Description of Historic Place
The Amherst Dominion Public Building is located on East Victoria Street in Amherst, Nova Scotia. The Dominion Building is situated in an area of high-ranking civic, commercial and religious buildings and an open recreational square in the central business district of the town. The building and property are included in the provincial designation.
The Amherst Dominion Public Building is a large sandstone building built between 1934 and 1936. It served as Amherst's post office from 1936 to 1976. Constructed as part of an active post office building program, the building replaces an original post office building (still standing) that had become overcrowded. The federal government's post office building program of the 1930s was designed to stimulate local economy. To this end, local architects, contractors, workers and materials were employed as much as possible. The result was an outstanding architectural feature of the town and a showcase for local skills and materials.
Both architect and contractor associated with the Dominion Building were prominent in the history of building and industry, regionally and nationally. Nova Scotian architect, Leslie R. Fairn was one of Canada's most outstanding architects. Fairn's work included the design of courthouses, hospitals, apartment buildings and university buildings.
Rhodes, Curry & Co., the contracting company, was set up in Amherst in 1877 by Nova Scotians Nelson A. Rhodes and Nathaniel Curry. The company's extensive operations included contracts for various buildings, and the manufacture of church, school, bank and office furniture.
The Dominion Building, which is seventy-nine feet, five inches wide by eighty-eight feet, six inches deep, fits its almost ninety-foot square site compactly. The principle two-storey section which forms the front half of the building is constructed of sandstone; the one-storey rear section is constructed of brick. The building's symmetrical front façade, the monumental effect of its dynamic sculptural projecting front façade, and the fact that it was constructed in light-coloured sandstone all identify this structure as part of the Beaux Arts architectural tradition. The commanding front façade is constructed of grey sandstone, with six immense fluted ionic columns of granite. These freestanding columns have moulded caps and are surmounted by a Greek cornice featuring carved medallions and tryglyphs. The cornice is surmounted by a plain parapet. At the left of the principle façade, a pair of bronze doors and a bronze marquee are surmounted by a large clockface with a decorative metal dial.
The Beaux Arts school exercised a major influence over the design of public and commercial buildings in Canada for the first thirty years of the twentieth century. In Atlantic Canada, fewer than a handful of post offices appear to have been built in this style. Given that Amherst was a prominent manufacturing centre at the turn of the century, its prosperity may have driven the decision to develop a building of such fine design, which were usually reserved for more urban areas.
Prominent exterior materials used for its construction came from two sources. The sandstone was supplied from the Wallace Company in Wallace, Nova Scotia, and the granite for the columns came from Scotstown, Quebec.
The site of the Dominion Building was chosen in 1913. It is situated in the central business district of the town. With its prominent location and solid, monumental impression, the Dominion Building is a striking landmark. This structure and its neighbours form a complementary, geographically, segregated group of prominent buildings which are regarded locally as an essential element of the community's architectural heritage.
The Dominion Building now houses the Tantramar Theatre.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 258, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Character-defining elements of the Amherst Dominion Public Building include:
- two-storey front section of sandstone construction;
- one-storey rear section of brick construction;
- symmetrical front façade;
- six fluted ionic granite columns on the front façade having moulded caps and surmounted by a Greek cornice featuring carved medallions and tryglyphs;
- bronze doors and a bronze marquee surmounted by a large clockface with a decorative metal dial on the left side of the front façade;
- prominent location at the streetline on East Victoria Street.