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.


HarbourDrive3 HarbourDrive1

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_o8354002621_fbcdf20703_b

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.

G_wright_0 G_wright_1 G_wright_2

G_wright_3 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.JPGThe 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.

Interior view of Departures Lounge

View from 1970s via David Ross on Flickr

While modern, Halifax International Air Terminal was quite conservative.

Toronto’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.

PanAm 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.

The 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.
bridge_con8  bridge_con13
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.

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.

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.

(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.

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.