Description of Historic Place
The National Film Board Building is a Second Empire style building located on Barrington Street, in the commercial centre of Downtown Halifax, NS. Built in 1891, the four storey building suffered a devastating fire in 1991, leaving only the three storey Barrington Street façade and sections of the foundation and side walls. Both the building and the land are municipally registered.
The National Film Board Building is valued for its historical associations; architectural features; its role within the surrounding streetscape; and the community’s effort to save the remains of the building.
The building was designed by famed local architect James Charles Dumaresq to serve as the St. Mary’s Young Men’s Total Abstinence and Benevolent Society Hall, which was associated with St. Mary’s Basilica, located one block away on Barrington Street. The original form of the building included a central tower and a convex mansard roof; a form that was unique in Halifax. In 1907 the building became the first permanent movie house in Halifax, The Nickel Theatre, at which time the building was renovated to include theatre seating. For over eighty years the building was associated with the film industry, and in the late 1960s became home to the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada’s Halifax office. The NFB were the occupants of the building at the time of the 1991 fire.
The building is also valued for its remaining Second Empire style features. Dumaresq was known for his Second Empire designs, and implemented them on other nearby buildings including the St. Mary’s Glebe and the Former City Club. Since the front façade of the building was not destroyed in the fire, many Second Empire style features remain, including arched windows and doors, and provide a clue to the building’s original form.
As one of several brick building façades from the same era on this part of Barrington Street, the National Film Board Building contributes greatly to the flow of design and rhythm on the street. Next to the Building is the Former City Club, formerly a Georgian mansion that Dumaresq renovated in 1891 with a brick façade, mansard roof and arched windows. Beside the Former City Club is the Former Church of England Institute, also a brick building with similar elements such as a mansard roof. Further down Barrington Street is the brick St. Mary’s Glebe House, also designed by Dumaresq in the Second Empire style. All four buildings incorporate decorative sandstone elements in their façades. Together these buildings provide a strong reminder of the religious and institutional function that this part of Barrington Street once served.
In 1991 the Building suffered a devastating fire that destroyed the interior and much of the exterior of the building. Despite some recommendations to demolish the remaining front façade, residents and the former City of Halifax acknowledged the heritage value of the building and rallied to preserve the façade in the hopes of restoring the building. The building remains a landmark on Barrington Street and Downtown Halifax and serves as a reminder of the former glory of the city’s commercial core.
Source: HRM Heritage Property File: 1572 Barrington Street, Former NFB
Character-defining elements of the National Film Board Building relate to its Second Empire style and remaining original elements and include:
- brick construction;
- granite base;
- central projecting bay;
- paired arched windows on the front (east) elevation;
- arched windows on the north elevation;
- arched, recessed main door;
- brick pilasters;
- decorative sandstone capitals, keystones, sills and other trim elements;
- decorative brick soldier courses articulating the first and second floors;
- corbelled brick cornice.