Electric Tramway Company had acquired this second site as part of the assets of the People’s Heat and Light Company. The new facility was located at the end of Lower Water Street, the current site of the former Nova Scotia Power Corporation’s generating plant.

After the Halifax Electric Tramway Company took position of the Northwest Arm site, the property (190.9m water frontage, 298.7m depth on it south limit, and 240.7m depth on its north limit) was used as a park and bathing grounds which were serviced by a tram line.[3] However, the buildings of the People’s Heat and Light Company and the old Dominion Penitentiary were not demolished until April, 1948. The granite stone from these buildings were then used in the construction of the new St. Mary’s College at Gorsebrook, or what is today the main building of St. Mary’s University on Robie Street.[4]

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