Description of Historic Place
The Halifax Court House National Historic Site of Canada is an imposing mid-19th century, Classical Revival style, stone public building located on Spring Garden Road, in the heart of historic Halifax, Nova Scotia. Slightly set back from the road, the symmetrical, three-storey sandstone building features a gently sloping roof and an elaborately decorated projecting central section defined by Tuscan columns. Official recognition refers to the building on its legal lot.
Halifax Court House was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1969 because:
- it is part of a significant complex of historical buildings handsomely situated;
- the building's importance is reflected in the imposing façade with its classical pediment and Tuscan columns;
- it is representative of the judicial institution in Nova Scotia.
The heritage value of this site resides in its location, setting and physical illustration of the judicial system in an architecturally imposing manner. The Halifax Court House is located in the heart of downtown Halifax, near several other historic buildings, including Government House, St. Mary’s Basilica and the Old Burying Ground, all national historic sites of Canada.
Designed by Toronto architect William Thomas, the Halifax Court House is an imposing sandstone structure conceived in the Classical Revival manner with Italianate detailing. The selection of Thomas, then a major architect in Canada, is indicative of the county’s desire to erect a handsome building worthy of the city, province, and judicial institution it would represent. Built from 1858 to 1860, the Halifax Court House 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, an additional wing, completed in 1881, was added to accommodate the Halifax County Court. Further wings were added in 1908 and 1930 to provide additional courtroom and office space. When new Law Courts were built 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.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, May 1969, June 1980.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- its siting on a major downtown street, near several other historic buildings including Government House National Historic Site of Canada and St. Mary’s Basilica National Historic Site of Canada;
- the compact, rectangular three-storey massing of its original block;
- its Classical Revival architectural style with Italianate detailing, evident in its imposing façade with its symmetrical composition, rusticated ground storey with triple portal entry surmounted by pedimented portico defined by Tuscan columns and pilasters with Gibbs surrounds and robust masonry detailing including strong rustication, vermiculation, and elaborate carvings, arched stone window surrounds with prominent carved keystones, bracketed cornice, and contrasting corner quoins;
- qualities representative of Nova Scotia’s judicial system, including its fire-retardant Wallace sandstone construction, its use of a classically derived architectural style representative of stability, dignity, and tradition, surviving remnants of its early layout, including the semi-circular lobby, two court rooms built in 1858-1863, and additional court rooms added in 1881 and 1908;
- surviving remnants of its lavish interior decoration dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries, including fine wood and plasterwork with details including arches, bracketed cornices, pressed metal ceilings, and the formal staircase leading to the second storey courtrooms;
- the slight setback from the street, allowing a staged approach to its main entry.