Italianate 1850-1870

The Italianate style was common in Canada from 1850-1870. It was particularly popular for commercial buildings in Halifax, possibly due to a number of large fires requiring reconstructing entire blocks of the city.

The main identifying features of the style include

  • Flat or Low Slopping roofs.
  • symmetrical, with a slightly protruding central section
  • Cornices
  • Quoins
  • Corbels
  • Round Headed Windows
  • String courses

Cornices are a decorative molding found at the roof line of a building – they can be thought of as a Buildings crown –  these combined with the round headed window and flat roof are common to almost all Italianate buildings.  The Cornice often appears to be supported by Corbels – which are decorative bracket like devices attached to the facade of a building. In Italianate, they often are scroll like. String courses are protruding horizontal bands on the facade which – they will sometimes follow the round head of the window, and Quoins are large stones to give prominence to the Corners of the building.


Granville Street was rebuilt beginning in 1859, after it was destroyed by fire. After previous fires in Halifax, a law was passed in 1857 that banned wooden construction. Fire was always a growing concern in cities – especially Halifax, which was predominately made of wooden buildings until the 1857 bylaw. This bylaw came much later than in other jurisdictions, probably because Halifax had escaped large fires that affected other cities.

The buildings on Granville Street represented the growth of the merchant sector of the city. No longer were proprietors living above their shops, instead these buildings were dedicated to commerce. Retail and sales offices were located on the first floor. The upper floors were constructed to be warehouse or manufacturing space, and merchants now lived elsewhere.

The 1850s were a time of prosperity in Halifax. Railway service to Windsor had begun, and a reciprocity (free trade) treaty was signed with the Americans, improving trade. Many of the buildings on Granville Street were designed by William Thomas, a prominent architect from Toronto. He  emigrated to Canada in 1840, and designed numerous courthouses in Ontario. He was also responsible locally for St Matthew’s Church and the Spring Garden courthouse.


All of the Granville buildings feature cornices, supported by corbels, string courses, and rounded arch windows. The Coombs English Shoe Store is an Italianate-style storefront; however, the facade is constructed of cast iron, allowing for larger windows. The facade again features a cornice, round headed windows, and prominent moldings, and was designed and manufactured by the Architectural Iron Works of New York City.


The Colwell Building was constructed on Barrington Street in 1871. It features a white stucco exterior, elaborate cornice supported by corbels, and round headed windows. Also prominent are the string courses between stories.

The style also found its way into public buildings. The current Art Gallery of Nova Scotia was built as the customs house and post office building in 1868, and modelled on an Italian Renaissance palazzo.

Designed by David Stirling, it was built in 1868 under the direction first of contractor George Lang, and competed by John Brookfield. The building features the Italianate round headed windows, string courses, and shallow sloped roof. The building also is a good example of Quoins on the first story corners, and Like the Court house features a Protruding central section.


The original St Agnes Roman Catholic Church on Mumford Road was thought to be designed by Arthur F. Pelton. He was a prominent builder in Halifax and Windsor who worked for the Rhodes Curry Company, and was an employer to W.D Piercey, who would go on to start Piercey Supplies Ltd (now part of Rona). Built in 1889, it falls outside the period of the style’s prominence, but is none the less an excellent example. Devoid of surrounding context, you would be hard pressed to say this photo wasn’t taken in Italy, given the churches resemblance to Florence Cathedral.

In 1961, it was determined that the original building was no longer serviceable, and it was replaced by a contemporary Italianate structure, which opened in September 1965. The new Church gets a modern treatment, but maintains the form of the original, the round headed windows, cornice and adds a clock tower out of an renaissance plaza.

The Spring Garden Road courthouse was also designed by William Thomas.

The original and most prominent central section of the courthouse was completed in 1862. A rear wing was added in 1882, and west and east wings in 1908 and 1931, respectively. William Thomas and Sons of Toronto won a competition in 1851 to design a building for Halifax County that would house the Supreme and County courts and ancillary services. Their mandate was also to create an impression of stability and strength befitting the halls of justice. The construction tender was awarded to George Laing of New Brunswick.

The Halifax Courthouse provided permanent space for the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, with two courtrooms, judges’ chambers, registry offices, and a law library. When county courts were established in 1875, the 1882 wing was added to accommodate it. When new Law Courts were built on the waterfront, opening in 1971, the building became a Provincial Government library. In 1985 it was restored to serve as a courthouse for the Nova Scotia Provincial Court.

Former County Court Room
The Former Supreme Court Room
The former Admiralty Court. This is the room where the inquiry into the Halifax Explosion was held.

Of interesting note, As built the Courthouse featured a cupola on the roof, as seen is this photo form the unveiling of the Parker Welsford Monument

The Italianate style was also popularly used for residences.

Begun in 1863, Keith Hall was the residence of Halifax brewer (and 2-time mayor) Alexander Keith. The house was designed in the Italianate style by Scottish architect William Hay. Keeping with the neighbours, it features a Georgian 5- bay facade with central door. The roof, however, is flat. The building features a cornice, string courses, and classical detailing around the windows.

Benjamin Weir House, located next door and constructed in 1864 of Wallace sandstone, is more of a Italianate villa. A symmetrical 5-bay facade features sandstone-bracketed round headed windows, a cornice, and shallow sloping roof. A wrought iron balcony features on the front facade.

While it has many of the features of a Italianate villa, including a Romeo and Juliet balcony on the rear, this house lacks one of the most common features of the Italianate villa, namely a belvedere. Belle vedere means “beautiful view” in Italian. A belvedere is typically a tower, or other feature above the roof, offering a view. The 4 dormers technically could count, as they offered a view when the house was built, a better example would be Hart House, which since 1925 has severed as the Dalhouse University President’s residence on Oxford street. The house was built in 1860,  for Levi Hart, who was a west indies merchant.

Today the house is obstructed by trees, But the NS Archives has a photo of the neighboring Wylde House from 1870, which appears to be identical. Ambrae Academy is now located on this site.

The Italianate villa also had a unique variation – the Octagon House. The idea behind octagonal building originated with an American phrenologist and amateur architect Orson Fowler, who wrote a book “A Home for all Ages”. He cited the more perfect shape of the octagon (as it was closer to a sphere) and the fact that it more efficiently enclosed space as the 2 main reasons for its use.

Octagon House (Also known locally as the inkwell House) was designed by Henry S Elliot and built by Dartmouth contractor John Keating in 1871 for Gavin Holliday, who was a factory manager at Starr Manufacturing in Dartmouth. It is made of wood, and the main floor consists of square rooms – wasting triangles of space between the rooms and the exterior walls. The house overlooked Sullivan’s pond.

Fowler himself lived in an Octagonal House, made of “Gravel Walls” styled to appear as Stone Block.

Octagon house was demolished in 1969, after the last owner Charles Herman sold the property to a developer who built Octagon Tower. There is a single story, 1857 octagon house located at 63 church street in Tatamagouche. The Scotiabank at Robie and Coburg is a modern interpretation of the style.

Georgian and Pallaidian Architecture in Halifax

The Georgian Style of architecture is very common in early Halifax buildings. the styles name is derived from the period it was most popular, roughly during the  reigns of kings George I, George II, George III and George IV – roughly the period between 1720 and 1840. The style however is also frequently mixed with Palladian influences. The Palladian style was actually a significant movement in England, however it was also embraced by Thomas Jefferson in the United states, and combined with the Georgian style (producing the American Federal Style of Architecture, which tended to sway more Neo-classical). Given many building in Halifax were copied from plan books from England, they could be considered to be Purely Palladian, However the Halifax’s connection to the American Colonies certainly suggests some American influence. For our purposes, Georgian architecture includes Palladian.
Common Identifying features of Georgian Architecture include a 5 bay facade, Massive chimneys at either end, And dormer windows in the attic. Also common is a central paneled door, and panel windows. Neo-classical pilasters and ornament are also common to the Georgian style. Like Georgian, Palladian architecture features symmetry, and a neo-classical vocabulary. buildings feel more massive at the base, and Palladian windows are common.
St Paul’s church dates back to the founding of Halifax. It was one of the first permanent buildings to be laid down in the new city of Halifax, it was given a prominent location on the main square in town. due to the hill, the church is laid out with the Entry to the north, and Chancel to the south, in contrast to the normal practice of placing the entry at the west, and chancel in the east. (St Patricks, and Saint Mathew, follow this practice.)
1764 engraving by R. Short. this is the first known image of the church
1764 engraving by R. Short. this is the first known image of the church
The church as it originally was built is thought to have been copied from the 1728 “Book of Architecture” by James Gibbs, and is very close to Gibbs’ St Peters’ on Vere Street in London. There is correspondence from Cornwallis, and Rev. William Tuttly the Anglican minister of Halifax which state “…. it is exactly the model of Mary’bone Chapel,” and ” … the plan is the same with that of Marybone” Marybone is the original name for St Peter’s.
While the Exterior matches St Peter’s, the interior differs from Gibb’s style, and reflects more closely the work of Christopher Wren. It is though that Christ Church in Boston is the model for the interior, as there are numerous similarity, and the timber frame for the church was constructed in Boston and shipped to Halifax. The reason for this difference may be simple economy.The small square piers of the simple Truscan order are more easily and cheaply constructed then the more ornate round piers of Corinthian order Gibbs preferred.
Originally constructed with 7 bays, the 8th and front most bay was constructed during the first major alteration of the church in 1812. this later addition added the entry vestibule, and moved the stairs to the upper galleries. the tower was also moved, and reconstructed over this new bay. The front porch also changed over time. originally it appears to have reflected St peter’s with 4 columns, however it appears to have been reduced to 2, placed in the corners when the extension was added.
The organ itself is subject of an interesting story. The original seems to have been replaced between 1820 and 1841, however the original organ appears to have been originally destined for a Catholic Church in Havana Cuba, abroad a Spanish vessel. Britain and Spain were at war, and the Spanish ship captured as a prize, and brought to Halifax, Where her cargo was sold. The church purchased the organ at that time.
Note the double Aisle. The Right Side is original 1750, the left is the addition.
St Paul’s was featured in Sept 1912 issue of Electric World. St Paul’s was cited as “one of the most effectively lighted places of worship” at the time, the church was already over 150 years old, and had recently installed electric tungsten lighting. the piece also makes note that “contrary to the impression that a dim religious light is a requisite for ecclesiastical efficiency, the cheerful illumination now enjoyed is unquestionably a decided factor in the attendance at this noted shrine”
in 1917, St. Paul’s also was damaged by the Halifax Explosion. a relic of that day still pierces the wall, just above the main door.

