Erin Ferguson’s handiwork nicely reflects the transformation of downtown Dartmouth.
Her Harbourside Designs’ hangings, ornaments and pocket mirrors celebrate Dartmouth as a hip, super-tight neighbourhood with a playful nod to the notion that it used to be a lesser place to live.
Ferguson makes the pieces, which sell at shops in downtown Dartmouth, from a hand-carved rubber stamp of the Tufts Cove smokestacks with cheeky remarks like “I would cross the bridge for you,” “Is my darkside showing?” and “Just a Dartmouth girl living in a Hali world.”
“It’s all in jest. When you live in Dartmouth you’ve got to develop a little bit of a thick skin because you’re referred to as the ‘dark side’ or you live in darkness,” says Ferguson, a mother of three from Crichton Park. “I think we all have the ability to laugh at that, especially because we’re seeing a lot of positive things happening in Dartmouth.”
Until recently, downtown Dartmouth didn’t have a great rep—there were few shops and restaurants, and no one was calling it a happening place to live or work. But the neighbourhood has evolved, a change Haligonians noticed when Two if By Sea café and bakery opened on Ochterloney Street in 2009. A community hub for coffee and croissants, and communal dinners by award-winning chef René Lavallé, downtown Dartmouth suddenly had something fresh and cool to offer. (It also sells Dartmouth-pride gear like T-shirts, toques, and mugs.)
Lavallé has expanded the business to larger digs and now offers brunch and dinner. Recently, some 10 new businesses opened in downtown Dartmouth. And a steady stream of young families and first-time homebuyers are choosing downtown Dartmouth over pricier peninsular Halifax.
The average price of homes sold in downtown Dartmouth so far this year is $246,000, whereas in Halifax, a home in the North End is $315,000 and the West End is just under $400,000. More space for their buck is a key attraction, with downtown Dartmouth homeowners paying $185 per square foot, versus $224 in North End Halifax and $238 in the West End in this quarter.
Claudia Chender, a self-described Dartmouth convert and NDP MLA for Dartmouth South, migrated from North End Halifax to Dahlia Street. After living there for a while with her husband and three kids, she decided it was poised to be the next Agricola Street. She and Biscuit General Store owner Wendy Friedman got in on the action, buying the old Fisher’s Stationary building on Portland Street which they rent to two small businesses: a yarn store and a yoga studio.
“There’s just a cool community of people here and there’s lots of young, interesting business owners who are really connected to the community and that’s totally inspiring for me,” says Chender.
Peter Burbridge and his wife Rozina Darvesh had a similar awakening. They needed a bigger home for their two young children and moved from West End Halifax over the bridge for a bigger, more affordable house. Now, the couple behind North Brewing Company also own a business in downtown Dartmouth: they co-own Battery Park Beer Bar & Eatery.
“We just fell in love with the neighbourhood around downtown Dartmouth,” Burbridge says. “I grew up in Halifax. I never really spent much time in Dartmouth, except for the occasional trip over to Mic Mac Mall or Burnside, so it’s kind of an eye opener. I would never move back to the peninsula because you have the best of everything within walking distance here.”
Longtime Dartmouth resident and realtor Mark Mullane says the Dartmouth migration is definitely a trend among young families and first-time homebuyers, with some even requesting it as a destination.
“I always used to call Dartmouth the new Brooklyn,” says Mullane, a father of one who lives on the edge of downtown Dartmouth. “It just makes sense to me that if Halifax is Manhattan, then Dartmouth is the cool other side of the water.”
“We were the underdogs for so long and there’s always somebody that wants to root for the underdog, and that just builds up more and more pride. People are just so proud. Everyone’s got Dartmouth posters on their wall. Everyone’s got something that says Dartmouth in their closet. It’s super cool to see.”