The Centennial Project

Canada celebrated its 100th birthday 50 years ago, in 1967. To commemorate the event, the Federal government offered funding for civic projects across the country. The result was a legacy of centennial arenas, museums, and even a UFO landing pad built across the country to commemorate Canada’s birthday.

In August 1964 the City of Halifax’s Centennial Committee met to review suggestions for a suitable Centennial project. Local committees were formed across the country to suggest projects, get funding approval and then complete the construction.

The Halifax Committee reviewed the options, and suggested to Council that an aquarium was the most suitable project. They also requested the county be asked to join in. Halifax County had already considered their projects, and in October Halifax county advised they preferred building 3 branch libraries as their centennial project and would not take part.

The city then began a series of discussions about where the aquarium should be located. A waterfront location was preferred, and the Navy’s Central Victualing Depot, or CVD as it was known, was requested from the Navy, however the site was unavailable due to uncertainty caused by the unification of the Armed Forces. In November 1964, City Field or a lot at the corner of Bell Rd and Ahern Street were suggested as possible locations. The city also hired architect Aza Avramovitch & Associates to do design work, for a fee of $35,000.


Aza Avramovitch was born in Belgrade in 1921; he spent 1941-43 in a concentration camp in Italy, and escaped to Switzerland. He obtained his degree in architecture in Geneva in 1951 and came to Canada in 1953, working in Montreal until 1959. He set up his own practice in Halifax in 1960, and was the architect responsible for the Northwood Centre (Halifax), Church of Christ ( Fairview), the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children (Dartmouth), Dartmouth Academy, Shubenacadie Post Office, and several apartment buildings. He died in 1999.

With the city having kicked off the project, it was turned over to a board to look after. On September 21,1965, the Centennial Aquarium board of directors had its first meeting. A Building Committee was appointed, and by the end of May 1966 they had preliminary drawings and a model from the architect.


As planned, the aquarium was to be a circular 3-story structure, of about 30,000 sq ft total, constructed of precast concrete. The programming would feature an emphasis on local fish, and the center piece was to be a 2-story, 42′ in diameter Beluga whale tank. The aquarium was viewed as the first piece of a civic square, with a science museum, and possibly a new city hall and performance theater being constructed in the complex. (Bell Road was to have been ended at Summer, and Ahern continue to Sackville Street with this plan.)


In June, a $184,000 grant was accepted from Ottawa. From the onset, it was believed the project could be built for $600,000; however, some aldermen were concerned about the project going up in price. In September, a tender to build the aquarium was received from Stevens and Fiske construction. The tender came in at a cost estimated at $984,000.

This caused council to go into a heated debate. Discussions were held about the cause of cost overruns, the loss of fees paid to the architects already, and possibly even loss of Federal Centennial money should the project be abandoned. Alderman Trainor also stated:

“Council should not back down at such a a late date unless Halifax wants to be looked at by the rest of Canada as Halifax 1945 and not Halifax 1966, as a progressive city.”

Council concluded the new costs on the aquarium would be $70,000/year in debt payments and could effect the tax rate. Money could be better spent on Summer Games facilities, for a bid on the 1969 Canada Summer games, and two schools. It was suggested that perhaps the $185,000 grant could be directed at a pool. Citizens would get more benefit from it.

The aquarium was seen as a monument to Centennial, civic pride. Alderman AM Butler stated:

“Council should be bold enough, having made a decision in the first instance to build an aquarium, to pursue it, and spend the $300,000, and get on with the job.”

In the end, only Aldermen Ivany, Butler and Trainor voted for the increase in budget, the other 11 against. A committee was sent out to find additional funding to cover the $281,000 overage. They failed, reporting back in November 1966 that the Federal treasury board was unable to produce additional funds despite sympathy from the Minister, and the province was also unlikely to provide additional Centennial funding. The committee suggested building a smaller aquarium, within the original $600,000 budget, then asking the Feds for non-Centennial enlargement funds. The committee also suggested partnering with Dalhousie University, or with the provincial museum.

At the November 1966 council meeting, Alderman Moir gave two notices of a motion for the December meeting. The first, was for a motion to rescind the motion for a Centennial aquarium; the second motion was for a Centennial pool in the Cogswell Street area.