The Original Engraving shows a Paladian influence, with the paladian window behind the alter. a paladian window can also be found on the front facade over grand parade. the original Entry was done in a neo-classical style, with columns supporting a pediment. the Georgian symmetry can still be seen on the building facade, giving it a highly ordered appearance.

St George’s Church, Also known as the round church, when built in 1800 was completely circular. This was the first round building in North America, though the type was well known in England. the Design is Credited to John Merrick, though it may have been copied from the 1728 “Book of Architecture” by James Gibbs, and it is from this source that St. Paul’s was Copied.
In the plans below, you can see the original entryway (denoted by the Dashed Lines) was also circular.

It is believed that the design selection was heavily influenced by Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, Who favored Round Palladian Architectural styles. The roundness was based on the principles that the circle was the most perfect shape; and that by building a round church the devil could not hide in a corner.

Original Round Entry

The Square entry was added in 1911. The church was heavily damaged by fire in 1994, however it was rebuilt. A portion of the damaged round, can be seen behind the main stairs to the left of the entryway.

(Above)Looking forward to the Alter from the balcony (Below) Looking up at the dome.

(below) the main aisle of the church. Congregation members would lease pew boxes for service, which is why they are divided and separate.

The Duke of Kent was also Responsible for several other round buildings.  The Most well know is the Garrison Clock. The clock went into Service in 1803, and the clock works were built by the royal clock makers at “the house of Vulliamy in London.

The three tiers of the structure feature Palladian proportions. the Base level features the Georgian 5 bay facade, with central entryway. it is thought that

Bramnte’s Tempietto

the upper portion of the clock is modeled after Bramnte’s Tempietto, which was constructed

in 1502 in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio, located in Rome. Palladio’s 1570 book Quattro Libri featured an illustration of the structure, ensuring it was well known by aficionados of his work.

Another Similar Example is the Duke of Kent’s Music Room, the one surviving piece of his estate on the Bedford basin.
built on the dukes arrival  in 1794, the influence of the Tempietto is obvious. In the Building the duke of Kent also frequently entertained Governor Sir John Wentworth.
the third (and current) Government House was built by Governor Sir John Wentworth. Wentworth succeeded in convincing the Legislature that the second Government House was in poor condition and had been quickly built of poor materials. The Legislature agreed and the current Government House began construction in 1800.


The house was designed by Isaac Hildreth who served as both architect and builder, and is a Georgian style, based on plans published in 1795 by George Richardson, who published many books of plans which were widely read by architects. architects at this time were typically apprenticed with people already practicing, or in the case of Hildreth, Master builders who would customize plans published by others.

Note the rusticated ground floor with the more Finley-cut ashlar stone above. the Neoclassical details, Such as the entr portico, and the doric pilasters.  When Government house was built the Hollis Street side was the principal entrance, however that duty is now assumed by the Barrington Street side.

 Black Binney House, Located next door on Hollis Street is modeled after Government house. house was built by Merchant and legislative assembly member John Black, between 1815 and 1819.
 The house features a 5 bay facade, Massive chimneys at either end, dormer windows in the attic,central paneled door, 6 panel dormer windows and larger 12 panel windows are common identifying marks of the Georgian style and well displayed in the house. its also a pure representation of the style, with minimal Palladian Influence.
Area From Hopkins Atlas on 1878
Area From Hopkins Atlas on 1878

Much like homes today, which use brick on the front, and much cheaper siding every where else, Black-Binney House is faced with ashlar Granite imported from Scotland, while the sides are made from the more readily available local ironstone and sandstone..

Government house’s central portion features a similar 5 bay layout, and this is not surprising, considering it is next door. after black, the house was lived in by James Uniacke, Premier from 1848-1854, then Hibbert Binney, Bishop of Nova Scotia. It became the Headquarters for the Commissionaires in 1965.

Admiralty House served as the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s North American Station. It was constructed between 1815 and 1819, and features the Georgian 5 bay layout, Hiped roof with dormers, end Chimneys, and 5 bay layout with central doorway.


More austere in its construction, the facade is make up of more roughly cut local stone, as opposed to fine ashlar. The entry is also more Neo-Classical in style, as are the dentils under the eaves.

Province House is considered to be one of the finest Palladian buildings in Canada. Started in 1811, and completed in 1819, it was designed by John Merrick and built by mason/master builder Richard Scott who  led the team of carpenters, masons and labourers who worked on Province House for eight years.
the facade is constructed of Nova Scotia Sandstone, quarried at Wallace NS. By placing the legislative chambers on the second floor, they have direct access at street level to Granville street.
Legislative Chamber, Facing the speakers chair.


Legislative Library, Formerly used as the court room.
Legislative Council Room. This was the location of the Provincial Senate, when it existed
The Georgian form appears again and again in buildings with other styles. there are many 5 bay Italianate buildings which despite their decoration feel Georgian. The form was also distilled into smaller buildings. Sieverts Tobacco is one of the last wooden buildings on Barrington St. and is a perfect example of a “half Georgian” comprising only the Left and Center Bays (of a 5 bay Georgian) it constitutes half a building.

built in 1842, it predates halifax’s building codes requiring fire proof construction. Another, Better example is the Henry House. Built in 1834, its a 3 bay half Georgian. the Hallway is located on the right side of the house, in what would have been the Center of a full 5 bay House. faced in Granite, the sides are built of ruble stone.  The storm porch is a local addition to accommodate weather.



Port Improvement Project.

The Ocean Terminals were built in the south end of the city, close to the mouth of the harbour, and were meant to be new, modern and larger port facilities for Halifax. It was quite the civil engineering feat. The project was for the construction of what we know today as Piers 20-28, the railway cut, and port facilities, and the South end Stion and hotel Complex.


callfortenders Halifax for a while dominated as Canada’s East Coast port, but poor railway access made it too distant; and antiquated methods, unprofitable. In 1910, improvements were made to Pier 2 at the deep water terminus in the north end, however it was constrained by space available to it. Wharves, private residences and businesses had encroached, and there was no longer space for railway expansion. In 1912, the Dominion Government decided to proceed with the Ocean Terminals project.

Though expected to be much larger, the initial project called for the construction of the passenger terminal, interconnected with the rail terminal, as well as Pier A, and the breakwater. The requirements were for 45′ depth.




The construction contract was held by Foley Bros, Welsh, Stewart & Fauquier. James Macgregor was the Superintending Engineer, responsible for design and construction for the Canadian Government.


Though Halifax is known for having a deep natural channel, the piers were located close to shore; in places, in as little as 10 feet of water, and so required substantial dredging.  250,000 cubic yards of material was removed to ensure the required 45′ depth was met. As well, stable foundations would be required for the piers.  The area would be drilled, charges set, and then the rock excavated. Most of the rock was excavated by the Canadian government’s 12yd dipper dredge “Cynthia”, though deeper areas were done with a Marion Dragline scraper on a barge fitted with an orange peel bucket. This crane was intended to be used for block placement, but proved versatile.

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The pier was to be constructed from 3647 sixty-ton Concrete blocks would then be stacked to form the pier face, and then after placement filled with sand rocks and concrete. The area within would then be filled. The blocks were 31′ wide, 22’long and 4’tall. They were cast on site, and stored until they were required to be placed. Though this method was not new, it was to date the largest construction using this method.

ot1A concrete batch plant was setup on site, and the blocks were produced using a forming system. Most of the blocks were identical, so they could be easily mass produced.


The blocks were cast on site and stored until needed. When they were required, a 100ton crane would pick up the block, take it to the end of the pier and lower it into place. the blocks were cast with keys to ensure they aligned properly when placed. blocklaywallsec

The breakwater was constructed with rock removed from the railcut. Loads of rock would be pushed out on railcars to the end of the breakwater, then across a plate girder bridge, and onto a barge. They would then be dumped. The barge was kept level in the tides by adjusting ballast. As the pier extended,  the barge would be moved further along until the required 1500′ was constructed.

