The city’s oldest flower shop celebrates 100 years

The city’s oldest flower shop celebrates 100 years

At a time when world unity was being forged at Paris’s 1919 Peace Conference, and the stalwart Harrod’s of London was a leading lifestyle dynasty, there was history being made right here in Halifax. This historic event was the opening of Dean’s Flowers, as it rose out of the ashes of the Halifax Explosion. Celebrating 100 years in business, the flower shop holds an integral place in Halifax’s heritage.


Arthur Dean first came to Canada in the early 1900s from his native England. His first entrepreneurial endeavour was in 1914, in the form of a flower cart that he parked outside the Public Gardens. By 1916, Dean had purchased property in the north end, which included a beautiful family home for he and his wife, and space for a greenhouse. Although the house was relatively unscathed in the 1917 Halifax Explosion, his greenhouse was destroyed. It would be two years before Dean would open the newly appointed Dean’s Flowers, in 1919.


For a flower vendor in those days, there was only one option, and that was to grow and sell your own flowers. In their large greenhouse, which took up two city lots, the Deans grew roses, hydrangea, chrysanthemums, lilies and more. Adjacent to the greenhouse was a tiny storefront where they served the public, and adjoining the store was a Victorian home where Arthur and his wife, and their young daughter, Ethel Mae, aka Dolly, lived.


One hundred years later, Dean’s Flowers still stands on the same Stanley Street property as the original, in Halifax’s north end. Admittedly, a lot has changed since 1919. The advent of travel, by both automotive and air, was barely established by then, and it would be a long time before the importation of flowers from southern climes, as we do now, was conceivable.


Ethel May Dean married Wallace Levy in 1925, and the Levys and their descendants carried on the Dean’s Flowers tradition through the decades — from horse drawn carts and Model Ts to Studebakers and Cadillacs, and beyond. In the 50s, when air travel became feasible, the Levys were able to have product airlifted from warmer parts of the world. The art of floristry in Halifax was instantly elevated with the availability of new varieties of flowers, including many tropical flowers that had never been seen in Nova Scotia.


As they no longer needed to rely so heavily on all of their greenhouses for product, (they kept a modest one), the Levys built a beautiful showroom, which currently stands on Stanley Street.


Dean’s Flowers remained in the Levy family until the 1980s. Arthur Dean had a reputation for growing and selling the finest quality flowers, and he was admired as the successful businessman that he was. In fact, it is said that people used to get dressed up to visit Dean’s Flowers back in the day. Today, longtime resident Haligonians often reminisce about visiting the shop with their parents, and the excitement that ensued.


Of present day, it is not necessary to don your finest vestments to visit Dean’s Flowers, but Arthur Dean set the bar pretty high when it came to fine quality flowers and exceptional customer service all those years ago. Current owner Holly Winchester acknowledges her responsibility to uphold those values.


It should come as no surprise that Holly found Dean’s Flowers, or maybe that Dean’s Flowers found her. Her creative pursuits in costume and clothing design, jewelry design, painting and pewter have certainly satisfied her creative urges, and they somehow brought her back to her first love, that of flowers, which she carries from her childhood.


“My mother had a beautiful garden that I played in. I have always had a loving relationship with flowers,” says Holly.


Dean’s has an impressive list of past clients: the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Tom Selleck, just to name a few. Also, Queen Elizabeth II carried Dean’s Flowers on her walks about on a recent visit, and she and her entourage enjoyed them in their accommodations as well.


Strolling into Dean’s 2,500-square-foot mid-century shop in the north end is an experience. The first thing that hits you is the heavenly fresh scent of plants and flowers. There is no doubt that this is a place where magic happens.


Succulent gardens, Air Plants, terrariums and bonsais greet you at the door. Carnivorous plants and tropical green flowering plants are everywhere you look. It just feels good. Look a little closer and you will see an eclectic assortment of hand-selected glassware, designer giftware and home décor pieces, many of them one-of-a-kind.


In this historic mid-century Dean’s Flowers building, Holly has diversified somewhat. Goody Baskets, Halifax’s premiere gourmet, fruit and gift baskets purveyor, resides there, and there is a little gourmet grocery section in a cozy little corner of the shop that features all things delicious. In 2016, Holly opened a charming little art gallery, Gallery Nineteen Nineteen, in support of local artists and artisans. The gallery gets its name from the year that Dean’s Flowers opened, 100 years ago.


“I came out of the womb designing,” she says. “It just happens.”


Dean’s Flowers is located at 6025 Stanley St., Halifax.