Description of Historic Place
5355 Russell Street is a three-storey brick and stone building designed in the Second Empire style on Russell Street in a residential area of North End Halifax, Nova Scotia. Situated next door to St. Joseph’s A MacKay Elementary School, on a property boasting many mature trees and ornamental trees and shrubs, it is a prominent landmark. The municipal designation extends to the building and the parcel of land it occupies.
5355 Russell Street is valued for its association with the Sisters of Charity and the architecture firm Ross & Macdonald; for its role in shaping the architectural character of Halifax’s Hydrostone District; and for its Second Empire style.
The Sisters of Charity are a religious order that arrived in Nova Scotia in 1849 to provide religious, educational and charitable support in Halifax. The first St. Joseph’s Convent built by the Sisters was destroyed in 1917 by the Halifax Explosion. In 1919 the Sisters purchased the land on which the current building is located. It was used for a time as a convent played an important role in revitalizing the North End Halifax that was ravaged by the Halifax Explosion in December of 1917.
Ross and Macdonald was one of Canada’s most notable architecture firms of the twentieth century. Based in Montreal, Quebec, the firm was a partnership between George Allen Ross and David MacFarlane from 1907 to 1912. MacFarlane retired in 1913 and Robert Henry Macdonald became a partner. The firm designed many important civic and commercial buildings across Canada, including the Chateau Laurier Hotel (1912) in Ottawa, the Montreal Star Building and Holt Renfrew Store (1936) in Montreal, Maple Leaf Gardens (1932), Union Station (1927) and the Royal York Hotel (1929) in Toronto. Following the Halifax Explosion in 1917, the firm designed the Hydrostone Market (1918) on Young Street and many Hydrostone homes, which became known as the Hydrostone District. Located just one block away from the Hydrostone Market, 5355 Russell Street is part of this district. Ross is credited for choosing the Hydrostone building material this area is named after. He chose the material as it was locally produced, cheap, fire retardant, and durable, providing quick housing for people displaced by the disaster. Ross and Macdonald went on to design other prominent buildings in Halifax, including the Halifax Infirmary and the former Henry Birks store on Barrington Street.
Architecturally, 5355 Russell Street displays Second Empire features, including a steeply-pitched, bell cast mansard roof with projecting, steeply-pitched gabled dormers. Its random, rusticated stone cladding (added in 1948), elegant projecting pointed-arch entryway, and its elongated windows with hydrostone lintels and sills, all combine to make the building a unique contribution to its neighbourhood.
The building’s central tower with cross finial once contained a large, world-renowned Meneely bell known as the “Ave Maria Bell” that weighed about 230 kilograms. Cast in bronze, the names of thirty-two members of St. Joseph’s Church who perished in the Halifax Explosion were engraved. Previously held by Mount St. Vincent University, the bell was donated in 2008 to near-by St. Patrick’s (Catholic) Church Restoration Society.
Previously a nursing home, the building has recently been renovated into a condominium, named The Seton, in honour of Elizabeth Seton who founded the Sisters of Charity in North America. The adaptive reuse renovations have been in keeping with the building’s original architecture.
Source: HRM Community Development Department, Heritage Property Program, 5355 Russell Street property file.
The character-defining elements of 5355 Russell Street include:
- original large, three-storey massing with projecting end pavilions and corner bays;
- steeply-pitched bell-cast mansard roof with overhanging eaves and steeply-pitched gabled dormers with pointed-arch windows;
- symmetrical façades on front elevation (end pavilion facing Russell Street) and west elevation (facing St. Joseph A. Mackay School);
- brick exterior;
- rusticated granite facing added to end pavilion facing Russell Street ;
- projecting main entryway with buttressed sides and hydrostone cap;
- pointed arch entrance opening with quoins, double doors, deep transom, and single-pane pointed arch transom window;
- central tower with cross finial;
- granite steps up from street to main entrance;
- tall, thin windows, many set in pairs, with hydrostone lintels and sills;
- label moulding and quoins on central, second-storey window above main entrance;
- basement windows have small pedimented caps;
- stained glass windows on rear ell (previously a chapel);
- hydrostone stringcourse separating basement and first floor.