Once the piers were built, additional Facilities could be constructed. Pier A featured a sizeable freight shed. Due to the Ongoing war, the initial shed was constructed from timber. due to the need for it, and available materials.STR27902a.001.aa.cs

Along with the Improved Piers, Improved rail facilities were constructed as part of the Project. It took the railway from Three Mile House at Fairview, around behind the city to the south end to serve the new ocean terminals and railway station. It also included construction of the Bedford Basin Yard. The cut is approximately 6 miles long and, as built, double track to the terminal where it expands to 4 tracks.

Construction was the responsibility of Cook Construction Co & Wheaton Bros. They were tasked with excavating the 2.5 million cubic yards of material that needed to be removed for the cut. It was mostly rock. In the south end, material was used to make up the breakwater. At the north end, excavated material was used to build the Rockingham yard, located in front of St Vincents College. (Now Mount St Vincent University.) Three Mile House itself was demolished in 1918.

Initially there were problems drilling the rock, due to the seams running through it, however electric Cyclone type well drills proved to be successful. Drilling occurred in advance of the shovel operations, holes were capped to await blasting, and each blast was done to a maximum depth of 30′, across the width of the cut in 100-200′ long sections.


Two Bucyrus 100 ton shovels were used, as well as two Bucyrus 70 ton shovels, and 2 Marion 60 ton shovels. Rocks too large to be loaded were broken up with drills located on the shovels. Similar equipment to this was also used to dig the Panama Canal. Both Marion and Bucyrus were Ohio-based companies, and Marion was eventually acquired by Bucyrus. Bucyrus became part of Caterpillar in 2011, and forms the base of their mining equipment division.
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STR27973a.001.aa.csThough the rail cut avoided the major population in Halifax,  it had a major impact on the grand estates in the south and west ends of the peninsula. Properties needed to be expropriated, and many houses were demolished, included Samuel Cunard’s Oaklands estate. The expropriations caused many large lots to be subdivided and eventually led to the expansion of middle class Halifax into these areas.

During construction, roads were interrupted and temporary bridges put in place (left), before the grand concrete arch bridges could be constructed, the most visible of these being Young Avenue at the mouth of the rail cut. The example under construction below is believed to be Mumford Road.



The Rockingham yard under construction. The 2 tracks in the foreground are the mainline, and the train is dumping fill.


the Transit Sheds of Piers 20-22 were constructed in the Early 20’s. The Contract Record of March 24 1920 reported that Sheds 21 and 22 had the steelwork erected in 6 weeks with use of a Traveling Derrick by the Dominion Bridge Company. the Steel work was manufactured in the US, however wartime shortages delayed construction.


the Grain handling facilities were intended from the beginning, and the elevator was installed by  1926.
 Built in 1928, the train station and Hotel Nova Scotian were the final pieces of the port improvement project.


The images above are aerial views from 1931,  and are from The Richard McCully Aerial Photograph Collection at the NS Archives. The current train station replaced a temporary one built in 1918 to coincide with the opening of the railcut and ocean terminals. The temporary station was required as the Intercolonial Railway Station at the foot of North Street had been destroyed in the Halifax Explosion of 1917, and can be seen in front of the train shed.


The Station and Hotel were designed by John Smith Archibald   in association with John Schofield. Archibald owned his own practice, whereas Schofield worked for the Railway. The two did a number of commissions for CN Railways, including expanding the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. Archibald had a wide and Varied career, designed numerous homes, schools, hospitals and hotels, and also has the distinction of having designed the Montreal Forum.

The Halifax railway complex also included Cornwallis Park, which opened in 1931. Archibald was a proponent of the City beautiful movement, which sought to impose order in cities to reduce crime and poverty. The particular architectural style of the movement borrowed mainly from the contemporary Beaux-Arts and neoclassical styles, which emphasized the necessity of order, dignity, and harmony. you can note, that in the photos the central axis of the park is aligned with the main entry of the Nova Scotian Hotel. the Now controversial statue of Cornwallis was also installed by the railway – the park lands were water sold to the city of Halifax.

The Railway  Station, was constructed with a modern steel frame, truss joists, with brick & stone facing Exterior. It cost  $571,939.19  to build. The  Hotel featured 168 rooms when built, and is also of steel construction. It’s construction cost was  $1,658,456 – both in 1928 dollars.

The Station also included a direct connection to Pier 21 to Facilitate movement of people from ships to train. the final images bellow from 1934 show the extent of the completed project.

The BlockHouse

The blockhouse was the basic British defensive position. Hundreds of them were built in Canada, and Halifax’s early defenses  consisted of numerous blockhouses. A series of 3 defended the peninsula from the mainland (approximately along the modern Joseph Howe Drive). The original fort at the Citadel was a blockhouse, and others were located at the Dockyard, Dartmouth Cove, and in Sackville. Blockhouses were also built in Lawrencetown and Lunenburg.


The blockhouse in Windsor NS is the oldest surviving blockhouse in the country. Built in 1750, it was named Fort Edward, and is located on a hill overlooking the Avon and St Croix Rivers. The image above was created by John Hamilton in 1753, and depicts the fort when it was only 3 years old. The blockhouse at Fort Edward was pre-cut in Halifax, and shipped to Windsor with the troops for erection. All the early Nova Scotia blockhouses were cut in Halifax, and assembled on site. It is therefore likely that the blockhouse buildings themselves were all similar to Fort Edward.


Though blockhouses across the country all differ in appearance, the blockhouse was typically a 2 story structure with an overhanging second story. The overhang allowed downward fire to be directed on anyone attempting to breach the first story. Blockhouses were constructed of square timbers laid horizontally on each other. It was the thickness of wood which offered relative security against musket balls and arrows. Long hardwood dowels or “tree nails” were inserted through the  logs at regular intervals to add strength. Small crevices between the timbers were caulked.  The interior walls were sometimes plastered; the exterior walls were either clapboarded or shingled to prevent the deterioration of the square timbers. The Fort Edward blockhouse has four portholes in the upper storey, one in the centre of each side. The original guns were four-pounders without carriages. They probably rested on swivel mountings. To give a sense of scale, the second floor window is 18″ above the floor. The ports above are for muskets, and are meant to be used while standing.

An Exact Plan of Fort Edward at Pesaquid, 1757
An exact plan of Fort Edward at Pesaquid, 1757

The Fort Edward blockhouse stood within a stockaded fort. The palisades at Fort Edward described the perimeter of the fort — a regular square 85 yards long on each side, with bastions in the four corners. A ditch surrounded the picketing. The picketing  usually was composed of cedar posts 10 to 14 feet long and pointed at the top. A trench was dug below frost level and the pickets placed into it. Wooden stringers strengthened the palisade.

Coloured photograph, postcard of Fort Edward About 1900

Today all that remains is the blockhouse and the grounds.

The Halifax Blockhouses

14 blockhouses were built in Halifax. The 3 blockhouses previously mentioned were built quickly once the city of Halifax had grown beyond the Palisades. The easiest way to defend the town from ground attack from natives or the French was with the addition of 3 blockhouses to close off the peninsula from the mainland. The middle one was documented by Harry Piers, Provincial Archivist in the 1930s.

 The middle peninsula blockhouses at Halifax, 1751, by Harry Piers; a, plan of the site of the blockhouse and stockade; b, perspective restoration looking northwest; c, general contour plan and section of the site.
The middle peninsula blockhouses at Halifax, 1751, by Harry Piers; a, plan of the site of the blockhouse and stockade; b, perspective restoration looking northwest; c, general contour plan and section of the site.

During the Revolutionary War, an octagonal blockhouse three storeys high, 50 feet in diameter and designed to barrack 200 men was constructed in 1776; it was built in a large square redoubt on the summit of Citadel Hill. Besides the Blockhouse, the defenses on the hill consisted of a maze of batteries and irregular earthwork begun in 1761.

Fort Massey and Citadel Hill Blockhouses, 1780, from Point Pleasant.
Fort Massey and Citadel Hill Blockhouses, 1780, from Point Pleasant Battery. By Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hicks, was stationed in Halifax from 1778 to 1782

There was an additional blockhouse at Fort Massey. Fort Massey was built on a small hill south of the Citadel at the corner of  South and Queen streets. This fort covered the southern approach to the Citadel and protected green-bank and barbette batteries below it.  A blockhouse designed to accommodate 39 men was built, as were 2 barracks and a small magazine.


Redeveloping the Central Redevelopment Area

After Stephenson’s 1957 report, the city of Halifax had defined a central redevelopment area. Between 1958 and 1962, the city focused on acquiring and clearing the land, clearing 17.3 acres by 1962. With Clearance well underway, the displaced residents needed homes.


Mulgrave Park was one of the direct results of the Central Redevelopment Area land clearance scheme. It was specifically developed to house the displaced people from this area. CMHC was quick to point out that the Central Redevelopment Area in Halifax, was the first project in the country to make use of the 1956 amendments to the National Housing Act, allowing commercial development as long as sufficient suitable housing was provided for the displaced residents. Mulgave Park would be that housing. Unlike previous CMHC sponsored housing projects in Montreal and Toronto, Mulgrave Park would not be located in the central area, and would not be built on the former slum itself.


Mulgrave Park itself began as a large estate in the north end. It was destroyed in the Halifax Explosion and sat as vacant land, until it was developed by wartime housing authorities for military use. In 1941, Manning Pool was built on the site.At the end of hostilities, when Wartime Housing was transformed into CMHC, the site became available for further development.

The Mulgrave Park housing project was designed by Ian MacLeman and Maurice Clayton of the Architectural and Planning Division of Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, in collaboration with Leslie R. Fairn and Associates, and J. Philip Dumaresq and Associates serving as Associate Architects on the project.


