Description of Historic Place
St. Paul’s Anglican Church is located in downtown Halifax, NS, at the end of Grand Parade facing City Hall. The Georgian style church, built in 1750, is a local landmark and is the oldest Anglican Church in North American and the oldest building in Halifax. The building and property are located in the provincial designation.
St. Paul’s Anglican Church is valued as the oldest Anglican Church in North American, the oldest building in Halifax and for is historical role in the history and development of Nova Scotia.
In 1749, upon the founding of Halifax, the location for St. Paul’s was identified by town planners in the centre of the town plot. The following summer the cornerstone was laid by the Governor of Nova Scotia, Edward Cornwallis. While services began in the church several months later, it took nearly ten years for the interior to be complete. Since that time the church has undergone numerous changes, however the original oak and pine frame that was precut and shipped from Boston, continue to support the main part of the building.
The church was designed by James Gibbs, based on St. Peter’s Church in London, circa 1728. St. Paul’s also has the distinction of being the first Palladian style building built in Canada. During the nineteenth century many modifications were made, including the addition of wings, chancel and the addition of the south Venetian window. The church now has a typical Anglican arrangement with three naves and two side galleries. In 1812 the narthex was added, extending the north end of the church and the steeple was rebuilt over the addition. The addition in 1868 of wings on the east and west sides of the church, makes St. Paul’s one of only a handful of Anglican churches in the world to have five aisles.
For over two-hundred and fifty years St. Paul’s Church has been a place of worship serving the people of Halifax. At its founding the Church of England was the established church; it was the church of the government and military. In 1787 Charles Inglis was appointed Bishop of Nova Scotia, along with Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Bermuda formed their own diocese; previously all of these regions belonged under the jurisdictions of the Bishop of London. Today, only Prince Edward Island remains under the Diocese of Nova Scotia. St. Paul’s was designated the cathedral church of the diocese, a role it maintained until 1865.
One of the earliest church members was Richard Bulkeley, who was instrumental in the settling of Halifax and is possibly one of twenty prominent congregants buried beneath the church, along with Charles Inglis, the first Bishop of Nova Scotia. Another prominent member of St. Paul’s Church was Governor Wentworth and his wife Frances. The couple was a colourful member of Halifax society (including entertaining Prince Edward Augustus and his mistress) and Government House was built to Wentworth’s specifications. Wentworth has been accredited with giving residents an enduring pride in Nova Scotia. While Prince Edward (later Duke of Kent) was living in Halifax he worshiped at St. Paul’s. Other parishioners and visitors of note include: Richard John Uniacke, Isabella Binney Cogswell, Governor Charles Lawrence (also buried under the church), General Amherst, General Wolfe, Sir Charles Tupper and Sir Robert Borden.
Besides serving the earliest Anglican settlers in Halifax, St. Paul’s Church was also the official church of the garrison, a designation it held until 1844 when a separate Garrison Chapel was constructed to ease the growing congregation of St. Paul’s.
St. Paul’s continues to be a living and active church and continues in its role as the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion, holding special services over time including services for royal jubilees and memorials for members of the royal family, President E.D. Roosevelt, for the Titanic victims, Halifax Explosion victims, and Swissair flight 111 victims. Today it is valued as a landmark, is a National Historic Site, and is open to visitors daily.
Source: Provincial Heritage Property Files, no. 6, Heritage Division, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax.
Character-Defining Elements of the exterior of St. Paul’s Church relate to its Georgian architecture with Victorian elements and include:
- east and west wings;
- gabled roof with closed pediment;
- wooden shingle cladding;
- belfry sheathed in copper;
- wide, intermediate mullions;
- verges decorated with dentils;
- first floor windows trimmed with plain entablatures and dentils similar to the dentils on the verges;
- second storey windows with rounded heads and corresponding panes;
- large Palladian window centred on the second floor north façade, over the main doors;
- transom window over main wooden doors;
- steeple supported by a square, saddle back tower with rondel windows, surmounted by two octagonal lanterns and domed roofs.
Character-Defining Elements of the interior of St. Paul’s Church:
- original pine and oak support beams brought from Maine;
- memorial tablets hung on walls honouring men and women who have served the Parish, Halifax and the country;
- memorial stained-glass windows;
- historic wooden pews with doors on first level;
- historic folding wooden pews in gallery;
- royal pew, formerly the governor’s pew;
- five aisles;
- crypt containing the remains of 20 congregants;
- two fonts, one presented by the Bishop of Newfoundland dating from the seventeenth century and one dating from the eighteenth century;
- wooden collection box;
- south doors that are thought to be the original main entrance;
- chancel dating from 1872 that includes the oldest stained glass window in the church;
- 1901 pulpit;
- chapel in south east corner;
- 1908 organ containing 2689 pipes;
- gallery running the full length of the nave;
- hatchments hanging from the exterior of the gallery, visible throughout the church, containing the coats-of-arms of some prominent men of the congregation, some of whom are buried beneath the church;
- 1949 memorial chapel to parishioners who died in World War II;
- relics of the 1917 Halifax Explosion: a gallery window broken in the shape of a man’s profile and a piece of window frame that lodged in the narthex wall;
- Armitage Memorial Doors, made of bronze, leading from the narthex into the church;
- vaulted ceiling;
- fluted posts supporting the roof.
Character-Defining Elements of the site:
- continued use as a church;
- location in the Grand Parade and centre of downtown Halifax.