Description of Historic Place
St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church is located on Brunswick Street in the north end of Halifax, Nova Scotia. This Gothic Revival style brick and stone church was built in 1883-85 and is an impressive landmark with its hundred and seventy-five foot spire and prominent location right at the streetline. The building and property are included in the provincial designation.
St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church is valued as an outstanding example of Gothic Revival style architecture and because of its historic role as the church for the Irish Roman Catholic population of north end Halifax.
St. Patrick's is a symbol of the accomplishments and contributions of the Irish Catholic population of Halifax to the history and development of the city. Having fought to overcome earlier legal and social restrictions, Halifax Catholics had increased in number and influence. The growth and distribution of the Irish population in Halifax was reflected in the founding of St. Patrick's parish and the construction of the original church in 1843-45. Sustained growth necessitated its replacement in 1883 by the current church.
St. Patrick's Church is closely linked with the man who oversaw its construction, Archbishop Cornelius O'Brien. O'Brien's accomplishments during his tenure as Archbishop were considerable and many of his activities had a profound social impact at the local, regional, and national levels. Personally involved with the project, O'Brien is credited with hastening its completion. Construction began in the spring of 1883 and the church was completed in late 1885.
St. Patrick's Church is an outstanding example of Gothic Revival style architecture which became very popular in Canada, beginning in the 1840s. St. Patrick's is a rectangular red brick structure with trim in Nova Scotian granite, a steeply pitched roof, a five-sided apse, and a slightly steeped, hundred and seventy-five foot central tower. The symmetrical main elevation is divided into three bays, each with a double entrance under a pointed arch which springs from Corinthian columns. The tympana contain bar tracery, forming a quatrefoil design in the side arches and a cinquefoil pattern in the centre. Above each entrance is an arched window divided by bar tracery into lancets topped with a trefoil design on the sides and octafoil in the centre. There is a strong vertical emphasis to the façade, enhanced by the pointed arches, the height of the tower and spire, the use of steeped buttresses, and the soaring finials which top the side buttresses and mark the four corners of the tower at the springing point of the spire.
The interior of the building has undergone significant change throughout its history. For example, the Halifax explosion of December 1917 caused extensive damage. It blew out all the windows on the north and some of the windows on the south side of the church, and severely damaged the roof, sacristy, two altars, and some statuary. Following the Second World War, further alterations were made including the removal of the main altar, the construction of two grottos in the entrance of the church and the moving of the gallery stairs.
St. Patrick's was designed and built by the well-known Halifax builder, Henry Peters, and the architect in his employ, George Jost.
The replacement of the original St. Patrick's Church with the current structure reflected the increased size and influence of the parish in the late nineteenth century. It also provided a handsome symbol of the achievements and ongoing contributions of the north end Irish Catholic community to the city of Halifax.
St. Patrick's Church still holds regular services.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 101.
Character-defining elements of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church relating to its Gothic Revival style include:
- brick and stone construction;
- rectangular plan;
- steeply-pitched gable roof;
- five-sided apse;
- slightly steeped, central tower;
- symmetrical three bay front façade, each with double entrance under a pointed arch which springs from Corinthian columns;
- tympana containing bar tracery, forming a quatrefoil design in the side arches and a cinquefoil pattern in the centre;
- arched windows divided by bar tracery into lancets topped with a trefoil design on the sides and octafoil in the centre located above each entrance;
- soaring finials which top the side buttresses and mark the four corners of the tower at the springing point of the spire.