On December 1, 1966, the motion to rescind was passed, the aquarium was dead, and the grant money was to be used elsewhere.

Completely independent of the aquarium project, In Oct 1964 a pool is proposed given citizen demand for swimming in city rec programs. At the April 1 1966 meeting,  $400,000 capital funds are unanimously put forward by council to fund the Aquarium project.

By June 1966 the Recreation and playgrounds commission recommends city appoints architects for design of Municipal indoor swimming pool. The Terms of Reference were approved that September. Mettam Wright Associates was  chosen as pool architects. The initial estimate of the cost for the pool was $400,000. council suggests that in light of cost overruns, the architects fee be set as a percentage of the estimated $400,000 cost, not actual cost of construction.


Echoing the debate surrounding the size of the pool for the Contemporary Canada Games Center, Council debates the type of pool Halifax needs. A 50m pool is required to host the 1969 Canada summer games. Staff estimate facilities for the games would cost city $900,000. In September 1966 the city decided to submit a joint bid for the games, with the City of Dartmouth and the Province.

The the Canada Games bid submitted, in December 1966, a motion to reallocate centennial funds to pool is passed by council. Teh Centennial Aquarium is now the Centennial pool.

there was still some discussion of 50m or smaller pool. the original proposed pool was to be a 82.5’x44′ (25m) lane pool, and separate 35×30′ diving pool. The architect also provided estimates for larger facilities, up to a 50m pool. the cost estimate for this is 700,000. the recreation commission decided this was the best approach

The original design with diving facilities would cost 590,000, smaller options would be fine for recreation, but the Canada games would still require a 50m pool, which was originally thought to be a 300000 outdoor facility on the Arm. A 50m Centennial pool would be cheaper, and better for the city. in addition to the 50m pool, the diving facilities would require an additional 4-6′ in pool depth, and an additional 16′ of head height for the 10m tower. As a cost saving measure, a movable bulkhead is proposed to separate the pools, rather then 2 separate pools.

in the end, it was agreed to proceed in this manner. plans were submitted to council on February 9, 1967 and approved. Final details were worked out, and a call for tenders was issued in April. On May 25th, Council approved a tender from Stevens and Fisk to construct the Centennial pool for $725.183.00


Early Modernism

The modernist movement actually began in the early part of the 20th century. The industrial revolution had brought the world new machines and materials, and architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, believed that new technology rendered old styles of building obsolete. Le Corbusier wrote that buildings should function as “machines for living in”, analogous to cars, which he saw as machines for traveling in. Just as cars had replaced the horse, so modernist design should reject the old styles and structures inherited from Ancient Greece or from the Middle Ages.

Following this machine aesthetic, modernist architects typically rejected decorative motifs in design, preferring to emphasize the materials used and pure geometrical forms. We previously looked at town planning principles, and how they morphed into Modern Town planing thought. This Post will deal primarily with the built form itself, however the characters are the same.

The modernist movement, reached its pinnacle during the post war period. Originally with its origins in Germany and France, moved to North America During the Nazi rise to power. During the post war building boom, they were well positioned to build.

Form Follows Function.

Coined by Louis Sullivan in “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” from 1894, the idea was that a buildings form should be derived from its purpose. Sullivan was an early builder of Skyscrapers, and mentor to Frank Lloyd wright. While Johnston stripped ornament from his structures, he still applied some, typically in Iron and Steel, or Terra Cotta, both being lighter then masonry.

Sullivan briefly worked with lebaron Jenny in 1871, who is credited with the First Skyscraper, Sullivan formalized the verticalality, and his form follows function mantra was cited by future modernists as a reason to exclude all ornament, and credit him as the first modernist.

As early skyscraper development occurred in Chicago, the chicago style was one of the first modernist Styles

The Chicago Style

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. The Chicago Style developed after the 1871 Chicago fire, and made use of the latest technologies in building.
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 Nova Scotia Furnishings Building was designed in 1894 by architect Edward Elliot in the Chicago Style.

(Above)view from 1910, Expanded from the invoice below.