The architects attempted to craft a local flavor to the project –  there was an attempt to preserve the Halifax vernacular with bright colours and low gabled roofs. The project was forced to deal with an 11 acre site, with an 80 foot rise, and loose rubble and fill. Deep pile foundations would be required. The plan called for two 8-story buildings, a 4-story walk up building. and then a series of 3-story buildings. The 3-story buildings would consist of a ground level apartment, and a 2-story maisonette above.  These took advantage of the sloping site, and the maisonettes entered on the upper side of the hill, and the ground floor apartment on the downhill side.


The entire project would use a central heating plant. Low pressure steam would be run through radiators in the units. The towers were of reinforced concrete construction. The 4-story walk-up was load bearing masonry construction, with concrete floors. The 3-story buildings consisted of poured concrete construction for the ground floor, with timber framing for the upper floors. 182 parking spaces would be provided – one for every two units.


The slope of the site would require terracing and retaining walls, which were used to define parking and play areas. After its completion in October 1960, the Mulgave Park project won numerous awards for its quality.


Images below are from the collection of Norbert Schoenauer, McGill University, just after the project opened. It certainly has a modernist aesthetic with a Halifax vernacular vibe to it.

This 1960 opening was over 2 years after the expropriations and demolitions had begun, after the approval of the Central Redevelopment Area in February 1958.  Despite the size of the project, it would not accommodate all the displaced residents, and the slum clearance projects would put stress on other housing projects in the city.

With the Central redevelopment Area land acquired and cleared, it was now time to focus on what to do with it. The city’s director of planning, K.M Munnich, recommended in a preliminary report that a development including high density residential, shopping centre with large department store, and ample parking would be ideal for the site. By 1964, this report had expanded to a draft plan for the area, and included expansion of the area to include lands between Brunswick Street and Grand Parade; Cogswell Street and Rainnie Drive; and the entire frontage of Duke Street. To further guide development, the firm Canadian Urban Economics Ltd was commissioned to do two studies.

The first, the 1965  Central Business District Report, looked at expected growth between 1966 and 1986. It recommended more low and mid-cost housing in the area, and also recommended against expansive retail development, accepting that it had been lost to suburban malls. The preference was to concentrate on office space. The report also called for commercial recreational facilities such as theatres, curling and billiards, and an institutional component of museums, art galleries, a courthouse and a maritime museum, and of course sufficient parking.

In 1966 Canadian Urban Economics Ltd produced their second report, “Central Business District Economic Analysis for Redevelopment Planning”. This report suggested making the waterfront a priority for a new courthouse and the redevelopment of the ferry terminal; developing the Grand Parade from Duke Street to George Street; removing the existing City Hall to make way for a proposed department store; extending the Grand Parade toward the north to Duke Street; making Barrington Street a pedestrian maIl from Duke Street to Sackville Street; redesigning the traffic circulation; and moving parking to each end of Barrington Street.


While ever-expanding grand plans for downtown were being made, in January 1962 the city issued a request for proposals for the cleared lands. There was one submission, for the Cornwallis Centre, by Provinces and Central Properties Ltd, developed by the British Woking Group, from Surrey, England, working locally with Napier and Napier Architects .

The programme consisted of apartment blocks, which were the first priority, followed by the rotunda and hotel block, office block, market hall, the department store and finally the sports dome. The towers would sit atop a pedestrian podium. The Cornwallis Centre was to be built at grade, with the lower levels housing parking and bus bays. Escalators would bring people into the pedestrian podium.

The proposal included the Cogswell Street Extension, which would bring people into the heart of the centre, via public transit.  Market Street would remain as a service road, but all other streets within the site would be removed. The towers were aligned to preserve views from Citadel Hill.

The total estimated cost for the proposal was $48,700,000. It was immediately criticized for being too large and out of character for Halifax. Mayor Vaughan was first elected in the 1963 election, campaigning against the Cornwallis Centre (he was the manager of Halifax Shopping Centre at the time).

The Woking Group was asked to come back with something different.


Version 2 of the Cornwallis Centre was radically different. Still a multi-use centre, the plan called for 450 dwelling units; a 450-room hotel; a 22 floor office tower offering 264,000 sq ft of office space;  554,000 sq ft of shopping, including two department stores, a grocery store  and a car showroom; and parking for 2500 cars, with space for 600 more in the future. Pedestrians were still kept in a separate landscaped plane from cars, and the only surface entrances were at the hotel.


The centre was viewed as the first phase of a comprehensive planning area, so additional improvements in the area of the courthouse and ferry terminal are included. Cogswell Street was also treated differently, passing over Harbour Drive.


The residential component featured 420 units in three 18 story highrise towers, and 30 in patio terraces that made up a podium for the 3 towers. Parking and services were also held in the podium.

Apartment towers vied from harbor drive. Page is bent, hence distortion.

Apartment towers viewed from Harbour Drive. Page is bent, hence distortion.

The office tower was designed to be just under 300′ in height. It was decided that a single tower of 20 to 24 stories would give more punctuation and drama to the skyline, without impacting the view from the Citadel. Provision for an additional 100,000 sq ft of office space was made via 3 shorter linked towers that could be built later.


Cross Section. Office Tower on Right, Hotel on Left.



Overall view looking North. Office tower and additional office space centered. Note City Hall in lower right corner.

This proposal was ultimately accepted, and the city signed an agreement to proceed in October 1963. Time went on however, and no progress was made in the completion of this project. Financing was difficult to obtain and it was felt that things in Halifax had changed, and the Cornwallis Centre was no longer seen as the idea scheme. The city settled with Provinces and Central Properties for breaking the agreement. On April 30, 1965, the city announced another call for proposals for the Central Redevelopment Area.

The April 1965 call for proposals brought 3 responses. Provinces and Central Properties  resubmitted the Cornwallis Centre proposal, Ralph Medjuck’s company Centennial Properties Limited proposed Centennial Square, and Halifax Developments proposed Scotia Square.

Centennial Square was designed by the architects Elmar Tomar Tampold, J. Malcolm Wells, Michael Kopsa, and Henno Sillaste. The four phase development would take 3 years to build, and cost 21.8 million. The proposal was mainly focused on middle income, medium density residential development.

The architects present an interesting collection. Elmar Tampold immigrated from Estonia, and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1953. Henno Sillaste was also Estonian, and graduated from U of T in 1960. The School of Architecture at the University of Toronto had recruited an Estonian architect from Sweden in 1949, and as a result Toronto developed a series of Estonian Modern buildings. Michael Kopsa was from Belgrade, coming to Canada in 1951 and living in Toronto, and built many brutalist buildings including Brantford City Hall.  J. Malcom Wells rejected modern architecture in the mid 60s and went on to become known as the father of modern earth-sheltered architecture.

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Besides the residential component,  the proposal contained a hotel and a  moderate amount of retail, designed as an extension of Barrington Street.  A large park – Centennial Square – would be located behind City Hall, and 395 parking spaces and a gas station would be located underneath it. The proposal also suggested closing  Barrington Street north of Buckingham, and constructing Harbour Drive.


Ralph Medjuck himself presented the Centennial Square proposal to Council, and curiously was also retained to present the Cornwallis Centre proposal which was resubmitted. In the March 2 1966 Mail Star, Medjuck was quoted: “Our smaller Centennial Square proposal is excellent in all respects, but Cornwallis Centre is larger, further advanced, better financed and generally more in everybody’s interest”. The thought, however, was that the Cornwallis Centre was too large, and thus unsuitable for Halifax.

Conversely, criticism of Centennial Square was that it was too simple, and less architecturally unified. The Square lacked pedestrian access; the scheme lacked warehouses, showrooms and recreational facilities. Residential was seen as a positive, but there was a concern that it would overwhelm the market. Centennial Square also left much of the street network intact.

But perhaps the biggest deciding factor, was that Scotia Square would pay the highest taxes to the city. The proposal for Scotia Square was put forth by Halifax Developments.

Halifax Developments was formed in response to the request for Proposals. Its Initial Board was made up of members of the boards from Oland breweries, Bank of Nova Scotia, Sobey’s , NSLP, National Sea Products and Bowater Mersey.

Once formed, Halifax Developments obtained the services of Architect Karl Koch, and Planner David Crane from the United States, and Local architect Douglas Shadbolt. The design would be harmonious through the  use of  similar building types, and grey brick and stone for a consistent feel with the rest of the city. There was a concern to design for the human scale, and not to build massive monuments. The proposal would include 450 residential apartment units, 300,000 square feet of retail space,500,000 square feet of office space in three buildings, a 280 room hotel with conference facilities, a bank and post office, and parking facilities for 1,800 cars complete with gas stations and service centers.



Halifax Developments liked to Compare the Scotia Square development to Place Ville Marie in Montreal. They saw Scotia Square as the first step of elevating the port city to modern metropolitan. The Plan included High density residential on Brunswick Street, which was touted as “one of the most fashionable places to live in Canada to live, second only to Habitat”  It appears as though the the entire Scotia Square complex has its roots in Montreal. The Residential and office component’s were compared to Montreal projects, and the trademart concept was modeled on Place Bonaventure.


