The Martello Towers of Halifax


The Prince of Wales Tower is a well known monument in Point Pleasant Park. It was one of 16 similar towers built in Canada. Of the 16 built,  five were built at Halifax; one at Saint John, New-Brunswick; four at Quebec City: and six at Kingston. The Kingston towers are the newest, built 1846-48. The remainder were built between 1796 and 1815; Three of the Halifax towers predate the “Martello Tower” name and concept and were built between 1796 and 1799.

The Martello tower was a fortification built in the south of England during the Napoleonic wars, around 1805-1808. The basic definition is a circular tower of brick or stone construction used for coastal defence. The name is derived from a stone tower on Cape Mortella in Corsica which was defended against English naval attack. That tower was designed by Giovan Giacomo Paleari Fratino and built in 1565.

The standard Martello tower is stone, 2 stories high, with a terreplein on top designed to take armament. (A terreplein is the topmost horizontal surface of a fortification designed to take guns.) The towers are constructed of arched spaces around a central pillar to improve bomb resistance, and are 35′-55′ feet across depending on the number of guns to be mounted.


The Prince of Wales Tower was the first, and thus differs from the accepted design. Commissioned by Edward, Duke of Kent, it was built by Captain Straton, Edward’s Commanding Royal Engineer. The tower was intended to back up the batteries in Point Pleasant, and was begun and 2/3 complete by the end of 1796. That’s when Edward ran afoul of regulations. As a field commander, Edward had the ability to build temporary fortifications; however, permanent fortifications required the approval of the board of ordinance. Construction was halted until the end of the 1797 building season, after Edward got approval from the board. The tower was completed in 1799, but was defensible from 1797.


The completed tower is built from rubble masonry, and is 72′ in outside diameter. It is 26′ tall, and the walls are 8′ thick at the base, 6′ thick at the top. There were 2 interior stories, topped with a 3 foot thick wooden roof. The roof was supported by a 16′ diameter hollow column, that extended to the foundation, leaving a 16′ room on each level.


As built, the tower differed from what would become the standard in several significant ways – it lacked a magazine of its own, the bomb-proofing structure was not included, and its large dimensions. Work to rectify this began in 1805, with the addition of a magazine, and in 1810, the wooden terreplein was replaced with a bomb-proof arch. As originally built, entry was via spiral staircase on the exterior, and through hatches in the terreplein.  The ground level door likely was added in 1805 when the magazine was added on the ground floor. In 1862 a basement magazine was built in the Prince of Wales Tower, the idea that it would be more economical then a separate magazine, and meet the needs of the Shore batteries there. The upper door was added at this time, ensuring the tower could be accessed without interfering with the magazine.

The second tower was at Fort Clarence, where the Imperial Oil Refinery now stands. Originally intending to be a blockhouse, Edward decided to build a round tower instead. The tower was 50′ in diameter, 42′ high from foundation to parapet, with 6′ thick walls. it was completed in 1798. The tower when built was 3 stories tall, though the 1st floor was surrounded by a ditch and was below grade.  Access was via external iron staircase to the top. This tower also lacked bombproofing,  and the internal pillar was only 6′ in diameter.

ft clarence

In 1812, the external stair was removed, and a second level door added (this was ground level), reached by a drawbridge across the ditch. A magazine was built on the first level, but no bomb proofing was done.

fortClarenceBy 1867 the upper floor was removed, and the middle turned into a barracks. A bomb-proof arch was installed in the basement, for conversion to a magazine. In 1889 the barracks floor was removed, leaving only the magazine.

Duke of York Tower, 1891

Duke of York Tower, 1891

The Third Martello tower was also built by Edward. Located at York Redoubt, it was 40′ in diameter, and 30′ high, with uniform 4′ thick walls. It was built of rough quarried stone, and was completed in 1798, replacing a blockhouse. The tower may have been chosen as it could carry heavier guns than the blockhouse. The tower also featured the hollow central column. The terraplein was constructed of wood, as was the parapet – unique to this tower. A bomb-proof magazine was added after 1811, but the tower remained unchanged until the 1860s.



A 1960 renovation added caponiers on either side. Caponiers are protruding galleries that allow muskets to be fired. These can be seen in the image at the top.

A fire in the 1890s destroyed the upper level of the tower, and the lower level was integrated into other defensive improvements at the Redoubt.

Tower 4, located on Georges Island, was the first true Martello tower in Halifax. Though the island had been fortified since 1750, defences were inadequate, and comprised mostly of earthworks. Under Edward, a star fort was constructed with a blockhouse before his departure in 1800, but it too proved inadequate.  The plan for this tower was approved in 1811, and construction began in 1812. It was well underway by July, and complete and armed by the end of the year.


