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The Old Marlborough Woods and the Rise and Fall of the North West Arm Land Company

From "Halifax's New South End, the North West Arm Land Company and a Parkland Legacy",Janet E. Chute, J. Royal N.S. Hist. Soc., Vol. 3, 2000, pp. 33-53.

ritchie_propertyToday's Marlborough Woods neighbourhood is a small enclave of about a dozen houses across the last railway bridge on Beaufort Avenue. A century ago, this was the name given to the entire district from Robie Street west to the Northwest Arm.

Janet Chute tells the story of a South End development dream that turned into a nightmare for its proponents. It all began in 1890, when Judge John W. Ritchie died and his heirs decided to subdivide most of his 93-acre "Belmont" estate between Inglis and Robie Streets and the Northwest Arm.

The Dream

In 1891, the future Prime Minister Robert Laird Borden bought 56 acres of the Belmont estate, naming it "Marlborough Woods". He commissioned a plan of subdivision based on a "garden cities" design, with curving streets and public open spaces, including a hotel and a publicly accessible waterfront.

In 1895, Borden incorporated the North West Arm Land Company (NWALC). Key syndicate members were B. F. Pearson, a founder of the People's Light and Heat Company and the Halifax Electric Tramway Company, and Samuel M. Brookfield, owner of Brookfield Brothers Building Supplies.

At the end of 1896, Brookfield financed the municipal expropriation, clearing and grading of Robie Street to Inglis Street, and Inglis Street west to Bellevue Avenue, thus opening up the possibility of tramcars coming to the heart of Marlborough Woods.

Ambitious revisions to the subdivision plan included the relocation of the exhibition buildings from Tower Road to the area between Inglis Street and Belmont Road and an athletic ground and foot-race track in the swampy ground immediately south of Inglis Street.

The Nightmare

Things soon started going wrong. The hotel plan fell through from lack of funding. The recreational facility lost out to a competing theme park and dance hall in the Melville Island area, because it could be accessed by streetcar and ferry from the foot of Jubilee Road.

By 1907, a new subdivision plan dropped the curvilinear streets and fitted 311 lots into a conventional grid pattern. The concept of a public esplanade along the waterfront vanished as certain shareholders "bought out" their shares by taking waterfront land. A remaining 117 by 250 foot allotment on the waterfront was reserved in perpetuity as a park, today the municipal Marlborough Woods Parkland.

The lots were advertised as "an ideal summer spot for your summer bungalow". Syndicate member and Brookfield's manager Henry Roper opened his own summer home, "The Ideal Bungalow", still looking the same today in its Marlborough Woods location, for public viewing.

In financial difficulties, the company secured a third mortgage in 1909. Buyers were scarce; only lots nearest the park were built on prior to World War One. For years, the nearest street car stop was at the corner of Inglis and Barrington. In 1913-16, the The NWALC received only a small amount for its lots taken for the railway allowance.

In 1917, the Brookfields and Henry Roper conveyed all the lots they own south of Roxton Road to Eastern Trust Company. The lots were not redeemed by the fall, and were transferred to the Crown. In 1919, revised City property tax assessments significantly increased taxes on the unconveyed holdings. When serviced lots along the south side of Oakland Road went on sale,Borden was able to sell off his holdings because they could access the Oakland Road water main.

By 1922, only about five houses clustered near Inglis and Robie, forming a little community unto themselves. The lack of sewer and water services continued to make lots unattractive. The NWALC transfered its still sizable land holdings to the Sheriff for sale in 1923, becoming defunct a year later. Soon after, Eastern Trust foreclosed on its mortgage.

The Awakening

Late in 1923, F. B. McCurdy and H. C. Covert received ownership of the NWALC deed after winning the bid for its holdings, for less than a third of what the land had been appraised for tax purposes. Their company Seaboard Investments created Beaufort Avenue to improve access and eventually had a successful subdivision.

Ritchie Property with Modern Streets Overlain

Copyright 2011, Halifax Urban Greenway Association