Mayworks festival will feature a working-class tour of downtown Halifax

This year’s celebration of workers’ arts and culture will feature a walking tour focused on the working-class history of downtown Halifax.

“Any place where there is wealth and power, there is also a working-class and labour story,” said tour guide Emma Lang about the Mayworks event and its location. “It’s just not necessarily as visible.”

Participants will get a people-centred look at the city’s downtown and be asked to consider the experiences of the workers who came before them.

“Where would you be going, what would you be seeing, what would you be hearing, what would you be smelling?” Lang asked. “It’s very easy to say, ‘well, this building isn’t here or this building would be there,’ but to think about who lived in the city is really important, too.”

The 90-minute tour, entitled ‘The More Things Change: A Working Class Tour of Downtown Halifax,’ will begin at the old public library at 5381 Spring Garden Rd. and conclude at the ferry terminal.

“We’re starting at the old library because it has three main stories that we’re going to be talking about,” she said. “One of them is the fact that it was the site of the first poor house and the associated burial grounds.”

“We can build on that history in movements that we have today,” Lang said, referencing recent clashes between police and housing activists at the former library. “And that’s really part of what Mayworks is all about. It’s about providing the cultural backbone to give people the strength to continue in their struggles and represent their stories.”

Another stop on the walking tour will be the Upper Streets area between Granville Street and the base of Citadel Hill.

“It was a really important neighbourhood if you think about working-class history and labour history in the city,” she said. “It was integrated racially and integrated by class in some ways.”

Union organizing and strikes in the city’s downtown will also be considered, Lang said.

The walking tour will be one of many events taking place during the May 1-14 Mayworks festival in Halifax.

Tours will begin at 1 p.m. on May 1, May 7, and May 14. Participants are expected to wear masks and practice social-distancing as much as possible.

Tickets can be purchased online on a pay-what-you-can basis.

(Photo: Library and Archives Canada)