As completed, the tower was 42 feet in diameter, with a 5′  solid central column. It was built of bomb-proof arched construction, 2 stories tall with terreplein and parapet. Walls were 7′ thick at the base. A brick magazine was located on the first floor, and there was an entry door on the ground level.


Sherbrooke Tower was the 5th tower. It was demolished in 1944, and replaced with the current concrete light at Maughers Beach. Begun in 1814, construction was slow due to the need to move materials to the site, and faulty estimates. The tower’s construction was halted in 1816 for 10 years due to the end of the war of 1812. Go-ahead was finally given to continue in 1827.


When completed, the tower was 2 stories, 50′ in diameter and 30 ‘ high, with walls 7′ thick at the base, diminishing to 5′  at the parapet. A solid 2’ circular central pillar supported a bomb-proof arch above the barrack floor.  In 1826, the NS Legislature voted to spend 1500 pounds on a lighthouse on the beach. Gustavus Nicolls, then Commander of the Royal Engineers, suggested the completed tower could be used. It was too remote for a barracks, and the province would cover a lightkeeper who could maintain the tower, at no cost to the military. When complete, it was pressed into service as a lighthouse. The intended platform guns were installed in 1827 before the wooden lighthouse superstructure was placed on top of the tower. This light room caused no conflict with the guns, as it was balanced on a single masonry king post rising from the centre of the platform. The lighthouse began operation in April 1828.

The towers frequently suffered from moisture problems, and were fitted with wooden conical snow roofs by 1824. Sherbrooke Tower was the first to receive the roof. It was intended that guns could be fired from under the roof, though the roof would be removed in the event high readiness was required. Maintenance varied, and the towers were all considered to be in fair condition owing to the fact the Halifax towers  were attached to the British Imperial Naval Station, post-confederation.

By the 1860s the towers were obsolete. Rifled munitions were more powerful and accurate then smoothbore cannons before. In tests in 1860 on the Sussex coast,  a Martello tower was destroyed with 27 rounds of rifled munitions. Smoothbore guns had a negligible effect on a different tower.

The Prince of Wales tower was turned over, intact, to the Canadian government in 1906, on the departure of British forces. The tower at York Redoubt was also well maintained as a signal post, though the upper level was destroyed by fire. It was roofed over, and also turned over to the Canadian authorities in 1906. The Tower at Fort Clarence survived as just the magazine until after the Second World War, when it was removed for refinery expansion. The Tower on Georges Island was demolished in 1877, as Fort Charlotte works were commenced.

Amherst ICR Station in Danger


Thanks to Steve Boyko’s Confessions of a Train Geek blog for making me aware of this.

The railway station in Amherst is facing an uncertain future. Still owned by VIA, it was closed in 2012 when The Ocean went to 3 days a week. The train still stops; however, the train crew handles customer service.

There were plans  for the town to operate an artisan market in the station, but pipes burst last winter, causing $200,000 in damage. VIA is looking to sell the station to the town, but the town requires a use for it.

old_stationThe Intercolonial Railway (ICR) opened its line from Truro to Moncton on 9 November 1872. Initially the ICR served Amherst passengers from a station constructed of wood on the same site as the present-day structure. The present structure was opened on 31 August 1908 and is constructed of local red sandstone.

Several minor modifications have been undertaken to the structure in recent decades, including removing the south wing in 1975, replacing the bottom exterior stone in 1991 with stone from the Roman Catholic Church once located on Prince Arthur Street, and in 1992 new metal exterior doors were installed.

Amherst Station is protected under the federal Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act. The act responded to long-standing and widespread concern that Canada’s heritage railway stations were not being afforded an adequate level of protection. The initiative of a private Member of Parliament, the Act received support from all parties.

Since 1990, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has evaluated almost 300 railway stations, more than half of which were designated heritage railway stations. To be considered, a railway station must be owned by a railway company subject to Part III of the Canada Transportation Act; and be more than 40 years old.

The Bank of Nova Scotia


First Bank of Nova Scotia, 1832, Corner of Duke and Granville

The Bank of Nova Scotia was founded in 1832 to compete directly with the Merchants bank of Halifax. Its first branch was located in John Romans’s building at the Corner of Duke and Granville Streets.