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 Halifax City Hall, the Harrison Building on Barrington Street, the Newman Store, the gates at Point Pleasant Park, the Truro Agricultural College and the Dartmouth Post Office


Another Chicago style example is the next door neighbor to the Nova Scotia Furnishings building, Known as the Marble Building.

Owned By Gerorge Wright, Wright’s Building or the Marble building as its now known was built in 1896. It was Designed By J.C Dumaresq, It was 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. The latest and most modern buildings attract the latest and modern clients..

Another well known Chicago style building is the #4 fire station on bedford row.

the Side effects of the Central re-development area.

Harbour Drive is one of the more interesting aspects of the city. Its proposal is responsible for the single most awkward urban artifact in Halifax – the Cogswell Interchange. Most people know Cogswell was meant to be the start of Harbour Drive.

The roots of Harbour Drive come from the development community, and a desire to improve transportation in Halifax. Both the post-war plan from 1945 and Stevenson’s 1957 Study enabled the land clearance required to build the highway, as well as arguing for improved transportation.  The 1945 master plan in fact described an elevated expressway starting at Water and George streets, and running to Cunard and Gottingen, finally running to North and Robie. The Central redevelopment area also removed key east west connections in the north part of downtown requiring a new connection.  The Cogswell interchange was required to be built by Contract with Halifax Developments.

In June of 1965, the DeLeuw, Cather & Company of Canada Limited was retained by the city to create a functional plan for Harbour Drive, from the foot of Prince Street to the  corner of Devonshire and Barrington. The plan was completed in November, and called for a 50mph controlled access highway. It was estimated to cost 9.5 million, not including land costs.

The Roadway was planned as a 4 lane divided highway. a 12′ median would be provided, with 8′ shoulders. Interchanges were suggested at Devonshire,  the MacDonald Bridge, and at Cogswell, with a grade separation occurring at  Cornwallis. The report  also a Suggested Building a Second crossing over the Harbour, and a bridge over the northwest arm. A Bridge parallel to the MacDonald, was listed as a possibility, for the second crossing.  The plans called for the expressway to be grade separated through the central business district, with pedestrian overpasses. New modern buildings would replace demolished structures on either side of the expressways. As in other jurisdictions, the expressway was meant to be modern, clean and visually pleasing and orderly.

The following images are from the Geometric design study. This report went on to become the Functional plan, and was also prepared by the DeLeuw, Cather & Company of Canada Limited


Options for Cogswell Interchange


Options for bridge interchange. Note Scheme 3 suggests second bridge.


Devonshire interchange options.


Road Profiles at various intersections


Road Profile passing under the Macdonald bridge.


The  Functional Planning Report for Harbour Drive” from November 1965 outlined the entire full concept for Harbour drive. the proposal actually begins in the North West End of the City – Cogswell was simply the first and only piece to be constructed.


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From the beginning there was doubt about the need for such an expressway, and the city’s ability to finance it. City staff pointed out that most of the route would be through blighted areas that were to be cleared for improvement. Approval of the plans was also a prerequisite for the city to secure Scotia Square, as well as a public housing project. This was due to CMHC’s involvement in the redevelopment schemes. An agreement between the city and CMHC required officials to submit the Harbour Drive functional designs months prior to the second stage of Scotia Square construction.

Between 1965 and 1968, various adjustments to the route and details were worked out. City staff had the right of way expanded to 168 feet, but most felt it was too wide, and was cut back down to 70 feet, keeping the project alive. Opposition also appeared from those wanting to preserve heritage properties that would be destroyed by the expressway.


Proposed alignment of Harbour Drive Through Historic Properties

In March 1968, Council approved the Cogswell Interchange portion of the project, despite wide opposition based on the need and protection of heritage. Among the largest proponents were the developers of Scotia Square, who considered the highway a necessity, as it would be the replacement for the streets that were buried under Scotia Square’s footprint. Halifax Developments Limited emphasized that Harbour Drive and Scotia Square must be completed simultaneously.



Construction Started on the interchange after it was approved – Demolitions hadent even been completed yet.


Barrington Street overpass. Note buildings still in the way of the highway..


