Mean Streets

Following the Second World War, a new generation of politicians and planners across North America set out to reimagine their cities. With great verve and vision, they conceived of brave new urban landscapes filled with elevated highways, modern housing, thriving businesses, and engaging public spaces. All it would take, they said, was a deep collective capacity to dream and a determined willingness to wipe away the past.

And the idea caught on.

With great enthusiasm, these politicians and planners set out to realise their grand vision. They proposed that cities tear down great swaths of their aged, derelict, and decaying homes; destroy antiquated, dilapidated buildings; and tear up sordid streets in an effort they called “slum clearance.” Of course, these “slums” were also communities often populated by the most vulnerable members of the city, the desperately poor and people of colour, those who had little power to make their own decisions and determine their own fate. The whole process was called urban renewal.

By the late 1950s, Halifax’s movement for urban renewal became a cresting wave that ultimately wiped away whole neighbourhoods that had stood witness to two hundred years of history. And when the urban renewal wave finally retreated, what was left behind were new spaces like Scotia Square, Mulgrave Park, Cogswell Interchange, and Uniacke Square, among others. But just as often only memory was left of a good many of the communities of Halifax, including Africville. After discovering some fascinating photographs taken before the urban renewal, award-winning author Steven Laffoley set off in search of a city that existed before the “slum clearance” of the 1960s, to see what was, in fact, gained and what was lost in the destruction of Halifax’s “mean streets.”

‪The Blue Tattoo‬ — “It’s a big story that everyone should read.”

AJB Johnston’s review of #TheBlueTattoo in Atlantic Books Today:

“Steven Laffoley’s The Blue Tattoo (Pottersfield Press) is the first time this award-winning historian has turned to fiction. His focus is the Halifax Explosion.

“I asked him why he was drawn to the topic and with a novel of all things. He replied: ‘I think stories where characters face calamity, truly terrible events … provide readers a chance to explore their fear through narrative … Fiction allows for a deeper and more meaningful exploration of emotion.’
“With a number of books and films already out there on the Halifax Explosion, Laffoley seeks to tell a familiar story in a fresh

way. The arc of the novel rests on a love story between a woman and a man from widely separated social and economic classes. Their differing backgrounds allow the author to examine a wide range of topics, including the suffragette movement and how wars benefit or hurt people in different ways.

“Surprisingly, at least to me, there are stretches in The Blue Tattoo where the couple’s story is not front and centre. Instead, Laffoley offers other characters – some historical, some invented – whose stories convey the wider tale of how the devastation happened and how it killed, maimed, blinded and rendered homeless so many thousands. At times, some incidents read more like straight history than immersive fiction, but they communicate the context of the sweeping story the book presents.

“The Blue Tattoo ticks along at a brisk pace and keeps the reader’s interest all the way. It’s a big story that everyone should read. It deepens one’s appreciation for the parts of the city touched by the devastation of Dec. 6, 1917.”

The Blue Tattoo #1 on Bestseller List

The Blue Tattoo reaches the #1 spot on the Bestsellers List of Bookmark Halifax.


The Blue Tattoo – Steven Laffoley
The Children Act – Ian McEwan
Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
Sweetland – Michael Crummey
Back of the Turtle – Thomas King
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good – Jan Karon
The Paying Guests – Sara Waters
All My Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris

The Organized Mind – Daniel Levitin
The Most Dangerous Book – Kevin Birmingham
If This Isn’t Nice, What is ? – Kurt Vonnegut
Hard Choices – Hilary Clinton
Tragedy in the Commons – Alison Loat
Tales from Beyond the Tap – Randy Bachman
Strange Glory – Charles Marsh
A Spy Among Friends – Ben MacIntyre
A Place in the Country – W.G. Sebald
My Age of Anxiety – Scott Stossel

What I learned About Politics – Graham Steele
Hiking Trails of Mainland Nova Scotia – Michael Hynes
Journeys Through Eastern Old-Growth Forests – Jamie Simpson
Quest of the Folk – Ian McKay
A Lucky Life – Richard B. Goldbloom
Day Trips From Nova Scotia – Jon Tattrie
Nova Scotia Souvenir Book – David Towler
Wildflowers of Nova Scotia – Todd Boland
The Town That Died – Michael J. Bird
Nova Scotia – Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Order The Blue Tattoo

Dear Readers, 


Order The Blue Tattoo by clicking on any one of the following:


Click here to order from


Click here to order from


Click here to order from Nimbus Publishing


In the Maritimes, copies will be sitting on the shelves of your local bookstore. And if you reside outside of the Maritimes, please ask your bookstore to order it through Nimbus Publishing above.




Steven Laffoley