The original Proposal recognized the need for improved transportation. The developers pushed for the construction of harbor drive, But also planed to convert market street to a transit hub – in the original plan, there were to be no entrances of Barrington – users would enter the mall on the upper level from Market (Now Albemarle) Street. The city at the last minute bowed to pressure from Barrington street merchants and left the transit bub on Barrington. – making the Duke entrance the main access to the mall.

Though originally excluded form the slum Clearance area, Halifax developments was able to Get the police and Market building at the corner of Duke and Brunswick, and the block along Barrington between duke and Buckingham cleared and added to the Lot.

SS_Cleared Site

The proposal was estimated to cost 29,500,000, and was to be completed in 2 phases over 7 years. The Scotia Square Proposal was officially selected on April 24 1966, and Road closures began July 29. Construction was started in 1967.


The first Portion of the project to be built was the Trademart Building, which is now known as Brunswick place. It was meant to be a place where wholesalers could display there wares – I guess sort of like a Warehouse / mall / tradeshow space. The concept was Modeled on Place Bonaventure in Montreal.

The next Portion of construction was the Duke Tower and Mall Block, which was approved march 17, 1967. The Trade Mart opened in 1968, and the Mall, Duke Tower and First Apartment building following in 1969. 1973 brought the opening of the Chateau Halifax (Now the Delta Halifax) and plans for Cogswell Tower were developed, opening in 1975 it completed the Scotia Square project.

The 1957 Master Plan for Halifax

Besides architects and planners, the modernist town planning ideas also permeated to social welfare advocates, and politicians. In Nova Scotia, several town planning acts and municipal legislation were passed to allow towns to implement planning and zoning. This local legislation and support from prominent citizens and leaders was as much an enabler of these ideas as the architects and planners.

During the post second world war period, CMHC served as the federal government’s housing arm.Central Mortgage and Housing (CMHC) was formed in 1946 to promote and provide housing for returning veterans. It was a natural change from the wartime housing board, which was created to house soldiers and their families.

CMHC was set up as a Crown corporation to administer the 1944 National Housing Act.  The act was a piece of legislation that allowed municipalities to enter into agreements with the federal government “to assist in the clearance, re-planning, rehabilitation and modernization of blighted or substandard areas”.  The act also stated that “the federal and provincial governments may assist municipalities in carrying out urban renewal schemes which can include both commercial and residential redevelopment, and residential rehabilitation”.

In its first years of existence, Central Mortgage and Housing, provided mortgage insurance to banks to encourage them to lend money so that people could purchase homes. Later CHMC was also extensively involved in housing design and produced plan books of houses under the Small House Program. (Pictured: CHCH Small House design, look familiar?)

Parliament amended the National Housing Act in 1954. Now properties could be developed for their highest and best use, including commercial uses.  This was  a big difference over previous versions of the act, which only allowed clearance of slum housing to make way for new housing.

The act set out several conditions for federal support:

  • the proposed area must be blighted
  • the project must be in harmony with official community plans
  • make the highest and best use of the land
  • a substantial part of the area must be residential
  • fair provision must be made for dwellings for displaced families
  • the province must approve
  • the municipality must clear the land, the federal contribution will not be more then half the cost
  • the federal government shares in the revenue in proportion to contribution
  • Central Mortgage and Housing will act as agent for the federal government

The CMHC Small house program was begun In 1947. The Small House program was explicit, in that the designs were for modern suburban houses.  The housing program was attempting to be distinctly Canadian, and while borrowing from British modernism, American inspiration was rejected. this meant embracing the garden city ideals and modern planning principles. CMHC was now powered by an amended national housing act encouraging clearance of blighted urban slum areas, and a program to develop and encourage affordable  suburban homes.

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By March of 1968, there were thirty-seven renewal projects at an estimated cost of $180 million. CHMC Architects and planners  were responsible for the design of many of the projects, including  Mulgrave Park in Halifax, and its prototype, Regent Park in Toronto. It was in partnership with CHMC, that the city undertook Stephenson’s 1957 redevelopment study for Halifax. The partnership was further enhanced by the fact the city’s Development Officer, Robert B. Grant, was a former CMHC official.

Gordon Stephenson was brought in by Halifax Council in 1957 to develop a plan for slum clearance. Stephenson was considered to be an expert in urban renewal and, as advocated by modernists like Corbusier, used scientific rigor to justify his findings. Stephenson was well educated, having studied at the School of Architecture, University of Liverpool, between 1925-1930 and the Institut d’Urbanisme, University of Paris, between 1930-1932.  His time in Paris would have been after Corbusier published “Vers une architecture” (Toward an Architecture, previously mistranslated into English as Towards a New Architecture) in 1923, so he would have been familiar with the work and the ideas it contained. Some sources suggest he worked in Corbusier’s practice.

Prior to his time in Canada, Stephenson also worked in Australia. In the Australian experience, Walter Burley Griffin laid out the capital city of Canberra based on Garden City principles in 1912. Australia was also followers of the City beautiful movement and Stephenson would have been very familiar then with the Garden City, City beautiful, and the other ideas of modern town planning. During his time in Canada, Stephenson served as a planning consultant to the cities of Toronto,  Kingston, Sudbury and Ottawa, Ontario, as well as Halifax, and taught at the Universities of Toronto and British Columbia, between 1955-1960.

It is with this resume, that he was selected by the city of Halifax and CHMC to undertake the redevelopment study for Halifax. In his report on Halifax, he made extensive use of studies and surveys to document the conditions of the city and justify its redevelopment. Stephenson’s report begins with a historical review of the city, and a collection of photographs showing the picturesque areas of the city, and finally ends with blighted neighborhoods.

In Section III, Stephenson begins to describe the problems and proposals for Halifax. He determines that the majority of growth will be suburban, however this will leave the core to remain run-down and blighted. “Here many of the worst dwellings are to be found, and with them social and economic difficulties.”

Perhaps ironically, Stephenson points out what uncontrolled suburban growth will cause:

“…the money to put them right will mount inexorably. It is estimated that it will cost $5000-6000 per house in some places to provide water and sewers to cheap houses which are now laid out in sprawling fashion on rocky land. It was cheap land – but it will be very costly land by the time the community as a whole has paid the price.”

“Clearance and re-development in the city will undoubtedly increase efficiency in the hub of the metropolitan region, and remove some of the slums in the worst parts.”

On the harbour and central area, Stephenson suggests re-developing the ferry terminal area, to bring the harbour into the urban scene, and to provide parking for 300 cars (below).

Stephenson calls George Street east of Grand Parade an architectural and financial asset to the city. It is a Wall or Bay Street in miniature. Redevelopment of the western end, however, is strongly suggested. Stephenson goes on to identify the worst end of Halifax as the central area that lies between City Hall and Jacob Street. “With the exception of the blocks between Barrington and Argyle, it is in generally deplorable condition” writes Stephenson. He suggests “the clearing of this area should have the highest priority”. (This area is today Scotia Square.) He goes on to advise that accommodation must be made for the displaced, and proposes a new 4-lane highway connecting Cogswell Street with Water Street to  help speed traffic to the ferry terminal car park, and make the development of the newly cleared site more attractive.
Stephenson identified that most traffic entering the city from the Macdonald Bridge will use Barrington Street. He suggests that Barrington Street “should become an approach road worthy of the city, and that there should be extensive clearance of old housing along its length” with new housing on the western side, and none permitted on the eastern (harbour) side.
The report makes several other recommendations about controlling growth and development on Gottingen and Spring Garden Road, and several other areas.  Stephenson describes Africville as a little-frequented part of the city…described as an encampment or shack town. Buildings and sanitation are deplorable. Stephenson recommends families be rehoused, as the land they occupy will be needed for development in the near future.
The report continues into the scientific study of the city to justify the recommendations. In part 4, he examines the human conditions in the overall city.  By doing this, Stevenson is able to show the study area to be the most densely populated, most crime ridden and unhealthy part of the city. I have excerpted his maps below to focus on the study area.

Each dot represents a person on Welfare.

Each dot represents a person on Welfare

Each Dot represents 100 people

Each dot represents 100 people

Each dot represents a child with tuberculosis

Each dot represents a child with tuberculosis

Each dot represents the home of a child appearing in Juvenile court.

Each dot represents the home of a child appearing in Juvenile court.


Stephenson basically shows by dot density how bad the study area is compared to the rest of the city. The more dots, the worse the conditions are.  In Part 5, he then goes on to look at the specific structures in the area. Part 5 was completed by a block-by-block survey which was conducted as part of the study.

the Dark ares 75% or more of buildings are in Poor condition with 2 or more major issues

The dark areas: 75% or more of buildings are in poor condition with 2 or more major issues

Houses with more people then rooms are considered overcrowded. the darkest square 75% or more are over crowded.

Houses with more people then rooms are considered overcrowded. The darkest square: 75% or more are over crowded

in the Black Squares, 30% or more of dwellings lack indoor washrooms.

In the black squares, 30% or more of dwellings lack indoor washrooms


In parts 4 and 5, Stephenson is able to use scientific factual study to justify the redevelopment of large areas of Halifax based on the human and built conditions of the areas. He then goes on to define several redevelopment areas that should be cleared.


Area 6 is what would become Uniacke Square, Area 7 would be cleared and largely remain so to this day, and Area 9 would be Cogswell and Scotia Square.  For Area 6, a new library and playground are recommended. On Area 9, Stephenson writes “There are three proposals for the City Center. The first involves sweeping away the worst housing in the City, which is in the vicinity of Jacob and Market Streets. This would provide excellently placed commercial sites, and a much needed road improvement by connecting Cogswell Street to Water Street on a new alignment.”