Corner of Cogswell and Brunswick

By 1972 Cogswell would be the end of Harbour Drive. The expressway would end, and funnel through downtown as it does today. The North End expansion would be built as planned. Opposition however was strong, with groups arguing the highway was unnecessary and that it would destroy neighborhoods. In the end, funding couldn’t be found and, combined with enough opposition to make proceeding politically unpalatable, only the Cogswell portion was ever built.


With the development of Scotia Square proceeding, there was now a requirement to replace the Police station. The Police had been housed in the Police and Market building, on the North East corner of Duke and Brunswick St, but this land was added to the central redevelopment area at the request of Halifax Developments.8354002025_cf5d96a6e8_o-52727828354002621_fbcdf20703_b-5741249

The need for a New Police station was first identified in August 1966. In September of that year, the city Acquired a Parcel from the Department of Defense bounded by Rannie Drive, Cogswell St. and Gottigen St. for $176,000. this parcel was originally slated to be used for the new Provincial Court house, but by the end of December 1966, a waterfront location was Confirmed, making this site available.

Nothing happened on the Police Station File until September 1969 when a decision was made to proceed, and the Firm of Graham, Napier and Herbert was selected to Design the Building.



Model of the Police Station


Rendering of the Building

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Queen Ann Revival 1890-1914

The Queen Anne Revival style 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. The style is a re-interpretation of the Queen Anne style, which was popular during the Reign of Queen Anne – 1702-1714

A notable Queen Anne Revival Residence is located on the Corner of Inglis St and Young Ave. in the south End of Halifax, The House was designed by J.C. Dumaresq, in 1902 for George Wright. Wright himself Was quite wealthy, owning both the St. Pauls 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 Maiden 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.

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g_wright_3-1024x567-8959931-4163873 The plans and Elevations (above) Are Held by the NS Archives.

Gothic Revival

The Gothic revival, began in Britain, and recalls the Gothic architecture of the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe.  The neogothic movement was firmly rooted in the romanticism movement which placed and emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. Canada experienced a huge interest in the Gothic revival, compared to other countries, causing the style to be in favor for over 100 years, gaining popularity in the 1820’s, and finally going out of style in the 1930’s.


St Marys basilica, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop in Halifax. Located on the corner of Spring Garden road and Barrington street the initial construction of the church occurred between 1820-1830.

Catholics were not permitted to build a church in Halifax until 1783, presumably in an attempt preventing large numbers of predominately Catholic French from overrunning the city. The church of Saint Peter, a small wood frame building was constructed, and opened on July 19 1784. located roughly on the site of the current final 2 bays and apse, it faced Grafton street, and was in use until 1829.

dscn2580-jpg-6944630The original facade is rather simple – three pointed arch doorways, with pointed arch windows above, with a projected central bay. The flat topped tower was terminated with a parapet and pinnacles on the 4 corners. though simple in form, the church slightly predates Montreal’s Notre Dame as first significant Gothic revival building in Canada.

The Gothic revival (or neo-gothic) style was based on romanticism, and renewed interest in the medieval period. The original Gothic period ran from the 12th to 16th century and was responsible for a number of very famous European churches. Neo-gothic details include Pointed arches, ribbed vaults and flying buttresses. The Gothic style was particularly suited to the Canadian climate, with steep roofs and thick walls. It also served to tie Canada back to its European roots.

J.S. Clow, 1840 watercolor of the original interior.

Though no notes or documentation of the original design survive, it is though that the interior is a gothic interpretation of Gibb’s St Martins in the Fields. Early Gothic revival buildings in Canada maintained a Georgian look to them – the form and proportions of the building were Georgian, but featured gothic detailing. The initial interior of St Mary’s, The Nave and isles are present, as the the vaults without ribs. The interior appears to be faced stone, but is most likely plaster imitation. The Church featured a Semi circular Apse, though it appears to be screened from the nave by a series of pointed arches. also notable are the galleries above the aisles.

An extensive renovation program begun in 1862 Saw the original church building expanded with the demolition of the original apse, construction of an additional 4 bays and a new 5 sided polygonal apse. The expansion was the work of designed by Irish born, Brooklyn based architect Patrick C. Keely. In his expansion, he chose to integrate and renovate the existing church. Among the changes, Keely installed larger windows, replacing what had formerly been 2 windows per bay with single larger lancet window.