By 1836, the bank had outgrown the location, and Purchased the lot at 188-190 Hollis St. They built their second branch there,Moving in in 1838. The bank  remained at that location until they built the new 1930 headquarters at the Corner of Hollis and Prince Streets.

1838 Branch and Headquarters

1838 Branch and Headquarters

The Bank of Nova Scotia headquarters,  was built in 1929 and designed by John M. Lyle. Lyle was trained in the Beau Arts Style in Paris, But wanted to build in a uniquely Canadian way. The building is best described as Canadian Deco, and is similar to Scotia Bank offices he also designed in Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary. The Branches show a progression from the Neo-classical to a more modern form.

Ottawa Branch

The Ottawa Branch was built in 1924. It features a rusticated base, and full Doric columns leading to an entableture. By the time Calgary is built, the doric Columns have been flattened to a pilaster, though the formal composition is still very much the same.

Lyle’s Calgary branch.

The Style has again been reduced to its most simple by the time the Halifax Headquarters is built.

John Lyle, Drawing

John Lyle, Drawing

Borrowing from the Chicago style, the banking hall is rusticated, providing a stable base.the Pilasters extend through the office floors above, giving an emphasis on the vertical, and finally topping out with a cornice. Hallmarks of the Canadian Deco style include Canadian floral and fauna motifs. the beau Arts syling can best bee seen in the symmetry of the building.

(Above) The Lobby Facing the Elevators up
(below) The banking floor facing the lobby (Note the Symetry)

(Above) A depiction of the first steamship to Cross the Atlantic.
(Below) The Doors to Bank Vault. It features Squirls with nuts (hide for safe keeping), beavers (presumably symbolizing Canada, and hard work and industriousness) Wheat Chaffs For Prosperity.

(Below) Above the main door from the Lobby is this depiction that appears to be a Pontus – the Greek God of the Sea. He Has a fishing lure in his mouth.

Above the main door, is this depiction of the William D. Lawrence. She was a full-rigged sailing ship built in Maitland, Nova Scotia along the Minas Basin and named after her builder, the merchant and politician William Dawson Lawrence (1817-1886). Built in 1874, she was the largest wooden sailing ship of her day, one of the largest wooden ships ever built and the largest sailing ship ever built in Canada

Additional Floral and Fauna Motifs from the Exterior:


Building’s Entry on Historic Places register

The Halifax Drill Hall

Drawings from Canadian Architect and Builder, Feb 1897 showcasing the new building to the rest of Canada.

The Halifax Drill Hall was built in 1895, to a design by Thomas Fuller, the Chief Architect with the department of public works in Ottawa. It was one of the first buildings in Canada to make use of steel Fink roof trusses.
Ottawa’s Cartier Square Drill Hall

Drill halls presented a long standing architectural problem – The need to span a large uninterrupted open space. Previous Drill Halls in other cities had been built with wooden roof trusses. These limited the available span, or when daring and ambition were used to stretch the possible, collapse resulted. The earliest surviving example of a drill hall with wooden trusses is the Cartier Square Drill Hall in Ottawa. The Wooden trusses span 75′, whereas the Steel trusses in the Halifax Drill hall allowed an open Span of 110′.

The building is styled in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Fuller Built in Several Styles – His Gothic Revival Parliament Buildings and Second Empire style Langevin Block in Ottawa are best known however Fuller also designed a number of smaller government buildings, including the Baddeck Post Office and Custom House, Opening in 1886 was also done in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

(Top) elevation from North Park Street ( above and below) elevation on Cunnard Street

Fuller was also the initial architect on the New York State Capitol building in New York, however was replaced when costs continued to climb. He was eventually succeeded by Henry Hobson Richardson, who is the originator of the the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Richardsonian Romanesque is characterized by asymmetrical forms, round towers, string courses (Prominent horizontal bands of stone that stick out from the side), corbelled banding (particularly in the towers, where the narrow lower portion transitions to the wider top portion), and deep set multi-pane windows with heavy mullions with wide voussoirs (Stones in curved part of the Arch).

The drill hall has been home to the Princess Louise Fusiliers and the 1st (Halifax-Dartmouth) Field Artillery Regiment, RCA, since it was constructed. The Princess Louise Fusiliers hold battle honours in the Riel Rebellion, Boar War, Both World Wars and Afghanistan. The 1st Artillery served as a home defence unit, providing anti-aircaraft support during both world wars. The hall was also used for Social Events earlier in its life, and held dances.


The Regimental Rogue Offered two posts with much better scans of the above floor plans and Elevations. I Have included them Below.


