There are townships named Halifax in Ontario and Quebec, there’s a Halifax Island in Saskatchewan and Namibia, and towns sharing the name on three continents. You can find various lakes, creeks, coulees, and even a mountain range and a shoal bearing the name.
Every so often Halifax Magazine gets messages from people in other Halifaxes, most recently a British emailer saying the magazine doesn’t focus enough on the rest of West Yorkshire. And that got us thinking about the other Halifaxes out there.
A HALIFAX BY ANY OTHER NAME
“Not everybody can live in Halifax. Sometimes I think we’re privileged to have this beautiful little place,” says Andrew John Lancini, councillor for Halifax in the Shire of Hinchinbrook, Queensland.
Located on the Herbert River (watch out for the crocodiles) in northeastern Australia, Halifax is home to about 500 people, but features shops, a service station (owned by Lancini, who has been on council for 19 years) hotels, police and ambulance services, plus Halifax Homebrew and Tackle. “We’ve got everything,” Lancini says, including mango trees down the middle of the main street.
Swedish settler August Anderssen bought the land where the town stands in 1884 for growing sugarcane. Slaves, imported from Vanuatu and nearby Pacific islands, worked (in part) the plantations in the area. That practice ended in 1904. Some of their descendants, known as Australian South Sea Islanders, still live in the area.
Lancini says he’s always thought the town should have been named Anderssen. “The name wasn’t selected by us, but by our masters,” he says. “We only had English brutality here that ran the country. Lord Halifax probably wouldn’t know where Halifax is.”
Halifax and nearby Ingham used to be equally important, but then the railway ran through Ingham, sidelining its neighbour. Sugarcane continues to be the main industry, with a nearby mill as the largest employer.
We get hurricanes, they get cyclones. Cyclone Larry clobbered the area in 2006 and Cyclone Yasi in 2011. Flooding completely isolated the town for 10 days. And, like councillors everywhere, Lancini has complaints about higher levels of government. “The state government in Queensland at the moment is Labour and they do a lot of cost-shifting,” he explains. “The feds—you can’t complain too much, they try their best. And we have a senate, but they’re useless.”
MAKING A STAND IN THE RUST BELT
Founded in 1794, the Borough of Halifax is a quiet bedroom community of 900 in central Pennsylvania. Just outside town lies the site of Fort Halifax, a short-lived wooden stockade that British settlers built in 1756.
“I’m the mayor of Halifax,” says Jeff Enders, who’s held the volunteer position for 17 years. “That’s as big as it gets! It’s almost like a volunteer fire chief, but it comes with a whole lot more headaches.”
Like many towns in the northeastern U.S., Halifax thrived in the industrial era. The borough lies on the Susquehanna River, once a major artery for shipping coal. It had a train station and was home to a large shoe manufacturer supplying the U.S. military. Train tracks still run parallel to Front Street, along the riverfront, but the town’s industrial days “are long past,” Enders says.
As in much of the Rust Belt, drug use has hit Halifax hard. Enders says opioids and fentanyl blew through the region relatively quickly. “The big problem we’ve been dealing with in our county is the heroin epidemic,” he says. “It touches us like it touches everyone and it kills.”
Today, many residents work in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania capital, about a 30-minute drive away. The pressing local issues are development, infrastructure upgrades, and traffic.
“Our small town has a budget of $300,000 a year but upgrading water or sewer infrastructure on any one street is a million dollars,” Enders says. “And in any small town or village, everyone wants some nice things. They want the nice little shopping plaza, but not next to them or within a half mile of them.”
But most of the complaints he has to deal with as mayor are relatively uncomplicated (“my neighbour hasn’t mowed his grass in three weeks”) and it helps that he knows everyone in town.
Enders’ day job is assistant director in the Dauphin County Department of Public Safety. “We often get calls for your Halifax,” he says. “People will call the police department and leave a message because they’ve looked up Halifax online, and sometimes we get mail for up there. It’s always entertaining for us.”
THE MOTHER OF ALL HALIFAXES
Halifax, West Yorkshire
Welcome to Halifax, where a new central library just opened and film and TV workers are busy with high-profile productions shooting locally.
No, you haven’t travelled back in time—you’re in Halifax, England.
The largest town in the amalgamated municipality of Calderdale, Halifax has a population of just under 100,000. It’s been the site of settlement since at least the 12th century. The name means “area of coarse grass in the nook of land” in Anglo-Saxon.
The Bronte sisters grew up nearby, and Emily taught in a village that’s now part of Halifax. During the Industrial Revolution the town had a thriving textile industry, dominated by massive carpet factories, but they closed years ago.
Robin Tuddenham fell in love with Halifax the first time he visited in 2009: “There’s a sense in England that the north has less money and less investment and that’s true,” he says. “But there’s also a resilience and determination and confidence that’s inspiring.” Six months later he moved there from London; he’s now chief executive of the municipality.
While we’ve been tearing down heritage buildings, Tuddenham says one of the things that drew him to Halifax was the historic buildings. “Some of the planning of the ‘60s and ‘70s had much less effect here,” he says. “We’ve protected a lot of our architecture. We have a very old traditional barrow market, and we have a range of listed [protected] buildings, which are fabulous.” Many date from the Georgian and Victorian periods.
Tuddenham enthuses about two major revitalization projects: the Dean Clough textile mills and Piece Hall, a trading hub for cloth merchants dating from 1779. The mills fell into disrepair, but after a 34-year renovation project two of them now house offices, small businesses, theatre companies, and six art galleries.
As for Piece Hall, which opened in August: “It’s a very special building that’s been in a state of decline for a number of years, and we have been on a journey to restore it,” Tuddenham says. “[It] will become our destination for shopping, retail and telling our story for the north of England.”
Tuddenham says Canadians he met in Winnipeg last year were shocked at the state of library funding in the U.K. But he says Halifax saw value in a “totally redesigned new library” that’s welcoming and energy efficient. It opened beside Piece Hall this summer too.
Banking is the biggest employer. Tuddenham says the region suffered during the financial crisis. Other challenges include poverty, the out-migration of young people to nearby Leeds and Manchester, affordable housing, and “shockingly poor” public transit.
One of the bright spots in the local economy is the film industry, with shows like Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley (you can see them both on Netflix). The new BBC/HBO drama Shibden Hall is coming next year, based on the life of Halifax renegade Anne Lister.
“There is a knock-on effect, because we are getting more and more requests for film and television shows,” Tuddenham says. “It’s created opportunities for us.”
If only we’d thought of that.
WHO WAS HALIFAX ANYWAY?
Our Halifax is named for George Montagu-Dunk, the second Earl of Halifax (1716–1771). The title disappeared after his death, but was revived in 1944. The current earl is Charles Edward Peter Neil Wood, who was born in 1944 and lives at Garrowby Hall, part of the 8,100-hectare Halifax estate. (Lord Halifax was travelling and wasn’t available for an interview.)
CORRECTION: Due to a research error, the print edition of this story misidentified Lord Halifax as the former husband of the Duchess of Cornwall. The story above has been corrected. Halifax Magazine regrets the mistake.