The interior changes included a new Apse, and the removal of the side galleries, opening the aisles to the roof. the vaults were ribbed, and the style of the Columns was changed. St. Marys basilica as we know it today is best known for its granite Facade, which was erected later in the renovation program between 1868-1874. The remainder of the church is constructed of iron stone, and Gothic details are limited to Lancet windows.

1870, with new tower being installed. Note Glebe house same as in 1840 engraving

The St. Mary’s Glebe House on the Corner looks Georgian in form and proportion but if you look closely, you can see Gothic details over the windows, and the entry porch. this Glebe house was erected in 1802.

The Canadian Architect and Builder Featured a plate and wrote of the New Facade in 1893

“St Mary’s Cathedral is regarded as being the finest sacred building in Halifax. The architect was a Mr. McCarthy of New York. The entire front and spire is built of Dressed granite. The sides are not in keeping with the front of the structure, but are built of iron stone with free stone facings. it is a matter of regret that a structure upon which so much money has been spent should be finished in this manner. if the whole building had been completed in a style to correspond with the front, and erected in a square by itself instead of allowing other buildings to hide a part, it would have shown to much better advantage.”
heaping some criticism, obviously unaware of the buildings history, and Getting the name of the Architect wrong.
St Matthews United Church,located just around the corner from St. Marys on Barrington street, dates back to 1857, when the original 1754 building burned. Built at a new site, the church is located on the Barrington street side of Bishop Binneys lot.
the Church is built in a simpler Gothic style, and is less ornate then the final St Marys, but likely very similar in appearance to St Marys as she originally Existed prior to renovations. St. Matthews is in many ways a larger version of many of the gothic churches that exist in smaller communities around Scotia.


The current St Mary’s Glebe House was built in 1897, and also features Gothic detailing but is more eclectic in nature. Somewhat more understated are 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. It includes Lots of pictures of what the insides look like.

The Halifax International Air Terminal Building

Air travel, which is now commonplace, used to be a new and very modern way of traveling. As such, it is not surprising that the post war growth in commercial aviation necessitated new terminals, and what better style to use for a modern mode of transportation then Modernism. The 1950s and 1960s saw an ambitious Canadian Airport building boom, with new modernist airports being built in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax among other cities.

Air travel…and the airport…was a prominent feature of modernists’ planning schemes, and Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin for Paris was actually named after an aircraft manufacturer. The 6th Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), visited a Bristol Aeroplane Company aircraft plant that was mass producing prefabricated housing. That CIAM meeting was attended by Canadian architect-planner H. Peter Oberlander, who worked for CMHC. The rise of Modernism and commercial aviation seem to parallel each other, and the ideas were certainly introduced to Canada.

The location for the airport was chosen in 1954, and the new airport opened in June 1960, with the Halifax International Air Terminal Building opening on September 10, 1960. Previously commercial flights operated out of the RCAF Station at Shearwater, and before that the Chebucto Road Field (which closed in 1941). The 1945 Master plan for Halifax identified the lack of a suitable airport as something that should be addressed.

The Halifax International Air Terminal Building was designed by Gilleland & Strutt and A.W Ramsay, who was the Transport Canada architect. They also worked on Ottawa International Terminal, which is very similar to the Halifax Terminal in its international modernist style, integrated control tower, and glass curtain walls. The influence of Ramsay is reported to have kept the design rather strict and formal, and may be part of the reason for the similarity of the Ottawa and Halifax buildings.


James Strutt in front of Ottawa International Terminal

James W. Strutt graduated from the University of Toronto in 1950. He spent the war in the RCAF as a pilot of the Coastal Command. His geometric design influences came from Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic approach and Buckminster Fuller’s space-frame structures. These are best seen in some of his other works, including his own house in Gatineau PQ. He partnered with William Gilleland in 1951. Most of their commissions were in Ontario. Sadly, I could find little on William Gilleland, other than he met Strutt at the firm Lefort and Gilleland, and they both left to partner together.


