Dr. Kathryn Finlayson is busy renovating an iconic south-end building for its next chapter as the last traces of the Coburg Social Café gradually fade into memory.
Halifax is set to gain a new veterinary clinic called the Coburg Animal Hospital on the corner of Coburg Road and Henry Street. The veterinarian said hers will be the first private practice in the South End.
“It’s going to be a new facility with all new equipment,” Finlayson told The Signal in a phone interview in late January. “And we have great staff that are all experienced in the industry.”
Finlayson bought the old Coburg Social building from former owners Kelly Irvine and Jane Merchant in September 2022. She kept the coffee shop open until she announced the official closure in August 2023 by taping a sign to the door.
The sign in black marker read, “Coburg Café has closed. Sorry for any inconvenience. We appreciate your patronage.”
Light blue paint soon concealed the bold yellow exterior of the Coburg Social, leading ex-barista Anya Ruparell to reminisce about her time working at the coffee shop.
“I’m really going to miss working there,” Ruparell told The Signal in a recent interview. “It was the first coffee shop I ever went to in Halifax, so it’s sad to see it go.”
Beloved gathering spot
Irvine and Merchant bought the old Coburg Coffee House in 2012 and renamed it the Coburg Social. With the help of students, workers, and neighbourhood residents they built a space for locals to enjoy a sense of community.
“The regulars kept us going,” said Ruparell. “It was run really well, coffee was good, and it’s an awesome spot that I hope becomes a café one day again.”
According to Ruparell, the former owners said their final goodbyes to the coffee shop at a staff party in December 2022 before handing it off to Finlayson.
In October of 2023, two months after the beloved café’s closure, interior renovations to the building were underway.
Finlayson said the South End location played a big factor in her decision to buy the building.
“I’ve worked in different parts of the HRM, and I know that different people would comment that there was not enough vets in that area,” said Finlayson. “They would often either have to take a bus or taxi to get care for their pets.”
Cat care is a long bus ride away for Dalhousie student MeiMei Szeto, who lives in the Coburg Road area. She adopted a kitten and said she could benefit from a local animal hospital.
“It took me an hour and twenty minutes to get to the SPCA in Dartmouth by bus, just to get my cat two vaccines,” Szeto told The Signal by phone on the way home from a vet visit. “That’s not even counting the time it will take me to get back.”
Szeto’s kitten, Chibi, was just beginning his vaccine process and needed at least four more veterinary visits to get up to date with his shots.
“I like the idea of a local vet,” said Szeto. “I would probably use it, but it depends if their rates are more expensive than the SPCA.”
As a student, Szeto said she prefers affordability over convenience.
Public veterinary offices must adhere to the structured fee guide set by the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association, unlike private practices that establish their own fee guidelines. Finlayson said she expects robust demand for her new clinic.
“There’s no small animal clinic in the Coburg Road area and right now the veterinary industry is in a bit of a crisis,” said Finlayson. “Because there’s a lack of vets, there’s a lack of veterinary facilities that are able to see pets.”
Finlayson said she’s aware of the history of the Coburg Social but adds coffee shops are more plentiful than vet clinics.
“I know everybody was upset and disappointed that the coffee shop hadn’t continued,” she said. “But there’s several other (cafés) that benefited from the closing of that location.”
It’s an end of an era for the once-buzzing Coburg Social but Finlayson is ready to write the upcoming story for the coffee-shop-turned veterinary clinic – one paw at a time.