Description of Historic Place
The West-Osler House is located on Brunswick Street in the north end of Halifax, Nova Scotia. This two-and-a-half storey brick masonry, Gothic Revival style building was built in 1878. The West-Osler House occupies the left side of a double house, with the other side occupied by the West-Buley House, also a designated property. The building and property are included in the designation.
The West-Osler House is valued as it is a rare example in Nova Scotia of the Gothic Revival style in brick masonry as used for terrace housing. It is also valued because of its importance to the heritage character of Brunswick Street.
The Universalist Society in Halifax dates from 1837. One of the most notable founding families of the church was the West family. Conrad West held the mortgage for the Society's Church, the Universalist Church of the Redeemer, erected in 1874. The comfortable circumstances of the West family allowed them to contribute substantial funds to the church: Conrad's sons, William and Nathaniel, neither of whom had children, were particularly generous.
In the same year as the church was opened, William West turned over the Manse (today 2138 Brunswick Street) to the church, in return for an interest bearing note for $10,000. In 1875, West purchased land adjoining the parsonage and advised the church to build on this land a double house of brick, similar in design to the Manse. The representatives of the church vestry then applied to William's brother, Nathaniel, for money on a mortgage to build the brick house. Nathaniel agreed but advised against building in brick as he thought it would involve the church in difficulties. Two years later, Nathaniel died, and with some of the money he left to the church, the vestry paid off the debt to the Manse. With the death of Nathaniel's wife in 1880, the church then paid off the bond on the adjoining double house.
The architectural firm of Elliot and Busch designed the double house (today 2140 and 2146 Brunswick Street), with the West-Osler House occupying the left side of the building. The firm had already provided the plans for the Manse. Henry Stephen Elliot of the partnership was a member of the Universalist congregation, which no doubt explains the involvement of his firm.
The double houses were built as an income property for the church and served this purpose well into the twentieth century, though as Nathaniel had foretold, their brick construction created major maintenance problems. The economic decline of the Brunswick Street area caused the church to sell the double house in the early 1940s, but for much less than they had paid to construct it in 1878. It had survived the 1917 Halifax Explosion, which had heavily damaged much of the north end of Halifax, with minor damage.
This brick masonry building continues the lines and detailing of the adjoining Manse. The resulting effect is reminiscent of the terrace housing being built in British and some other North American cities during the late nineteenth century. In Halifax, however, this building type, in brick, is quite rare.
The Gothic Revival details of the exterior provide an interesting image and are well executed. Most notable is the second floor window arcade with pointed arches, stone archivolts and wooden tracery.
With the revival of Brunswick Street in the 1980s, the Manse and the double house have become important buildings in this process. They are critical to retaining the street’s heritage character, which is what initially inspired the economic revitalization of the street.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 152, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Character-defining elements relating to the Gothic Revival style of the West-Osler House include:
- two-and-a-half storey brick masonry construction;
- mansard roof, with truncated dormers and original slates;
- second floor window arcade with pointed arches, stone archivolts and wooden tracery;
- interior finishes such as high ceilings, deep cornices and fireplaces;
- its continuity with the attached West-Buley property and the surrounding streetscape.