Given that he suggests most of the central area be redeveloped commercially,  he acknowledges that additional housing must be located for the displaced people.


The overall scheme is quite comprehensive. The central study areas are recommended to be converted primarily to commercial and industrial uses. Africville is flagged for harbour expansion (2).  Bayers-Westwood(1), Rockhead Prison (3) and Mulgrave Park (4) are suggested as a site for new housing, as is the area that would become Uniacke Square, and the Ocean Towers. The report recommends re-housing Africville residents at  the Rockhead site.

The report was presented to Council, Approved, and Expropriations and Demolitions in the Jacob Street Area (Which would become known as the Central Redevelopment Area) Began in February 1958.

The Halifax City Archives has the report available online in PDF.

The 1945 Master Plans.

The Master Plan for the City of Halifax was prepared by the Civic Planning Commission in 1945. The terms of reference for the Master Plan were issued in December 1943. The terms of reference were based on “assisting in effecting an orderly transition from wartime to peacetime conditions”.
The commission was made up of 2 architects, George T. Bates, and Harold Lawson. Harold Lawson worked in Montreal. He had several well-known commissions including the Chateau Montebello in Quebec, and locally the Maritime Telegraph & Telephone Co. building on North Street, from 1948.
 The other members included:
  • Ira P. MacNab, NS Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities
  • Mrs F.A Lane, president, Halifax Welfare Bureau
  • Miss K.W Skinner, 1st President, Halifax Business & Professional Womens Club
  • E.F Cragg, Barrister
  • Rev C.F Curran, Parish Priest
  • Allan M. Doyle, President, Cousins Ltd.
  • Frank W. Doyle, Associate Managing Editor, Halifax Herald
  • W Stanley Lee, Director, National Sea Products Ltd
  • Jack B Miller, Inspector, Royal Bank of Canada; President, Halifax Rotary Club
  • A.J Murray, Delegate, Halifax Trades and Labour Council
  • L.E Shaw, President L.E Shaw Ltd.
  • Geo. A Smith, President, Halifax Trades and Labour Council
The Introduction identifies several issues in Halifax, including “the handling of modern traffic in its narrow streets” and identifies slum clearance and housing, street changes and improvements, a vocational school, proper library facilities, and preparation of zoning bylaws as solutions. The report is structurally divided into 2 sections – streets and traffic, and zoning and development. The planning commission which created the report was following modern thought in social welfare, and was definitely using Corbusier’s ideas and theories to modernize the city.
One of the first areas addressed in the Master plan is traffic. On streets and traffic, the report makes sweeping recommendations about how to handle traffic flow, including road improvements, parking improvements, and recommendations for highway and bridge constructions. The overall proposed road layout can been seen in the master diagram blow.  In All, the Master plan makes 20 proposals and 16 recommendations for street and traffic improvements.  The report blames congestion not just on volume, but on poor road design, on street parking which interferes with the free flow of vehicles, and unnecessary interference at intersections.
The plan makes several specific recommendations for street layouts and road network changes but generally recommends
  • circulation and control of traffic at important intersections by “cloverleafs”, Traffic circles” or other means
  • Strictly regulating Curb parking to permit free movement of traffic
  • off-street parking and loading space provided in business sections
  • streets in future subdivisions be designed to serve type of traffic needed
The first proposal (Proposal one) calls for a diagonal street running from the corner of Water and George to Gottingen and Cunard, then Robie and North. The report also recommend that provisions be made for elevating this highway from Water to Gottingen streets, with rentable space below. (Image below)
In proposal three, the report suggests widening North street into 2 lanes each direction, for provision of the bridge. (Image Below). The bridge location between North St. in Halifax, and Thistle St. in Dartmouth was approved by Dominion Authorities and the British Admiralty in 1933. The report assumed that his would be the location for it, however made reference to the possibility of a bridge in the narrows, recommending that if this is the case, “approaches and thoroughfares leading to it must obviously be in scale with its importance”
Proposals 6 and 7 Were for a set of diagonal streets running from Brunswick street. One road would run from Argyle and Duke, to Brunswick and Jacob – under what would become Scotia Square. the Other road would run from George and Grafton to Brunswick and Sackville.
Proposal 8 was to extend Brunswick Street through to Spring Garden Road. – this was completed at some point, though the proposal was for a straight run through artillery park.
Other proposals dealt with improving traffic flow in the north west end – The current Fairview overpass area was also a problem in 1945, and a new overpass and traffic circle were proposed as solutions.

Proposal 19 continues Connaught Ave to Inglis as a boulevard, and becomes the principle north south connector across the peninsula to the North West Arm bridge. the North West Arm bridge is intended to assist with the “steady movement of population form the city to the suburbs, both to the east and west, in spite of inadequate transportation facilities” (below)


Improvements are also suggested for the ferry terminal area, for improved passenger and vehicle handling, which had been problematic. The full effect of these roadway layouts can be seen in the Master Plan Map at the top of the post. The use of Diagonals and traffic circles certainly harks back to the Haussmann Plan for Paris .

The master plan also addresses Air and Rail transportation in the city. The master plan identifies the existing civil airport off Chubucto road is inadequate, and recommends that it should be replaced. the 72 acres of airport land should be developed as residential.

The new airport location should be in a low priced land area, Meet the needs of aerial transportation for the next 20-25 years and permit expansion in the future. The report suggest a site west of the northwest arm, which will be easily accessible once the bridge is Built.
The report takes a dim view of rail, and cites Canadian National Railways for carrying out 2 construction programs that Introduced Blight and decay spreading over large areas and blames these programs for reducing residential value. It also blames a lack of planning for there being a North and South end terminal, thought they are not connected across the harbourfront, leaving many areas without sufficient rail coverage. The report blames the north end terminal construction for causing blight in those areas, and then again blames the construction of the south end rail cut, which blighting the south and west ends as well.
The reports recommendations for rail are that
  • modern electric or diesel motive power be used within 10miles  of the city
  • portions of the right of way visible form homes be beautified
  • present train shed, baggage, mail and express facilities be reconstructed
  • Armdale station be enlarged to offer full services.
Rail is blamed directly for being Dirty (Coal burning locomotives were) and causing blight and decay in Halifax. Air travel, still being relatively new, is seen as warranting improvement, and there is no mention of associated noise

The Second Section of the Master plan Deals with Zoning. On zoning and development, the report makes recommendations on divided zones, and rehabilitation of blighted areas. Specifically with regard to slum clearance, the report suggests that this will improve the tax revenue for the city and have even greater value by decreasing the cost for social services. On street changes and improvements, the report states they will add value to neighboring properties and reduce transportation costs and speed up traffic. Right up front the Report recommends that

  • the city be divided into zones as shown on the master plan
  • Vacant areas be similarly zoned
  • All new Sub-divisions conform to the zones
  • That a Zoning Bylaw be enacted.

In the Master Plan, zoning is purported to “promoting more healthful, convenient, orderly and attractive communities, more economical to build and operate, better adapted to the economic and social activities, thus promoting the health, safety, convenience and General Welfare of the Population”

On Business Zones, the report suggests Shopping Centers to cluster vendors of peoples daily needs, and to not let retail string out along the road, “where traffic is a hazard, and abutting properties may become blighted”. It then presents and idealized concept of such a shopping center,appearing to take queues from antiquity with colonnades overlooking a central square. (below)

On Residential Zones, The report suggests separation within residential zones, so that Single Family Homes, Duplexes, and Apartments are kept separate from each other. New developments should be planned as whole communities, and be provided with social, recreational and other facilities as par to fo the plan. The plan for the North Slope is a good example of this methodology. The Report recommends leaving Residential districts alone for the most part, except in 2 areas. These 2 areas, the report states “by reason of blight and obsolescence, should be re-planned and redeveloped”

(G) Redevelopment of Blighted Areas; Recommendation 22

“your commission recommends that the Civic Authorities Directly, or through a legally constituted body of citizens chosen for their ability and experience, undertake with the least possible delay Slum Clearance and Adequate Housing Programs”

Further on in the report, the Commission states

“the Slum is an area where buildings are structurally poor, where sanitation is insufficient, and where overcrowding of buildings on land as well as people into buildings create conditions that affect the occupants physically, mentally and morally to the detriment of not only the slum dwellers, but the city as a whole”

And that

” The Cost of providing Fire, police, medical, social and other services in such areas is always higher then for other sections. on the other hand, the tax revenue form these areas is disproportionately low. the entire community thus subsidizes the maintenance of slums”

B In the Master Plan, the 2 slum areas are defined as the area between the Citadel and North Street, which it is recommended, should be replaced with low rent apartments, due to the areas closeness to downtown employment. The Second area, is considered to be a less bad area around Inglis street in the south end, that should be replaced with apartments, and Commercial fronting barrington to buffer the residential from the industry of the port.

The report then goes on to Africville.”the residents of this district must, as soon as reasonably possible, be provided with decent minimum housing elsewhere.”

The report makes specific mention of the 1944 National Housing Act, which provides funding for slum clearance, and low income housing construction. the report tells “The city council should give leadership in inaugurating slum clearance and re-housing programs, and that at least one project may be launched as soon as possible.