George Wright Residence


Located on the Corner of Inglis St and Young Ave. in the south End, this house has some significant history. The House was designed by J.C. Dumaresq, in 1902 for George Wright. (Note that this will not be the last time we hear of this Client/Architect relationship)Wright himself Was quite wealthy, owning both the St. Paul’s Building and Wright Building on Barrington street. Wright Ave. (Off  Morris, East of South Park St. is Named for him. It was also the location of a series of working class Duplexes, built behind more elaborate mansions fronting South Park St, which were also commissioned by Wright. Wright was also a supported of the temperance movement, and financially supported many local charities.

Despite his prolific Building program, George Wright is probably best remembered not for how he lived, or what he built, but for how he died. Wright was a traveler, and was unfortunate to be Booked for passage on the Maden voyage of the Titanic. His body was never recovered. He left the House to one of the Charitable causes he supported, the Woman’s Council of Halifax, Who continue to own the building today.

G_wright_0 G_wright_1 G_wright_2

Dumaresq chose to design the home in the eclectic Queen Anne Revival Style. The Queen Anne Revival is from the late Victorian era, and was most popular between 1890 and 1914. The Style generally feature asymmetrical facades, steeply-pitched and irregular rooflines, front-facing gables, overhanging eaves, circular or square towers with turrets in corners, unusual windows, wraparound verandas, highly ornamented spindles, and bright colours. Most of these details can be seen in George Wright House.

The plans and Elevations (above) Are Held by the NS Archives. Among the Other projects completed by Wright with Dumaresq as architect is the Marble Building on Barrington Street.

Owned By Gerorge Wright and Designed By J.C Dumaresq, Wright’s Building or the Marble building as its now known was built in 1896. Built in the Chicago Style, to compliment the Nova Scotia Furnishings building next door.The facade consists of Red and Grey brick, with Terracotta accents. Window pairs are separated by Red Marble Columns, Which are responsible for the building taking the “Marble building” name.

(Above) Wright’s Building 1896 show use of Red and grey brick with terracotta. The Owners name emblazoned on top. (below) Detail between stories.

For 4 years this Building Housed a Marconi Wireless station. in 1896, like today, The latest and most modern buildings attract the most modern clients..

the Works of Edward Elliot

the Nova Scotia Furnishings building was Designed in 1894 by architect Edward Elliot in the Chicago Style.The Chicago Style developed after the 1871 Chicago fire, and made use of the latest technologies in building. Chicago style buildings date from 1895-1930, and are typically designed with Metal (cast or wrought Iron and later steel) skeleton structural systems. This freed the walls to only need to support themselves, and allowed for much larger windows then had been possible.


Chicago Style buildings are typically commercial in nature, Over 5 stories, and feature large fenestration (fenestration refers to the openings in a building, typically windows) Typically Large 3 part rectangular windows

The Steel Structure in the Nova Scotia Furnishings Building is Readily apparent as it is exposed on the first 2 floors facing Barrington Street. When built it featured the Largest windows in Halifax, and was also the Tallest building on Barrington Street, and featured a passenger elevator. The Building Crosses both Blocks, and also has a brick front on Argyle Street.

Edward Elliot also designed the Harrison Building on Barrington Street, the Newman Store, the gates at Point Pleasant Park, the Truro Agricultural College and the Dartmouth Post Office.


Halifax City Hall was built by Rhodes, Curry & Company between 1887 and 1890 in an eclectic late-Victorian version of the Second Empire style.

Argyle Street Elevation.
Duke Street Elevation

When built the Building held all the municipal functions for the city of Halifax. The first floor was for offices requiring public access with additional offices, committee rooms and council chambers on the second floor. The building also provided space in the basement for the police department, lockup and court, and for a library on the second floor. A Majority of the Third floor was assigned to the city Museum.IMG_0775


IMG_0780The City decided to hold a competition to select the Design for the New City Hall. Edward Elliot submited the winning proposal.

(Above)stain glass on main stairwell (Below) Mayors Office

(below) Council Chambers. Though recently renovated, the layout of the room was changed to reflect the setup of council as the room was built.

Edward Elliot also designed the Harrison Building on Barrington Street, the Newman Store, the gates at Point Pleasant Park, the Truro Agricultural College and the Dartmouth Post Office. A full list can be found at the Dictionary of Architects in Canada

the Churchfield Barracks

The ChurchField Barracks, (locally known as the 12 apostles) are a 12 unit townhouse on Brunswick street. The Churchfield Barracks originally served as married Officer living quarters, for officers stationed at Citadel hill. They were built in 1903 by the British Army.

