Description of Historic Place
Ladies’ Seminary National Historic Site of Canada, also known as Seminary House, is located at the centre of the Acadia University campus in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The site consists of an L-shaped, three-and-a-half storey, Second Empire style-building with a high mansard roof punctuated by gables, dormers and slightly projecting façades. Erected in 1878, the Ladies' Seminary is the country's oldest facility associated with the upper-level training of women. Until 1914, when a women’s-only university residence was opened, it was the home of all females attending Acadia University. Official recognition refers to the building on its footprint at the time of designation.
Ladies’ Seminary was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1997 because:
- it illustrates an aspect of the general theme of fostering social diversity through higher education;
- it provides a particularly telling example of the nature of and setting for the earliest phase of higher education for women;
- its institutional history reflects the changing position of women within Canadian universities;
- its location, external appearance and internal plan and functions all speak to the way in which nineteenth-century society viewed the higher education of women.
The Ladies' Seminary, now called Seminary House, exemplifies a key stage in the equal treatment of women in Canada, and their admittance to a university-level education. Opened in 1878, the building served as a home for females attending Acadia University between 1881, when they were first admitted to post-secondary programs, and 1914, when a separate women's residence was opened. The Ladies’ Seminary was initially constructed to house the university's affiliated women's secondary school, the Acadia Ladies' Seminary, and to accommodate certain programs - such as art and music - which, at Acadia, were identified as distinctly "female" programs. The Seminary also offers specific structural evidence of this pioneer phase of female education. For example, this theme is expressed in the placement of the facility on the campus, in the quality of the external and interior design, and in the nature of the facilities included within the building. These three elements help to interpret the distinctive quality of post-secondary education for women in Canada during the final quarter of the 19th century.
In 19th-century campus planning, location and visual prominence exactly reflected traditional societal roles of the times. As such, the Ladies' Seminary was purposefully placed in a secondary position, behind and to the south of the main college building. It was largely hidden from public view by trees, providing graphic evidence of contemporary views of the relative importance of education for men and women. Furthermore, the seminary used a domestically-scaled version of the Second Empire style for its exterior design; a choice that melded the building's function as both domestic and official architecture. Instead of the main university building's combination of convocation hall, classrooms and offices, the seminary's centre-hall plan provided a dining room, kitchen and laundry on the ground floor; reception rooms, a music room, nine bedrooms and six parlours on the second floor; and two identical upper floors, each featuring twelve bedrooms, seven parlours and three music rooms.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1997.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location at the centre of the Acadia University campus in Wolfville, Nova Scotia;
- its purposeful secondary positioning behind and to the south of the main college building, largely hidden by trees;
- the principal façade’s three-and-a-half storey rectangular massing with its three-storey extension;
- its overall L-shaped plan due to the 1892 extension;
- its horizontal wood-panel construction articulated with several slightly projecting façades;
- its Second Empire style, evident in its high mansard roof accentuated by decorated and plain eaves and punctuated by gable and flat dormers;
- the lively and varied roofline with gables, turrets and chimneys;
- the main entrance featuring a double staircase with three railings leading up to a single door surrounded by a multiple lights transom;
- the fenestration, including a combination of semi-circular, multi-pane sash windows and flat, multi-pane sash windows, all regularly spaced;
- the elaborate and varied wood trim of the windows;
- the interior layout and finishes which speak to the nature of the functions carried out within;
- the spatial relationship between the Ladies’ Seminary and the surrounding university buildings.