Granville block designated a national historic site
September 14, 2012

Gerald Keddy, Member of Parliament for South Shore – St. Margaret’s, unveiled a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque commemorating Granville Block as a National Historic Site of Canada during a special ceremony held Thursday, Sept. 13.

The Anna Leonowens Gallery was full with heritage advocates, students, alumni and faculty who gathered for the event.

“I am pleased to recognize the national historic significance of Granville Block,” said Mr. Keddy. “These structures attest to Halifax’s role in the commercial history of Canada during the late 19th century, when its port served as a major entry and transit point for goods. The innovative rehabilitation of Granville Block in collaboration with NSCAD in the 1970s was an important catalyst for revitalization in Halifax and was influential in demonstrating the value of urban conservation in Canada.”

Referred to as "the jewel of Halifax's architectural heritage," by Dr. David Sutherland, representative of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, the Granville Block consists of 19 commercial buildings erected in the years following the great Halifax fire of 1859. The buildings in this city block form a harmonious whole in terms of their unity of scale, their quality of materials (using brick, stone and cast iron), and their often-elegant architecture, expressed in a richness of detailing, notably in cornices, window surrounds, and keystones. In the 1970s this city block was rehabilitated and demonstrated that heritage conservation is a viable approach to urban planning and redevelopment. As the new home for NSCAD, it represented a bold statement for the 1970s: contemporary needs could be housed effectively within historic structures designed for other purposes. This approach of conserving rather than replacing groups of buildings was subsequently adopted widely in North America, particularly in port and waterfront areas.

“It is fitting that we are commemorating the historical significance of Granville Block and the impact it had on Canadian conservation of urban fabric, as NSCAD celebrates its 125th anniversary year,” said the Honourable Peter Kent, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, in a statement. 

“This designation acknowledges this imaginative project, like many of the creative projects that come to life through NSCAD students every year, which inspired not only the retention of this important commercial area in Halifax’s historic downtown, but a number of similar conservation initiatives across Canada.”

Dr. Dan O'Brien, acting president of NSCAD University, spoke about the character of the old buildings and the great fondness that students and alumni have for them. "We're delighted to be in the downtown, delighted to have played a role in the preservation of Halifax's history," he said.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada was established in 1919 and is supported by Parks Canada. It advises the Minister of the Environment regarding the national significance of places, persons and events that have marked Canada’s history. On behalf of the people of Canada, Parks Canada manages a nationwide network that makes up a rich tapestry of Canada’s historical heritage and offers the public opportunities for real and inspiring discoveries.

-- With files from Parks Canada

For an interview with Graeme Duffus, restoration architect, please read: Restoring the Granville streetscape 

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A historic photograph of the Granville block. Notice the fancy storefronts on what is the Anna Leonowens Gallery today.
 

About the Granville Block National Historic Site of Canada

The Granville Block, consisting of 19 commercial buildings erected in the years following the great Halifax fire of 1859, is a surviving testimony of the role the city played in the commercial history of Canada at the end of the 19th century, when its port was an important point of entry and transit for goods. The buildings in this city block form a harmonious whole in terms of their unity of scale, their quality of materials (including brick, stone and cast iron), and their often-elegant architecture, expressed in a richness of detailing, notably in cornices, window surrounds, and keystones.

The rehabilitation of this city block in the 1970s was an early and influential demonstration that heritage conservation is a viable approach to urban planning and redevelopment. This approach, based on conserving rather than replacing groups of buildings, was subsequently adopted widely in North America, particularly for port and waterfront areas.

This rehabilitation project, solidly anchored by an important cultural institution, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), was an important catalyst in conserving and reviving part of Halifax’s historic urban fabric.

The great fire of September 1859 leveled large sections of Halifax’s downtown core and resulted in a wholesale rebuilding of this district using fireproof materials and a consistent design of largely Italianate inspiration. These new structures, focused on historic Granville Street, illustrate the prosperity of Halifax in the final decades of the 19th century.

Several decades after the fire, the Granville Block was one of Halifax’s many areas in need of a facelift. The decision to conserve and rehabilitate these properties as the new home for the NSCAD represents a bold statement for the 1970s, that contemporary needs could be housed effectively within historic structures designed for other purposes. This imaginative project inspired not only the retention of this important commercial area in Halifax’s historic downtown, but a number of similar conservation initiatives across Canada.

- Parks Canada backgrounder