A fine 1879 bird’s-eye view of Halifax, Nova Scotia by Albert Ruger, one of the most significant of 19th-century American viewmakers.
Blessed with an enormous and sheltered natural harbor, Halifax was first settled by the British in 1749. During the French & Indian War the town became the Royal Navy’s North American headquarters, and the development of the dockyard and supporting infrastructure underlay the economy for many years. In the 19thcentury the Halifax economy diversified as a banking, manufacturing, trading and shipping center. It was incorporated as a city in 1842.
The view depicts the city as seen looking west from an imaginary viewpoint high above the harbor, with the Northwest Arm in the background. The city’s many fine public and private buildings are clearly visible–including at far right the brand-new Intercolonial Railway Station (1878)–as are the dozens of wharves crowding one another by the harbor. The city’s administrative and military significance are highlighted by the star-shaped St. George’s Fort looming over the city, the naval dockyard and ordnance yard along the water front, and the many other military facilities scattered about town.
The rendering is extraordinarily detailed, and one gets the impression that Ruger has tried to depict ever structure faithfully, down to the last door, window, dormer and chimney. Even the foliage appears to be differentiated, with Sackville Street for example lined by both deciduous trees and conifers. The view is enlivened by the tiny of figures of pedestrians, horses and carriages on the streets and vessels of all types crowding the harbor (One of these, the Sir C. Ogle, was a steam ferry serving Dartmouth and Halifax from 1830 through 1894.) Its documentary value is greatly enhanced by a legend at the base identifying no fewer than 99 locations, including municipal institutions, schools & colleges, 26 churches including the “Zion Church (Colored.),” military installations, manufacturers and hotels. Intricate swags around the title provide an elegant ornamental touch.
John Reps observes that “very little is known about Ruger’s background; indeed almost nothing about him as a person is available.” What we do know is that he was born in Prussia in 1828; arrived in America by 1850 and settled in or near Akron, Ohio; worked as a stonemason for some 15 years; and during the Civil War he served very briefly in the 196thOhio. The source of his artistic training is not known, but in 1866 he moved to Battle Creek and began producing bird’s-eye views of Michigan and Indiana towns, 11 in that first year alone. Over the next quarter century he produced at least 254 views (Reps) of cities and towns as far afield as Prince Edward Island, including a whopping 62 in 1869!
Reps describes Ruger’s work as “well drawn and from a sufficiently high perspective to display fully the street patterns and other major elements of the places depicted,” thus giving them substantial documentary value. He finds broader significance in Ruger’s not-inconsiderable body of work in western and southern states, areas often neglected by other artists of the era. Finally, several of Ruger’s assistants went on to become prolific viewmakers and –publishers in their own right, including Thaddeus Fowler, Eli Glover, Joseph Stoner and others.
In all, a rare and impressive view of this historic city in the Canadian Maritimes, by one of the most significant American viewmakers of the 19thcentury.
Reps,Views and Viewmakers of Urban America, #3003 (Library of Congress and four other institutional holdings). OCLC 5406499, giving five locations as of April 2019. For a biography of Ruger, see Views and Viewmakers, pp. 201-204.