Description of Historic Place
The Lyceum is located on George Street in Sydney, Nova Scotia. This large three-storey, Colonial Revival, pressed brick and firestone structure was built in 1904. It was designed as a multi-purpose cultural centre and in its heyday was considered the best equipped theatre in Eastern Canada. The building and surrounding property are included in the provincial designation.
The Lyceum is valued as a symbol of an era of large scale growth and economic optimism in Sydney's history. The Lyceum's Greek name, meaning a place of learning, concerts and discussion, reflected the city's interest in becoming a cultural centre. It is valued for its continued fulfilment of this function for in excess of a hundred years. Its architectural elements of the Colonial Revival style embody the optimism prevalent at the turn of the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Lyceum was designed by George E. Hutchinson, of Chappel Bros. & Co. Ltd., Sydney, for the Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Antigonish and was constructed by a Mr. Farlinger. When built, the four-storey Lyceum Theatre was considered the best equipped theatre in Eastern Canada, and boasted a 42-foot high stage and seating for 900. The basement contained a gymnasium with accompanying dressing rooms, while the upper storey contained club rooms and a library. The building cost $37,000 to complete, which was a large sum for 1904.
Touring theatrical companies from Britain, the United States and Canada performed at the Lyceum during the first two decades of the twentieth century. From 1923 to 1924, the Scottish Catholic Society sponsored a "Gaelic School," with three teachers and three classes (adults, preschoolers and a grammar class) in the Sydney Lyceum. During the following two decades vaudeville and silent movies dominated the productions at the Lyceum until competition from new theatres brought a decline in business for the Lyceum.
In 1950, the newly formed Xavier College (now Cape Breton University) acquired the building. A fire completely gutted the interior and the top storey collapsed. The College rebuilt the interior, although the building was reduced in height to three storeys. In addition to educational uses, the College maintained a small theatre in the building. In 1977, the well known revue, "The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton Island," had its first performances in this building.
In 1980, the School of Crafts moved in and continues to occupy a portion of the building as the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. In 1982, the building was purchased by the Old Sydney Society in order to secure both the preservation of the building and its function as a multi-purpose cultural centre for the City of Sydney. As of 2007, the Lyceum remains home to the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, the Lyceum Museum, the Museum Shop, visiting exhibits and a small public stage.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 2, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Character-defining elements of the Lyceum include all those elements that convey the association of the building with the cultural development of the City of Sydney and industrial Cape Breton, as well as key elements of the Colonial Revival style, including
- three-storey pressed brick and firestone structure;
- rectangular symmetrical façade;
- foundation to entablature brick pilasters;
- two symmetrically placed entrances;
- rectangular transoms over entrances;
- ornate broken Tuscan style pediment with truncated paired pilasters over each entrance;
- symmetrically placed round windows;
- ground floor quoins;
- rounded keystone arch windows with eyebrows;
- any remaining interior structural elements relating to the use of the building as a theatre;
- location in the heart of Sydney.