Note the ceremonial approach to the terminal building. As with most car oriented modernist structures, the vehicular approach is rounded and flowing.


Airside shot of airport

In the above photo, note the existence of the 2 hangers below in the upper left corner – they are still in use today. Also, note the lack of bridges. There are covered walkways to the tarmac, and then you walk out to the aircraft via air stairs. It’s also worth noting that the roofs of those covered walkways also act as observation platforms where one can watch airport operations.

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Interior view of Departures Lounge

View from 1970s via David Ross on Flickr

While modern, Halifax International Air Terminal was quite conservative.

toronto-airport-1-lr-3098143Toronto’s AeroQuay 1 by John Parkin (left) was more dramatic, and was intended to be the first of 4 such structures. It was accessed via a tunnel under the tarmac, and parking was provided in the centre. Airplanes could pull up all around the structure.

pan_am_boeing_707-100_at_jfk_1961_proctor-6909412PanAm Airways Worldport (Lleft) at New York’s JFK airport also opened in 1960 and featured a futuristic flying saucer shape. Planes pulled up under a cantilevered roof.

250px-washington_dulles_international_airport_at_dusk-1859826The 1958 Eero Saarinen terminal At Dulles Airport in Washington is also another famous contemporary with soaring roof lines. Mobile lounges then took passengers to the aircraft.

And Finally, Ottawa International Terminal, 1960 (left)

The MacDonald Bridge


The idea for a bridge across the harbour goes back many years. There were 2 previous railway bridges across the harbour – both located in the narrows. Both failed on account of Mother Nature.

The firm of Monsarrat and Pratley were engaged to carry out studies of a possible high-level highway bridge linking the 2 sides of the harbour as far back as 1928. The bridge location between North Street in Halifax, and Thistle Street in Dartmouth was approved by Dominion Authorities and the British Admiralty in 1933. The 1945 master plan for Halifax assumed that this would be the location for the bridge, and suggested widening North Street to accommodate traffic. Dartmouth’s master plan of 1945 also assumed this would be the location.

The bridge was designed by Philip Louis Pratley, one of Canada’s foremost long-span bridge designers who had also been responsible for the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver. By the time design work began in 1950, he was working alone.  The contractor was Dominion Bridge Company Ltd.  When erected at a cost of CAN $10.75 million, the Macdonald Bridge  was the second longest span of any suspension bridge in the British Commonwealth, after only Vancouver’s Lions Gate.

Pratley worked on many of the large bridges in Canada, including the Jacques Cartier in Montreal, the Quebec Bridge, and the Saint John Highway Arch Bridge. One of the lesser known landmark bridges designed by Pratley was the Sheet Harbour Bridge (1957–1958), crossing over the East River at Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia. On its erection, the through-steel arch structure of 465 ft span was the second longest-span highway bridge in Nova Scotia.  It is due to be replaced in 2015. Pratley was also appointed to the American committee formed to investigate the failure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

The Dominion Bridge Company itself was formed in 1896, and lasted until 1998, when it went bankrupt after purchasing the MIL Davie Shipyard. The last remaining Dominion Bridge facility is a plant in Amherst, operated by the Cherubini group, who will be doing the steel fabrication of the new pieces for the bridge.
Pratley’s son Hugh was involved in the site supervision and took over the operation of the consulting firm on the death of his father in 1958. Construction on the Macdonald Bridge began in 1952, and took 3 years. During construction, 6 workers were killed.
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The Macdonald Bridge opened to the public on April 2, 1955.
The Macdonald Bridge was converted from a two lane to a three lane structure with a pedestrian walkway and bicycle lane in 1999. At that time the non-suspended approach spans were replaced. The widening was done by relocating services  to the underside of the bridge, and moving the sidewalk to the outsides of the bridge. As the bridge no longer carried truck traffic, and a 24″ water main was installed rather then the designed 36″ main, there were allowances due to the decreased live loads on the bridge. As well, the new orthotropic deck was lighter then the original concrete deck.
In 2000, The Halifax Dartmouth Bridge Commission produced a 20 minute video on the bridge called “New Old Bridge”. The colour images above are stills captured from that video.

