Gottingen Street celebrates its resilience this month, at the Gottingen 250 festival, running September 11 to 14. Alteregos Café and Backpackers Hostel owner Michelle Strum has owned a business in the community for 13 years, is a member of the North End Business Association board and is on the organizing committee for the event. “This was an opportunity to really display all the talent there is in the neighbourhood and explore the last 250 years in the area,” she says.
Since the first German settlers arrived in 1764, in what was then known as Germantown, the area has gone through booms and busts—from farms to industrialization, the Halifax Explosion and reconstruction, followed by urbanization and decay. Now, many hope new activity at Halifax Shipyards will spark more renewal.
Yet with all the change, the neighbourhood still feels like a small town within the city. “Everybody knows each other,” Strum says. “There’s business mixed with residents. You have everything here and it’s really tight knit. People have a lot of pride in their neighbourhood and feel really connected to it.”
The neighbourhood is mixed with life-long residents and newcomers, as the area slowly gentrifies. “I don’t see a divide but I do think people want to find a way to connect,” Strum says. “The best thing people can do if you decide to move into a condo on Gottingen Street is walk up the street, get to know the people and keep on with that vibe.”
In recent years, the area has seen eight new condo developments. According to the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation Rental Market Report, between 1997 and 2012 average rental rates increased from $560 to $960 per month. Jennifer Watts, Councillor for the district, wants to ensure the area doesn’t become too pricy for long-time residents. “There’s lots going on in that area which is positive, but it still has its challenges associated with that kind of change,” says Watts. “People understand that there will be new development and support that, but there is concern about the impact on existing neighbourhoods.”
Strum believes people are finally noticing the community’s charm. “There have been people who haven’t been interested in exploring that for whatever reasons, stigmas,” she says. “Essentially they seem to be taking the risk to cross Cornwallis and what they’re experiencing when they do that is what we’ve been experiencing for the past however many years we’ve been living here.”
With the influx of new shops, eateries, and small businesses in the area, it has been rebranded as a trendy, artsy and culturally rich neighbourhood. Ambassatours Gray Line has announced a couple North End stops on its Big Pink sightseeing bus and Local Tasting Tours has launched a new tour focused on the cuisine of the neighbourhood.
During the Gottingen 250 weekend, the North Branch Library will host “noisy radio,” a public open space for people to come and talk about their experiences in the neighbourhood. Volunteer Sobaz Benjamin is working on a film that will capture residents’ stories. The festival will also feature lots of food vendors from different cultures, games and activities, and live entertainment from local artists such as Jordan Croucher and Ghetto Child. Propeller is brewing a limited edition Gottingen 250 beer to mark the occasion. “What’s happening here isn’t changing but it may be changing peoples’ perceptions,” says Strum.