Halifax Stories: Why they named it Agricola Street

I spend a couple evenings each month at Roberts Street Social Centre, and on Sunday I noticed a poster on the wall I hadn’t read before. It detailed the history behind the naming of Agricola Street, one of the streets that defines the block where I live.

Agricola was the pen-name used by businessman John Young to write a series of letters to newspapers, between 1818 and 1822, calling for Nova Scotia to develop agricultural self-reliance. To feed itself the province has become dependent on expensive US imports and Agricola’s letters sparked a movement to make Nova Scotian agriculture thrive. 

The Acadian Reporter published 64 letters that were penned under the name Agricola. These letters attacked the belief that Nova Scotia had poor soil that was only fit to grow grass. Agricola asserted that if farmers stopped using all productive land, and instead left some fields fallow to replenish soil, they could increase their yields  He voiced many other recommendations including the use of farm equipment, crop rotations, and the establishment of agricultural societies. Agricola’s editorials were met with great enthusiasm and spurred 30 agricultural societies into existence. While John Young’s new popularity propelled him to take up important posts, he would prove to be a far better pundit than administrator or politician. 

John Young owned and farmed 61 acres of land on the ten outskirts of Halifax, before he died in 1837. By 1874, a street to the east of his land was given the name Agricola St.

The poster was from Halifax’s Missing Plaque Project, a project conducted as part of Roberts Street’s residency program in 2009. Tim Groves put together a handful of posters while staying in Halifax to mirror his Toronto-based The Missing Plaque Project. Both sets of posters are intended to reveal forgotten histories of their respective cities, and they do shed light on events that most of us haven’t seen recorded anywhere.

Tim created three other posters for Halifax: “Jibuktuk“, “Picketing the CBC for gay rights“, and “Cornwallis, planner of Genocide“, all of which detail important pieces of Halifax history. One incomplete piece, “Slavery“, had text written but no poster prepared. A wishlist included stories worth exploring.

I’ve lived in Halifax for years, but feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface in learning its history and exploring its landscape. I’m hoping to dig up some more about Halifax history to share, and I do have a Halifax walking mission underway.

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