Description of Historic Place
Occupying a prominent site in an historic precinct in the heart of downtown Halifax, NS, Province House is an imposing, three-storey Neo-Classical building that exhibits the most refined elements of the Palladian style. Built of Nova Scotia sandstone, the home of the provincial legislature was completed in 1819. Both the land and building are included in the provincial designation.
Province House is valued for its architecture, its builder and its role in the history of Nova Scotia and Canada. Province House is highly valued because it is Canada’s oldest legislative seat and is considered one of the finest examples of pure Palladian design applied to an institutional building in the country. Its symmetry, proportions, uniformity and order, inside and out, represent both the stability and strength of government and the harmony, prosperity and stately grandeur of the Georgian period.
Plans for Province House were discussed as early as the 1780s, however funding and demands for a new Government House put the project on hold until the early 1800s. Prior to this, the Legislative Council met at various locations in Halifax, including the old residence of the lieutenant governor. In 1811 an act was passed for the erecting of a new Province House and in August of that year the cornerstone was laid. This was the beginning of the first purpose-built legislative building in what would become Canada.
Local painter and glazer John Merrick has been widely credited with the design of Province House. He was no doubt strongly influenced by the British promoters of Palladian style, architects Robert and John Adam. However it was mason/master builder Richard Scott who deserved much of the credit for interpreting Merrick’s drawings and realizing the remarkable architectural achievement that is Province House. Scott led the team of carpenters, masons and labourers who worked on Province House for eight years.
The provincial Supreme Court was held in this building until the 1860s, in the room now occupied by the Legislative Library, and the Legislative Council also met here until it was abolished in 1928. Since its completion, Province House has also seen many historical events occur within its stately walls - important Supreme Court trials, including the famed libel trial of politician, activist and newspaper editor Joseph Howe and the establishment of the first Responsible Government in the entire British Commonwealth. Other significant events held here included an Industrial Exhibition, royal visits, the installation of lieutenant governors and governor generals; grand balls were not an uncommon site in the Red Chamber.
Made of sandstone quarried at Wallace, NS, the exterior of Province House has changed very little since 1819. The stone wall that surrounds the entire perimeter of the property is original to the site. However the two statues found in the north and south years are more recent additions: one commemorates the trial of Joseph Howe, created by famed Quebec sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert, in 1904 and the other commemorating Nova Scotians lost in the Boer War, erected in 1901.
While the interior of Province House has been altered somewhat to accommodate the evolving needs of the Legislative Assembly, many original features remain, including decorative plaster work, the main staircase, columns, hardware, chimneys, mantels and fireplaces, and tiles on the ground floor. Many of the changes made to the interior have themselves become important features, including the Legislative Library with decorative metal work and two rounded staircases providing access to gallery with additional shelving.
Province House continues to function as the seat of the Legislative Assembly and the impressive Red Chamber hosts numerous events annually.
Source: Provincial Heritage Property Registry, file 00PNS0008
Exterior character-defining elements of Province House include:
- formal Classical Revival massing of a raised central bay with side wings;
- sandstone (quarried in Wallace, NS) façades with rusticated ground floor;
- central bay features six unfluted Ionic columns supporting pediments containing coat-of-arms (east side) and circular window (west side);
- side bays framed with Ionic pilasters supporting pediments containing oriel windows;
- Palladian symmetry, rhythm and reduced proportions in composition of three-storey façades;
- Palladian windows, Ionic pilasters and pediments on north and south elevations;
- round-headed, rectangular and false (niches) windows on east and west façades;
- dentil bracketing under eaves and pediments;
- sandstone veneer on rubblestone backup, with brick interior walls;
- semi-circular transom lights over front doors;
- truncated hipped roof;
- Boer War memorial statue in north yard;
- Joseph Howe memorial statue in south yard.
Interior Character-Defining Elements of Province House include:
- interior of Assembly Chamber with (1886) colonnaded gallery;
- ornamental Palladian interior of Red Chamber, formerly the Legislative Council Chamber;
- interior of the Legislative Library, formerly the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.