Port History

Canada’s Atlantic Gateway: An Illustrated History of the Port of Halifax

Canada's Atlantic Gateway - An Illustrated History of the Port of HalifaxJames Frost chronicles the fascinating history of one of the largest, most impressive natural harbours in the world. For more information or to purchase a copy of this book, click here.

For over 250 years the Port of Halifax has remained a cornerstone of economic activity for the city, the region and the province as a whole. The Port’s strategic location made Halifax an ideal Gateway into North America for settlers and shippers and a perfect vantage point for military operations. The following is a collection of highlights and achievements in the Port’s history.


1749 Colonel Edward Cornwallis arrives from England to found Halifax. Over 2,500 settlers follow.
1752 Halifax begins North America’s first salt water ferry service.
1758 Halifax opens North America’s first naval dockyard.

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1818 Halifax becomes a ‘free port’ and allows foreign ships to move cargo in and out.
1836 Samuel Cunard, founder of Cunard Line, starts a steamboat ferry service between Halifax and Dartmouth.
1837 Halifax opens North America’s first yacht club, The Royal Halifax Yacht Club.
1840 Cunard Line’s Britannia completes the firm’s first transatlantic voyage to provide mail service between Britain and North America.
1841 The City of Halifax becomes incorporated.
1872 Intercolonial Railway opens in Halifax connecting the city to the rest of North America.
1873 Dartmouth becomes the first town in Nova Scotia to incorporate.
1880 Intercontinental opens Deep Water Terminus, a dock complex that can house 12 steamers simultaneously.
1882 A grain elevator is constructed at the end of Upper Water Street.
1886 The Halifax Drydock opens.
1889 The Halifax Graving Dock Company opens the largest drydock facility on the Atlantic Seaboard.
1895 The grain elevator and part of Deep Water Ocean Terminus are destroyed by fire.
1898 Imperial Oil begins operation in Dartmouth.

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1912 Halifax deploys a rescue mission after the sinking of the Titanic. 190 bodies are brought back to Halifax with many being buried here.
1917 A French munitions ship (the Mont Blanc) and a Belgian relief ship (the Imo), collide in Halifax Harbour causing the world’s largest man-made explosion before the nuclear age. The blast kills 2,000 people, injures 9,000 others and destroys 325 acres of land.
1922 The Royal Halifax Yacht Club becomes the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.
1928 Pier 21 opens as a gateway to Canada for over 1million immigrants.
The Halifax Harbour Commission is established to oversee terminal construction.
1948 Port of Halifax Marine Exhibition and Industrial Fair
1955 The Angus L. MacDonald Bridge opens.
Pier A-1 opens.
1961 Dartmouth becomes incorporated as a city.
1962 The Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO) opens.
1969 Dart, Halifax’s first container line, begins service at Pier B.
1969 The Halifax International Container Terminal officially opens and becomes the first common-user container terminal in Canada.
1970 The A. Murray MacKay Bridge opens.
1971 Pier 21 closes.
1981 The Fairview Cove Container Terminal opens.
1982 The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic opens.
1984 The Halifax Port Corporation is established.
Halifax hosts the World’s Tall Ships for the first time.
1986 Fairview Cove Container Terminal expands.
1987 Pier 29 is redeveloped into a common user terminal with a Ro/Ro ramp.
1988 Pier C is expanded to accommodate two vessels simultaneously.
1991 CN initiates double stack rail service to the Port of Halifax.
1992 CN announces coast to coast double stack rail service.
1993 CN opens Intermodal Terminal for domestic traffic.
1994 The Halifax Port Corporation and South end Terminal construct Marine Terminal Entrance.
1995 Halifax hosts Canada’s third annual G7 summit.
CN initiates double stack service between Halifax and the U.S. Midwest.
1997 Redevelopment of Pier A at Ocean Terminals.
Halifax establishes sister ports in Goteborg and Amsterdam.
1998 Ocean Terminals named ‘National Historic Civil Engineering Site’
Halifax is the first Port on North Americas Eastern Seaboard to receive a post-Panamax container vessel.
1999 Canada Marine Act established changing the Halifax Port Corporation into the Halifax Port Authority.
Halifax celebrates 30 years of containerized cargo operations.
Official opening of the Pier 21 Museum and Cruise Pavilion.

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2000 Halifax hosts the World’s Tall Ships for the second time.
Halterm Limited installs post-Panamax cranes.
2002 Fairview Cove Container Terminals installs post-Panamax cranes.
2004 Halifax hosts World’s Tall Ships for the third time.
2005 Halifax hosts the 7th Annual Canada-New England Cruise Symposium.
Fairview Cove Container Terminal deepened berths to 55 feet – offering the deepest container berths on the eastern seaboard of North America.
2006 Halifax Port Authority opens the Cunard Centre at Pier 23.
2007 MacQuarie Infrastructure Partners purchase Halterm Limited for over $170 million.
2007 Cerescorp Company/NYK purchases two super-post-Panamax cranes and builds a new state-of-the-art truck gate complex for the Fairview Cove Terminal.
2009 Port of Halifax welcomes its 2-millionth passenger.