Africville was located north of the railway tracks, along the Bedford Basin in an area known as the Northern Slope. The Master Plan offers a proposal for the re-development of this area, with the removal of Africville, the city prison and the old Abattoir, and the construction of a new residential community.

The proposed street plan is laid out to reduce grades, and provide 700 50′ lots. In keeping with previous recommendations that communities be planed as a whole, a shopping center is provided for, which includes shops, a park, and Community facilities.

The Master Plan commends the planing work done by Thomas Adams in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, and recommends no changes to the rebuilt parts of the North End.

The Plan addresses the North West End, which were described as the under used lands that at the time were HMCS Peregrine, and the Chubucto road air field. The plan suggests that they be planned as a community similarly to the north slope plan, with the assumption that they will become residential. (Below)

The proposal also recommends the Acquisition of blocks East of Brunswick street for future public administration buildings, including a new City hall, Police Headquarters, central fire station, and Health and Welfare offices. This public administration district would have a commanding position, and “would convert an ugly, untidy,B nondescript section into one of beauty, dignity and utility.

Finally the Master plan gives advice on its execution. The Plan advises that Halifax act on the authority granted to it by the NS Town Planing Act of 1939 (proclaimed in 1943), and assemble a Town Planning Board consisting of the Mayor, 2 Councillors, and 3 citizens, hiring of a planning director, and competent technical assistants, and the creation of a 12 member Advisory committee to advise the Planning board; 3 of the members should be architects.

“the loss of values and the problems confronting the city due to the lack of planning so clearly demonstrate the need for it that no further elaboration is necessary.”

The Plan then suggests that the planning board, in consultation with the city solicitor, Draft a zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Controls, and Implement a Building and Sanitary Code.

With Halifax developing a master plan in 1945, the town of Dartmouth felt it should have one as well, and council approached the Nova Scotia Municipal Bureau and the Department of Municipal Affairs for assistance. The department provided the funding, and the bureau produced the report.


The actual report was written by architect D.P. Reay and his wife. (The wife is only referred to as Mrs. Reay, and it is noted that she was a graduate architect). The report was limited in scope, and also a part-time effort, as Reay was still in active service with the RCAF. It was to serve as a general plan, with the aim of controlling growth, and serve as a foundation for a larger regional plan at a later date.


The plan begins with an overview of the history and current conditions of the town of Dartmouth. It highlights the social, economic, industrial and traffic conditions of the town, as well as providing a brief history of the settlement. This section of the report concludes that the main favorable parts of the town are:

(a) a beautiful site, largely unspoiled;
(b) no glaring faults in the land use pattern: the natural industrial zone along the waterfront and the main dwelling areas overlooking the lakes are kept relatively distinct

Unfavorable  features are reported to be:

(a) a high proportion of buildings and dwellings in poor structural condition and poorly laid out;
(b) the sewer system leaves much to be desired in its ability to cope easily with any future expansion ;
(c) a great deal of paving remains to be done;
(d) small playgrounds and parks are inadequate

And finally concludes by stating:

The problem then, is to find the simplest possible way to eliminate existing defects, and to enhance and develop the many inherent and existing advantages, while keeping within the bounds of financial practicability.

The plan makes modest assumptions about growth, assuming it will continue at the present rate, though may be higher if the harbour bridge is completed, and as such the plan should take this into account. The bridge is assumed to change traffic patterns, and the thought is to move residential and recreational zones to the top of the hill, and to leave the harbour front to industry, with road,rail and harbour links.
dartmouth_genThe plan recommends 2 main east-west routes coming down and joining with Portland and Octerlony Streets. Combined with Pleasant Street, these will serve as the main circulation out of the residential areas to the town centre. The plan also calls for extending the Lake Banook/Sullivan’s Pond park down to Queen Street, which would be converted to a pedestrian mall, and be the main portion of a commercial and shopping district; and suggests locating the new town hall, library and other civic buildings in this area.

The centre of Dartmouth would then consist of a long formal park strip, some old buildings on Queen Street being  preserved in it no doubt, and leading up from the ferry past the High School to the natural centre of the town just in front of the old dam at the foot of Sullivan’s Pond.

It also recommends the removal of the Starr Manufacturing Building to open that space up for recreation, and provide for a continuous park from Sullivan’s Pond. The plan makes suggestions on improving road layouts should the bridge be built, and then fills in the areas between the roads with new development. These developments are planned to be “pleasant places to live” and not “haphazard developments so common in our small towns and cities”. With this in mind the report suggests new homes be private, with a large lot, and all rooms have a pleasant view to open space. Houses should be away from industry and heavy traffic and railways, with adequate car storage, and stores within walking distance. The grid pattern is rejected, as it consumes additional space reducing taxable development and increasing costs. The report goes on to warn against blight, and how redevelopment of these areas can improve the efficiency of the municipality, warning blighted areas “breed crime and disease, and they are not democratic”.

dartmouth_devThe major advantage to a town of a well planned and socially balanced neighbourhood unit, from the financial point of view, is that its virtues are built into it from the beginning in the way of parks, quiet traffic-free streets, convenient shops, etc. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

You can read the Halifax Master Plan yourself: here (pdf) via Halifax City Archives. – The Dartmouth Plan is also Available (PDF)


The Buildings of Africville

Recently the former residents of Africville have re-launched a suit for compensation for lost property. This seemed like a good time to release a work in progress. I ran through minutes of council meetings from the 1960’s and recorded the Owners and compensation Paid to each resident.

I cannot claim to be an expert in race relations, or the very real discrimination that black people feel, but reading through the City of Halifax Council minutes – expropriation of property in the 60’s was done with an ease that the current council awards repaving contracts. Reports from experts, and support from the Federal government enabled a Canada wide program of Slum Clearance, that was reinforced by reports from social welfare experts. Hundreds of poor people, living in “slums” and “Unsanitary Conditions” were displaced and re-located, Not just from Africville, but from the areas of Scotia Square, Cogswell Interchange, and along Barrington Street to North.

The Africville Relocation Program Ran between 1964 and 1967. Each property number below corresponds to city plan P500-46A, and council minutes address expropriations by those Numbers. Properties expropriated with clear title, the owner received full value. Those without clear title were awarded 500$ +expenses.

When you click on a building, you can find out who the owners were and what was paid as compensation. Several properties had outstanding Hospital and Tax bills which were paid off as part of the package. (At this Time the city ran the hospitals, not the Province) Some properties could not be found in Minutes, or were addressed without mention of the number, so the map features some Errata.

Modern Planning Theory

To understand how we got to where we are, we need to travel all the way back to the mid-19th century, to Manchester, England. At this time, Manchester was at the height of the industrial revolution, and people were moving from the country to the city to work in factories driven by coal powered steam engines.

Friederich Engles was a German, who at the age of 22 went to work in Manchester at a textile mill. On the way he met Karl Marx, and the two become friends. During his time in Manchester, Engles sent Marx several letters describing the working conditions and the general condition of the city.

7fa7bd9a479e626eed5e73bc850c033dManchester in the mid-19th century was a dirty, crowded city. The burning of coal, to power the machinery that made the factories run, polluted the air, and soot made things dirty. People lived in crowded housing of low quality – often quickly and cheaply built to accommodate the influx of workers. They worked long hours, and because of the large population living in close proximity diseases spread quickly, resulting in a higher mortality rate among city dwellers then country dwellers.

The conditions in Manchester were so bad, Engles’ writings to Marx were part of the inspiration for Marx’s communist manifesto. Engles himself wrote a book in German titled “The Condition of the Working Class in England” in 1857. (Published in English in 1887.) He argues that people in cities are worse off – they died more frequently of disease and industrial accidents then country people.

Engles’ writing was intended for a German audience who at the time were industrializing, though several years behind England. It was meant to serve as a warning about how not to grow and develop.

Another early urban thinker was Ebenezer Howard. Howard is known for his publication Garden Cities of To-morrow (1898). Though he worked as a court reporter and journalist, he spent much time considering the human condition. He would have likely read the writings of Engles, and have been familiar with the conditions in Manchester.

Howard’s efforts to resolve the human condition attempted to resolve the issues of the city and the country. Howard decided that the city, despite its downfalls, had some advantages. By merging the town with the country the advantages of both can be obtained. He offered the Three Magnets diagram showing the advantages of the Town,the Country and the Town-Country.

Howard envisioned a city without slums and enjoying the benefits of both town (such as opportunity, amusement and high wages) and country (such as beauty, fresh air and low rents). He illustrated this concept with the Three Magnets diagram, showing the pulls of the Town, the Country, and the Town-country which he described as the ideal. Howard’s Town-country, or Garden City is illustrated below.


Ebenezer Howard proposed a Garden City as the solution to the problems of the city. Architects and planners embraced this idea and worked on concepts for practical implementations. These architects were also heavily influenced by industrial methods and production.

One of the leading urban thinkers was a Swiss architect who went by Le Corbusier. Corbusier published Vers une Architecture (Toward an Architecture) in 1923. The book is a series of essays that had been previously published on the marvels of industrial production. He described mass produced concrete dwellings that could be cheaply manufactured en masse. These consisted of both single family and multi unit developments.

In 1922 he presented his scheme for a “Contemporary City” for three million inhabitants (left). The scheme was a series of towers in a park,connected with large highways. The influence of industrial production is evident. This scheme was also included in his 1929 book “The City of Tomorrow and its Planning”. Note that on the image on the left are large towers sitting on a podium, which connects buildings to transportation.

