I was searching for “wildlife” in the Halifax section of the card catalog at the Nova Scotia Archives, when I found this entry in the “W — Z” drawer…
After a quick card reading, I can ascertain the following:
- Halifax, Nova Scotia, was home to the first zoo in North America, since the Mayan Empire.
- The zoological gardens opened in 1847, and closed in 1868
- The grounds were located on what today is Joseph Howe Drive
- They were designed, crafted, and stocked by Andrew Downs, who seems to have been a celebrated naturalist of the time.
- Apparently there is a memorial cairn on the former site of the grounds.
I grew up in the Halifax community of Armdale, near Joseph Howe Drive, but I never knew there was a zoo here. I do recall driving along the former Dutch Village Road in the back seat, and catching a recurring glimpse of a stone monument perched beside a woodlot, wondering each time how old it was and what it was, while it blurred by.
Who was Andrew Downs? Why did he start a zoo? Was it a kind zoo? What animals lived there? Who visited the grounds? What sort of life did the animals have? What happened to them? What happened to the gardens? I find myself with a profound desire to understand.
Without further ado, I have decided to devote the next few months solely to unearthing this forgotten narrative. Updates, uncovered documents, and hypotheses will surface here; keep in touch.