Description of Historic Place
The Little Dutch Church is located on the corner of Gerrish and Brunswick Streets in the north end of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is a small, one-storey wood frame building with a tower on the north elevation. It is located in closed proximity to the street, surrounded by a historic graveyard, enclosed by an ironstone wall. The building, cemetery and property are located in the provincial designation.
The Little Dutch Church is valued for its age, architecture, association with the origins of British colonialism, and associations with the history of the Anglican and Lutheran Churches in Nova Scotia.
In Britain’s efforts to colonize Nova Scotia, people from Switzerland, France, Netherlands and the Rhenish Palatinate (now part of Germany) were encouraged to emigrate. Between 1750 and 1752 approximately 2,400 emigrants arrived. The majority spoke German and belonged to the Lutheran Church. Collectively, they became known as the "Foreign Protestants" and were given lots in the north end of Halifax. The crossing was difficult and many died of typhus. Those who died shortly before debarking and during the first difficult winter in Halifax were buried in a mass grave on land granted to them by the Crown for a burial ground. The Little Dutch Church now sits over this grave.
At this time Halifax had only two churches – St. Paul’s Anglican Church and Mather’s Church, a Congregational church. Circa 1756 an existing home, owned by George Nagel, was exchanged for some lumber and the building was moved to its current location on the corner of Gerrish and Brunswick Streets, to serve a Lutheran church. Without a minister, services were conducted in German in by the schoolmaster and sacramental services were conducted by St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Dr. John Breynton, Rector of St. Paul's, dedicated the Little Dutch Church with the name of St. George in 1761.
The Church was without a full-time minister until 1784 when the Reverend Mr. Bernard Michael Houseal, a Lutheran pastor, came to Halifax with the Loyalist exodus. The congregation could not afford to support Houseal and they appealed to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) to have him appointed as a missionary to their parish. The appeal was rejected; however the SPG did pay for his travel to England where he was ordained as a deacon and priest. Houseal's served the congregation until he died at the pulpit on Good Friday in 1799. It is believed he is buried beneath the church. The succeeding ministers of the congregation were Anglicans, supported by the SPG.
By 1800, the congregation had outgrown the building and construction began on the building now commonly called the “Round Church.” In 1827 the separate parish of St. George was established. The Little Dutch Church continued to be used on occasion and throughout much of the nineteenth century it served as a schoolhouse. The burial ground continued to be used until 1843. The Little Dutch Church is known as such because the term 'Dutch' was used indiscrimately in the eighteenth century to refer to persons of Germanic language origin. It continues to hold occasional services and for a time was pressed back into regular service in 1994 when fire destroyed a large portion of the Round Church.
The Little Dutch Church is the second oldest building in Halifax and among the oldest Lutheran Churches in North America. The original section was built circa 1750-1752 by a member of the Foreign Protestants, possibly George Nagel, evidenced by its Dutch-frame construction. When the house was moved in 1756, Christopher Cleesattel was employed to cover it for use a church. Cleesattel arrived aboard the "Gale" in 1751 and was a joiner who specialized in fine carpentry. Following the fall of Louisbourg in 1760 a bell from the fortress was purchased by the congregation which remained at the church until 1840. In 1760 the building was lengthened and the tower was added. The brass weathercock located on the steeple bears the directions in German such as N (Nord), W (West), S (Süd), and O (Ost). The church and cemetery remain landmarks in the north end of Halifax.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 24
Character-defining elements of the Little Dutch Church include:
- concrete and brick foundation;
- wooden shingle cladding;
- all elements of original Dutch-framed portion;
- extension and tower built in post-and-beam construction;
- steeply pitched gable roof;
- simple, rectangular bell tower with round-headed louvered vents on all four sides;
- bell tower capped by a small, octagonal bell-cast or "witch's hat" spire;
- 6-over-6 single-hung wooden windows;
- wooden shutters on all windows;
- location in the north end of Halifax;
- three unrestored brick crypt shafts beneath church;
- large mass grave under church;
- reproduction of original eighteenth century rooster weather vane, with the directions indicated by German initials;
- historic interior elements including barrel vault ceiling, wood paneling, room arrangement, interior doors, communion rail, Houseal monument, and Lockman hatchment.
Character-defining elements of the Little Dutch Church cemetery include:
- all gravemarkers;
- ironstone wall surrounding cemetery.