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. tumblr_ni9wmglgkw1tjuslyo1_1280-9633452

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 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.


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.

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