Relief Camp at Citadel Hill

Submitted by Devonna Edwards

During the Great Depression in the 1930s (The Dirty Thirties) unemployment and a stagnant economy was the result of Wall Street Market crash on October 24, 1929, that day became known as “Black Tuesday.” Millions of Canadians without jobs, hungry and many homeless began to ride the rail going from town to town looking for work. There were too many men for very few jobs.

The Canadian National Railways (C.N.R.) and the Canadian Pacific Railways (C.P.R.) hired “bulls”(brutal guards) to make sure the trains carried only paying customers, but they were unable to stop the flow of men and some women from hitching a ride. The Depression years were hard, money scarce and lasted for almost ten years. The lines at the doors of soup kitchens were long and desperate, hungry people stood waiting for hours to eat what might be their only meal for days. The Nova Scotian industries such as farming, fishing, mining and logging were all affected.

In 1931 the military had no further use for Citadel Hill so the Royal Canadian Regiment left. During the 1930s Depression civic and military officials undertook a work project set up at Citadel Hill for single, homeless, unemployed men. The men were victims of the Depression representing more than twenty nations, including England, France, Ireland, South Africa, Russia, Poland and Yugoslavia. Many of these men were educated: one being a professor of music while another was a civil engineer, to name but a few. During the winter of 1932-33 there were 328 men living at the Unemployment Relief Camp at Citadel Hill.

W.L. Forbes was the superintendent of the camp, described as a town within the city of Halifax. The camp was neat in appearance and had all the facilities of life without discomfort. Located in the camp were a barber shop, shoe repair shop, laundry, blacksmith shop, tailor shop, carpenter shop and a plumber shop. A hospital consisting of six beds was set up in the camp and it was staffed by four unemployed male nurses.

When a man was admitted to the camp he underwent a doctor’s examination, had a bath, was given clean clothes and led to his sleeping quarters. The sleeping quarters were located in the Cavalier Building. Eleven men were assigned to each room. Each of the men was required to carry an identification card and they had a strict 10:30 P.M. curfew when they left the camp for the evening.

No women were permitted in the camp. Each man received accommodation, food and a free haircut when needed. Tobacco was sold at a reduced rate and weekly movies were supplied by the Nova Scotia Picture Censors.

The men were kept busy painting the walls and the ravelin (angled salient on exterior wall of the fortification) and worked on dismantling some dangerous walls, but reconstruction was left for a later time. A small railway was built to handle massive granite blocks (which weighted 500 to 850 pounds or 230-385 kg each) that were removed from the dismantled walls. The men also constructed a driveway around the Citadel with a new access road from North Park Street.

Each man received twenty-cents for an eight hour day’s work. The men called themselves “The Royal Twenty Centers”. The cooking, cleaning and ground maintenance were all done by the men themselves.

The men found the evenings at the camp generally long, so the superintendent put out an appeal to the people of Halifax, asking for magazines, or playing cards to help the men pass their time. The work project lasted until 1936 but when the Second World War began, the military reoccupied the Citadel.