The First (and Second) Harbour Bridges

The first bridge spanning Halifax Harbour was a railway bridge constructed by the Intercolonial Railway at the Narrows. It was constructed between 1884-85 and was 650 feet long.



1889 Hopkins Map of Halifax.

Intercolonial Railway engineer P.S. Archibald designed the bridge in a concave form with the convex facing Bedford Basin in the hope this shape would help the bridge withstand ice slides each spring.

 A Dartmouth man, Duncan Waddell, was in charge of construction for the huge stone pier upon which the swing section or “draw” of the bridge would rest, so vessels could be allowed to move into Bedford Basin. The stone pier, located near the Dartmouth shore, was constructed in about 35 feet of water, by driving piles into the gravel bottom to a depth of five or six feet.  These acted as guides for building the pier, which was to hold the bridge, being built by the Starr Manufacturing Company of Dartmouth.


The wooden trestle-work of the bridge, constructed by M.J. Hogan of Quebec, rested on eight foot stone-filled cribs, spaced on the harbour bottom every 10 feet (3.0 m).  The piles were then secured to the cribs.  As the depth of the water was about 75 feet the piles had to be built in three sections, and spliced with eight-inch deals (basically an 8″ long plank) spiked into place.  This proved to be extremely weak, especially when no form of side-bracing was used.

A hurricane hit Halifax on Monday evening September 7, 1891. The storm caused  damage to wharves and shipping in harbour. The bridge was destroyed. Nothing remained the next morning but a few broken timbers and some trestles in shallow water.

Suggestions were put forward by Dartmouth Town Council that it would be better to construct the railway line along the shoreline from Bedford to Dartmouth, rather than rebuild the bridge.  However, the federal government decided to rebuild the structure, stating that the land route was not “deemed advisable.”  Like the first bridge, it was poorly constructed and not braced.  This time it was built  in a straight line and thus made much shorter.  Completed in 1892, the contractor was Connor’s of Moncton, New Brunswick.


About 2:00am, on July 23, 1893, almost two-thirds of the bridge slipped into the water. The last train had crossed about 6 hours prior. The cause of the breaking away of the Narrows Bridge was to be the result of sea worms. It was discovered that the piles were worm-eaten almost through between high-water and low-water mark.  When the last train went over, it is assumed that these rotten supports gave way, but remained resting on the surface. Then, when the tide rose, the bridge desk floated up and the whole thing swept away.

The loss of the second bridge then led to the establishment of the rail line to Windsor Junction in 1896. The third harbour crossing is the Macdonald bridge. Though it is overgown, the ICR roadbed between tufts cove and the narrows still exists, as a gently curved clearing through the trees.

Sambro Island Light


The need for a landfall lighthouse for Halifax was apparent early on, and in 1752 a lottery was formed to fund the construction. It failed to raise the necessary funds, and the first act passed by the first legislature in 1758 was a tax on ships to fund the light. The Nova Scotia Archives recently released a number of documents and photos related to the Light, including the Tax Records for the lighthouse funding.


Landfall lighthouses are tall structures, designed so that the light can be seen at a great distance, to point ships to a harbour. The light is octagonal in shape, and constructed of masonry, covered with wooden shingles due to early moisture issues.the Sambro Island Light is visible for 24 Nautical miles (44km)


(Above) Sambro Island Light as built, An additional 22′ of height was added in 1906 to increase the lights Range.

sambro-light2-7916795 sambro-light3-8000842 sambro-light4-1577639

(above) the Heightening of the Sambro Light. Photos from the Department of Transportation Albums at the Nova Scotia Archives. (below) the completed tower. the Red White the stripes were added in 1908.


The Sambro Light is the oldest Lighthouse in North America and the Caribbean. Louisburg’s lighthouse was originally built in 1733, but was destroyed by the British during the Siege of Louisburg. Boston Light location dates to 1716, but the original was destroyed in 1776 by the British, during the revolutionary war. The current light was rebuilt on the foundations of the original light in 1783.

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.

img_4308-1024x768-1256916Designed 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.

17813-3505393The 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.

octoplan-8427971-9648965Fowler 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.