Dr. Phyne dives into urban renewal within Canada


StFX member Dr. John Phyne co-authoring a manuscript for publication in 2019 or 2020

Dr. John Phyne is a member of the StFX Sociology Department. He has worked here since 1989. 

Phyne has recently published an article looking at the Canadian housing authority during the urban renewal programs in the 1950s and 60s. His research for most of his career has been on the global political economy of the salmon aquaculture industry which he was involved in from 1992 to 2010. 

A short time ago, he collaborated with Christine Knott of Memorial University on an academic article titled “Rehousing Good Citizens: Gender, Class, and Family Ideals in the St. John’s Housing Authority Survey of the Inner City of St. John’s, 1951 and 1952” which was published in the journal Acadiensis. This article investigates how middle-class family ideals were used to relocate administratively defined “good citizens” from a multidimensional “slum” neighbourhood in St. John’s in the 1950s and 1960s.

I sat down with Dr. Phyne to discuss his personal connection to the article and his intrinsic motivation behind writing the article. During Celtic Week in 2011, Dr. Phyne delivered a talk about growing up in a largely Catholic neighbourhood. He stated that he grew up in a neighbourhood just west of the “central slum” in St. John’s and family on his father’s mother’s side lived in the “central slum” dating back to the 19th century. Most homes within this area lacked water or sewer facilities and many city centre households collected water from public tanks. Phyne was moved to investigate the area after his talk in 2011. 

In 2012 and 2013 he travelled to St. John’s where he collected archival and census data. As Phyne outlines in his article, the “central slum” was cleared in the 1950s and early 1960s as part of urban renewal programs that were sweeping Canada at the time. The goal of these programs was to match social housing with appropriate families and to commercialize areas that once contained housing. I asked Phyne about the relevance of studying an urban renewal program that took place over half a century ago to today’s understanding of affordable housing. He indicated that there is “Definitely!” a connection between then and now. For example, within the article he and his co-author discuss how state officials made their assessments concerning who was most suited for public housing. Similar to issues related to affordable housing today, in the 1950s and 60s there was not enough housing available to meet those in need. 

Many Western nations, including Canada, have a bias that favours individual home ownership. This accelerated after WW2 and is still strong today. 

Phyne made the observation during our conversation that while the majority of Canadians (about 65 to 70%) own the homes they live in, we still have a shortage of affordable housing in this country. Phyne suggested that public sector investment is necessary in order to solve Canada’s existing challenges in affordable housing. If the public sector were to step up at this time to fill this need, it would be the first major investment in this type of housing within Canada since the 1990s.

The “Rehousing Good Citizens” article is a great piece of investigative work and proves the power of passion behind great research and writing! This article is the second one published from Phyne’s research project. Prior to receiving funding for this research project (from the Social Sciences Research Council in 2014), Phyne published an article on the “central slum” that appeared in the interdisciplinary journal Newfoundland Studies in the spring of 2014. 

Phyne and his partner are also working on a book manuscript that they hope to complete by late 2019 or early 2020, so stay tuned!