A Historic Opportunity in Downtown Halifax

Province seeks input on redevelopment of the Dennis and Hansard Buildings, architectural cornerstones of the Province House district
The Affected site and Buildings. NSgov Photo
The Affected site and Buildings. NSGOV Photo

The provincial government is asking interested developers to bring forward proposals for a potentially exciting, history-making development project in downtown Halifax—the redevelopment of Granville Street’s Dennis Building and Hansard Building (also known as the Acadian Recorder Building), and the vacant land surrounding them.

Incredibly, despite its long history and architectural achievement, the Dennis Building has never been recognized as a heritage property, and has been allowed to fall into disrepair. In 2014, it was placed on Heritage Canada’s top-ten endangered buildings list. Today, the interior has been entirely gutted, and only the building shell remains. That’s unfortunate, but it presents a unique redevelopment opportunity—to create a 21st-century building interior within the shell of one of Halifax’s grandest 19th-century structures.

The site encompasses the parking lot and hole along Barrington Street (NSGOV Photo)
The site encompasses the parking lot and hole along Barrington Street (NSGOV Photo)

The province will require that both building façades be retained. But AGBANS believes simple façadism is insufficient in this case, as both buildings could be essentially demolished and their façades used as little more than decoration for the exterior of a new building. Also a concern is that the RFP only calls for the preservation of the Dennis Building’s four-storey granite façade, potentially leading to the loss of the three brick upper storeys.

This would be a tremendously unfortunate outcome for the architectural integrity of the Province House district, one of the most historically and architecturally important urban areas in Canada. This is the kind of area where we see governments across North America, especially in historic cities such as Halifax, employ the greatest care with regard to heritage conservation. Nova Scotians deserve no less. AGBANS hopes the full profile and massing of both buildings will be retained, similar to the much-lauded Green Lantern redevelopment on Barrington Street.

AaronSegaert_DennisBuilding_web

 

The redevelopment site occupies 21,000 square feet, more than enough land to build significant brand-new structures on the vacant portions, while retaining in full the impressive street-facing profile of the Dennis and Hansard buildings. This can truly be a redevelopment that embodies the blend of old and new Halifax should be striving towards, and which respects one Canada’s most historically and architecturally rich urban areas.

BUILDING HISTORY

The Dennis Building was constructed in 1863 to house a dry-goods firm owned by Thomas and Edward Kenny—the latter of whom served variously as Halifax’s mayor, a senator, member of the first federal cabinet, and Lieutenant Governor. The building was purchased by William Dennis, owner of the Halifax Herald, in 1900. After a 1912 fire destroyed everything but the granite façade, architect Henry David Jost added the three-storey brick addition to the top.

Given its architectural achievement and association with so many prominent Haligonians, AGBANS believes that the building should be a registered heritage property, and any redevelopment should treat it as such, renewing the building as fully as possible.

DennisFire
The Dennis Building after the 1912 fire.

 

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