Sharon Murray has a mystery on her hands. The photo historian with the Halifax Regional Municipality had digitized thousands of pictures taken by building inspectors of the downtown from the mid-20th century as the city prepared for a massive phase of urban renewal.
But out of the cache of black and white negatives, Murray was left with 200 pictures of unknown buildings and sites.
So the city put out a call on social media for help. On Monday she uploaded 34 photos onto an album asking Haligonians to help identify the scenes from the 1950s and 1960s.
Seven puzzles solved
Within four days, the album was viewed more than 2,800 times — and seven puzzles had been solved.
"We've done pretty well. I've been pretty surprised," Murray said from her office at the municipal archives in Dartmouth.
She shared photos with people in them to serve as clues about homes and buildings from a bygone era.
The most recent identification came on Thursday. A photo of a row house shows two children sitting on the steps, and a young boy standing close by.
A man wrote to say it triggered his memory of his old family home on Elevator Court. The street — and home — no longer exist. Elevator Court was located near Barrington and Cornwallis streets. It gave way to a grassy area leading to the Halifax dockyards.
Murray has since learned the same street was painted by Lawren Harris in a work that was quite recently identified as of Elevator Court.
Another man contacted Murray after he recognized himself as a little boy walking past some stores and a building under demolition. He identified the area as Brunswick Street at the foot of Cogswell Street. Today that corner is at the edge of the city's much-maligned Cogswell Street interchange.
This photo-identification project has been a bittersweet journey for Murray, who enjoys the "charming and lovely" pictures. "People have been caught off guard, they have no idea they're being photographed, so in that way they're great," she said.
Displaced from homes
"But it's sad because I know, that in many of the cases, the people pictured were displaced from their homes shortly after the photograph was taken and relocated to who knows where."
With every verified identification, Murray is updating the album. She says the information will go into a database so that researchers — and the general public — can search for the street they lived on, "and get some hits for Elevator Court now, which we didn't have before."