Description of Historic Place
St. George's Anglican Church is a cylindrical wooden church designed in the Georgian style with Palladian elements, with elegantly simple openings and smooth finishes. Located on the corner of Brunswick Street and Cornwallis Street in downtown Halifax, this handsome building is associated with the early days of the city and with its Royal linkages. The building and property are included in the provincial designation.
St. George's Anglican Church is valued because it is a masterpiece of Georgian Palladian architecture and it is associated with the early history and religious life of Halifax.
The corner stone of St. George's was laid by Sir John Wentworth, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, on April 10, 1800. Although the first service was held in July 1801, the building was not completed until 1812. It was built to accommodate a congregation that had outgrown its nearby original home, the Little Dutch Church, a former Lutheran parish. The conversion from Lutheran to Anglican instantly gave St. George's Church the unusual distinction of being both the oldest Lutheran Church in Canada and the third oldest Anglican Church in Nova Scotia. The Church has been important to the spiritual fabric of society in Halifax and in the growth of the city's religious communities.
The Church is also valued for its design, construction, and for its association with the British Royal Family. Reflecting a level of architectural sophistication previously unknown in the colony, its unusual design was associated with Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who served as a military commander of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from 1794 to 1800. The Prince was known to have a penchant for round buildings, fashionable at the time, and St. George's is one a few round buildings in Halifax dating from that era associated with Prince Edward.
The plans of St. George's Church are said to have been prepared by William Hughes, a master builder and shipwright at the Halifax dockyards. The design is believed to have been the responsibility of many people, including John Merrick, the principal architect of Province House in Halifax. The original part of the Church was constructed between 1800 and 1812 and consisted of a simple two storey circular form with three domes. The weathervane was placed on top of the cupola in 1835 and is modelled after Halley's Comet which was viewed that year. The gallery was extended in 1841 to accommodate more people, and is well known for its excellent acoustics. The basic outline of the church has not changed since its construction, with the exception of repairs and maintenance on the structure, including repairs following the 1917 Halifax Explosion.
Architecturally, St. George's Church is valued for its unique Georgian style design. The Church has been fully restored after a major fire in 1994 damaged the cupola, roof, and interior dome. The architectural character of this building is defined by its round shape with its staged roof structure, and by the round-ended chancel on the western side of the building. The wooden construction of the building is essential to its character. The round Palladian form of St. George's Church is pivotal to the meaning of this truly remarkable example of the Georgian style. There are grand entrance porticoes, towers, and apsidal ends. The Church also features balustrades and a Palladian style window behind the altar. The storey articulation of the walls has low flat or segmental windows under tall round-headed windows.
Commonly known as the 'Round Church,' St. George's was the first round church built in North America and it is the only Georgian round church built of wood.
An early parishioner, J.F.W. DesBarres, cartographer and Governor of Cape Breton (a separate colony at the time) and then Prince Edward Island, is buried with his wife Martha in a double crypt beneath St. George's. This is the only crypt beneath St. George's.
St. George's still has an active congregation.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 238, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Character-defining elements of St. George's Anglican Church relating to its Georgian style with Palladian elements include:
- its location in the historic heart of the city, and its role as a landmark in the Halifax cityscape;
- dominant central round two-storey dome;
- staged roof structure;
- entrance porticoes, towers and apsidal ends in the Palladian style;
- round-ended chancel with round headed windows;
- rectangular vestry, organ loft, and entrance to either side of the chancel;
- wooden construction and shingle siding;
- cupola roofed in copper, with its original copper weathervane;
- rounded headed windows;
- dentils along the eaves;
- arched openings at gallery level;
- sash windows of 12/12;
- interior elements such as the full gallery, Palladian balustrades and window behind the altar;
- the preserved double crypt below the church.