Le Corbusier exhibited his “Plan Voisin”, sponsored by an automobile manufacturer, in 1925. In it, he proposed to bulldoze most of central Paris north of the Seine and replace it with towers from the Contemporary City, placed within an orthogonal street grid and park-like green space. It was not well received, though it did provoke discussion concerning how to deal with the cramped, dirty conditions that enveloped much of the city. (Below: Model of Plan Voisin)


In 1929 Corbusier published The City of Tomorow and its Planning. In it he specifically refers to garden cities, and embraces Howard’s ideals. Corbusier also embraced industry and industrial production. He was fascinated with machines, and the automobile, and he is known for quotes such as “A city made for speed is made for success” and “A house is a machine for living in”.

In the 1930s, Le Corbusier expanded and reformulated his ideas on urbanism, eventually publishing them in La Ville radieuse (The Radiant City) in 1935. This eventually evolved into the Functional City, and the Athens Charter of 1943. The Athens Charter was based on the observations of many cities and was an offshoot of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne or CIAM.

The Athens Charter was greatly influential in the Post-war period. The charter stated that:

  • Housing districts should occupy the best sites.
  • A minimum amount of solar exposure should be required in all dwellings.
  • For hygienic reasons, buildings should not be built along transportation routes.
  • Modern techniques should be used to construct high apartment buildings.
  • Buildings should be spaced widely apart, to free the soil for large green parks.
  • It is important to reduce commuting times by locating industrial zones close to residential ones and buffering them with wide parks and sports areas.
  • Street widths and requirements should be scientifically worked out to accommodate the speed and type of transport.
  • Finally, with regards to conservation, historic monuments should be kept only when they were of true value and their conservation did not reduce their inhabitants to unhealthy living conditions.

So now we have seen how Howard’s Garden City ideals have been analyzed and scientifically studied, to result in the Athens charter, which set out the rules for modern planning.

The Nova Scotia Legislature passed the first Town Planning Act in 1912. the act emerged from the Victorian reform movements who were interested in improving living conditions in cities. They were members of the city beautiful movement, which was a primarily north American implementation of the garden city ideas.  The movement was concerned with introducing Grandeur and beautification to cities and promoting beauty not only for its own sake, but also to create moral and civic virtue among residents. The City Beautiful movement also took hold in Australia.

The 1912 act was likely the result of increased interest in planning in Halifax by citizens organizations and the public, concluding with a visit from British MP Henry Vivian, who commented that the slums in Halifax were far worse than those found in Britain, and that such conditions would never be tolerated there” he also presented on the garden city. That lecture spiked a furry of interest in planning, and attempts to get council to engage in town planning.  the first attempt went nowhere, but a second attempt in 1911 was more concerted. A lecture series, newspaper articles and proposed plans were all presented.

Various Design Schemes were presented, including the boulevarding of Morris St, grand parks at fort needham, A Bridge over the northwest arm, and ferry terminal improvement. The illustrations were done by Architect Andrew Cobb, and the grand buildings were neo-classical in style, as preferred by city beautiful.

untitled2 untitled1 untitled3 untitled4

It is worth noting that the hydrostone was developed based on European Garden City ideals, However the All Saints Cathedral area was built to City Beautiful principals. The proposed Morris street boulevard was completed from the Dalhousie university campus to South park street, exactly as illustrated. There is an interesting dichotomy of ideas presented in Halifax- The garden city was about using design to directly improve peoples lives by removing them form unsanitary conditions. the City beautiful movement was more concerned with using design to elevate the social well being of the people with superficial changes to the environment.

A lecture presented by Thomas Mawson, a British landscape architect and planner was attended by Nova Scotia MLA for Halifax County George Faulkner. It was Faulkner who introduced the Town planning act to the legislature 4 months later.

the 1912 act was largely based on the 1909 British act. That first act however was short lived, and was replaced in 1915 by a new act written by Thomas Adams. Adams was pioneer urban planner. Born in Scotland, he was secretary to the Garden city association. in 1914 he took the position of town planning adviser with the federal Commission of Conservation. It was Adams who designed the Hydrostone in 1917, based on garden city principals. As part of a federal advisory commission, he had no ability to legislate land use federally, so he undertook a tour of the provinces. in Feb 1915 he stopped in halifax, and found the 1912 act to be insufficient for the needs of the city. he then worked with city reformers  to update it.

Halifax’s first modern urban plan was finally created in November 1945.


A foot Note.

Also of note, is that in 1910 City Alderman Clarke proposed slum clearance in the area of what is now Scotia Square. he also suggested some improvements to the road layout.untitled

All Saints Cathedral


The All Saints Cathedral is tucked away between two condo buildings on Martello Street, facing Victoria Park. It is unfinished, and her corner stone was originally laid at the corner of Spring Garden and Robie.

Proposed_All_SaintsBishop Binney (of Black Binney House fame) dreamed of a stone cathedral to serve the needs of the western suburbs.  A site had been selected at the corner of Spring Garden and Robie, and plans were drawn up by British architect Arthur Edward Street in 1888. A temporary wooden chapel was built on the site, and a corner stone and single buttress constructed after Binney’s death in 1887.


Bishop Frederick Courtney, Binney’s successor, lost interest in the cathedral project – the temporary church met the needs of the community. The bishop was seated at St Luke’s on Morris Street, since 1865, when the chair was moved from St. Paul’s. There was other work to do in the diocese, and money was tight. Courtney resigned in 1904 due to ill health, and took a rector’s position in New York. He was replaced by Clarendon Lamb Worrell, a parish priest from Smiths Falls, Ontario, and English teacher at Royal Military College in Kingston. Shortly after Worrell took over, St Luke’s burned to the ground. Suddenly a new cathedral was needed.

Cathedral comes from the latin word for chair. A cathedral contains the chair of a bishop, which is what makes it a cathedral.

The late 1800s were seeing new cathedrals built throughout the British Empire. There was again a renewed interest in such buildings, and Worrell had $20,000 in insurance money to seed the project. The street plans from 1887 were pulled out, but found not to meet the needs of the church. Local architect William Critchlow Harris, of the firm of Harris & Horton, rather self-servingly dismissed the plans, and gave Worrell the answers he wanted. By March 1906, the Spring Garden site was too small and cramped for the building and facilities Worrell wanted.


Harris was from PEI, and while he had completed several churches and public buildings in the Maritimes, he was less successful in the rest of Canada. He prepared a concept and presented it to the bishop.

Worrell now had 2 designs, and did some of his own research. He had an idea of what he wanted, and wrote to Ralph Adams Cram, principal partner of the firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson from New York. The firm had experience with chapels, and working in a “modern” Gothic style, including the commission for the chapel at the US Naval Academy at West Point. Goodhue visited Halifax and was excited by the project. He produced a couple of sketches of what he envisioned, and this probably won his firm the commission over Harris.

All_Saints_Sketch All_Saints_Sketch2

Harris was persistent, and forced the bishop to hold a competition. Basic plans were to be drawn up for a church to seat 1100, plus a chapel, organ loft, vestries, chapter room and vault, for a total cost of $150,000. The plans were to be judged by  Professor Percy Nobbs, Director of the McGill School of Architecture. Nobbs awarded the competition to Goodhue, chastising Harris in every aspect of his design except cost, writing “…it would be nothing short of a calamity to entrust a Gothic church to Harris, however competent he may be in other branches of architectural practice…”

Nobbs warned the bishop that both plans were over budget and that a great deal of work would be required to reign in the costs of the Goodhue proposal. GoodAll_Saints_1All_Saints_2hue went on to produce working drawings for the entire building, though only a portion would be built initially.

Worrell was on a tight budget. The budget was $150,000, no more. Goodhue calculated his design to come in at 169,000. Before the project went to tender, Harris was retained as superintendent of the project to work with Goodhue. The call for tenders was requested for August 1907 and called for the first construction of chancel, transepts, crossing and three bays of the nave with a temporary wooden front. Three bids were received, and all were over budget.

S. M. Brookfield, Ltd., contractors and builders, bid $155,474.00. it was an all inclusive price. Samuel Brookfield worked with the bishop to bring down costs by changing methods and materials of construction, and was able to project a reduction in costs of almost $24,000. In the end, the final construction contract was signed for $124,245.00. $15,000 was saved using concrete pillars not granite, and 1700 for substituting molded concrete trim rather then concrete block trim. Sod was turned on 26 September, 1907, and completion projected for June 1909. This was to be the then largest civil construction project in Halifax. As construction progressed, three more bays were added to the nave, financed directly from Samuel Brookfield. This left the Cathedral only one bay short of the original design, rather then 4 as stated by the build contract.

Construction progressed slowly, likely due to shortage of funds. Donations from the laity were projected at $40,000, but by 1909, only $16,000 had been collected. Goodhue was non-compromising, so Worrell often turned to the more sensitive Harris and Horton when seeking advice on cost-cutting. The church leaked, as mortar specified by Goodhue failed around the ironstone. This appears to have been a result of the condition of the stone and the mortar, and was finally solved with a new mortar formula derived by a Dal Chemistry professor, when the same problem affected buildings underway at the campus.

The cathedral was never finished as designed. Continued water issues plagued the church, and  wrongfully S. M Brookfield bore the blame for shoddy construction. Funds were required for constant repairs. There is a certain irony that Brookfield gets wrongly blamed for the issues with the church, despite him enabling it to be built.