The Churchfield name comes from the fact that they were built on the Garrison Chapel Grounds, the chapel itself located at the corner of Brunswick and Cogswell. Most of that context has since been replaced, largely due to suggestions that the land was prime area for expansion in the 1946 Master plan.

The Historic Places registry describes the Barracks “as a good example Gothic Revival style and is unique within Nova Scotia. The units feature steeply pitched gabled roofs with covered porch entrances that provide shelter and easy run off of rain and snow. Each unit features a gabled Gothic style dormer and an enclosed porch with a small window. As well each unit has a sentimental window on the first story with radiating voussoir and sandstone window sill. “

Floor Plan Courtesy of the Eleventh Apostle Blog – the blog of a full gut and renovation of the 11th unit. Lots of pictures of what the insides look like. The Barracks  made the news  a few years ago due to a fence erected in a front yard, which according to the city is a substantial alteration of the property.

Gone: The Halifax Infants Home.

The Halifax Infants Home, now known as Bethany House, is located at 980 Tower Road, on the corner of Inglis St. It was built to accommodate the Halifax Infants Home (from 1900 – 1959) and subsequently sold to the Salvation Army, who ran it as the Bethany Home for unwed mothers and their children (from 1960 – 1998). The house was purchased by Saint Mary’s University in 1998, the building has accommodated educational uses.

It was designed by J. C. Dumaresq for the Infants Home, and replaced an older structure on the site. Done in the Second Empire Style, the Home features unique tower like features along the Inglis Street facade.

(Above) Article pre-construction, Halifax Morning chronicle, June 19 1899, Incidentally, the Ball they mention was held in the (then) brand New Halifax Drill Hall

Interestingly, this new home, replaced Belvidere House, also located on this site. At the time, Heritage advocates were arguing in favor of Saving Belvidere House, for its historical status as one of the oldest buildings in Halifax. It was demolished due to wear and needed repairs.


The Nova Scotia Infants Home came down on . Apparently the HTNS was notified of this by on June 24, and a Facebook post was made on the 25th on a group to save the building. No time lines were given by SMU for demolition, however it seems that the date was chosen – a Friday before a long weekend, a, nice quiet time when no one would notice.

a plaque now commemorates the building, affixed to a fence in a field.


The Works of Andrew Cobb


The Tramway Building was built in 1916, after a fire destroyed the previous building on the site. It is named Tramway, after its tenant, the Halifax Electric Tramway Company, Which operated Halifax’s streetcars until they were converted to trolley coaches in 1949. The 2 Storefronts are original to the building, Housing Tip Top tailors 1921-41 until they moved next door, and then Chas brown Furriers from 1942- 1983.

Designed by Andrew Cobb, in a Modern Neo-Gothic Style. It was one of the first all concrete buildings in Halifax (The first being the 1903 A.M. Bell Building on Granville St.) Cobb studied at Acadia , MIT and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Setup Shop in Halifax in 1909. He also worked as a partner with S.P Dumerasq. Cobb had his office in Tramway from 1938 until his death in 1943.

The building features a clear hierarchy of forms, separated by wide concrete banding, which separates the Retail street level from the second floor, and again form the second floor to the roof line. Octagonal turrets line the top of the building, though the Barrington street ones have been removed due to their poor condition.

Full Listing at DOAC

Gone: The Tip Top Tailor Building

We know that a 1915 fire destroyed everything between khyber and barrington/Sackville Streets. (Even this is odd, as HRM heritage documentation states the fire was between the Khyber building and Blowers, though those structures still survive and date to the 1880’s)

Tiptop was housed in the Tramway building 1921-41. Its thought the site was originally the rear entrance for Reardon’s store on Argyle. The photo left, is Dated 1950’s however it shows the site as a 1 story building with tiptop Occupying it.

therefore this must have been taken between 1941-and 1951. HRM Assumes that the building was renovated in 1941/42 when tiptop moved, however HTNS created a presentation which features an ad for the grand opening, From the October 10 1951 Herald Newspaper.

The Store was Designed in 1951 By Allan Duffus, who was inspired by Modern art of the time, resulting in a geometric facade. Faced with granite, and a Large Light up Sign where i/o would alternate in Tip Top, the fenestration offered lots of display space to the street.

Compare the Above rendering to a more recent Pre-demolition photo. The facade is largely intact, although poor maintenance, material choices in subsequent renovations and signage have marred it since tip top vacated the property in 1980.

(Above image from

Below, Front Elevation, and Second Floor Plans from HTNS Presentation.