Description of Historic Place
Morse’s Teas is a six-storey brick and stone commercial property located on Hollis Street, in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. A landmark of the downtown, the large trapezoidal building is one of Halifax’s oldest commercial properties and is situated on the northern end of the block bounded by Hollis, Duke and Water Streets. The designation extends to the building and the land it occupies.
Morse’s Teas is valued for its association with early trade in Halifax, its associations to J.S. MacLean and J.E. Morse and Company Ltd. and for its Georgian architectural features. It is also valued as Canada’s first tea company and for its association with Halifax’s conservation awakening.
The building was constructed in 1841 for David & Edward Starr and Co. and served as a warehouse for several downtown businesses. It was known locally then as Jerusalem Warehouse, a name that hearkened back to when the site was occupied by the Jerusalem Coffee House. The coffee house had operated for nearly a century in the former residence of Thomas Saul, a British army agent from Lancashire, England. Saul’s house dated to 1753 but it was destroyed by fire in 1837. Many of the stones used in Morse’s Teas were salvaged from the ruined building.
In 1855, J.S. MacLean, a New York businessman, purchased the building and based his grocery store there. Importing products from overseas, his business specialized in tea, which he transported in small sailing vessels and horse-drawn wagons to communities throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Respected not only for his successful business, MacLean later became president of the Bank of Nova Scotia. After 30 years in business, he sold the building to another local merchant, Cyril H. Gorham, and in 1910, Gorham sold it to O.E. Smith, president of J.E. Morse and Company Ltd.
Under Smith’s direction, tea was blended, packaged and shipped to wholesalers and retailers, establishing the property as Canada’s first tea business. Most sales were to Atlantic Canada though tea was also shipped to destinations in the U.S. and West Indies. Beyond his business endeavours, Smith was also a philanthropist and donated sums of money to local hospitals and Dalhousie University. The building underwent several changes after sustaining damage from a fire in 1927: the loading doors were relocated from the north and east walls to the west side of the building, two additional storeys were constructed and the pitched roof was replaced with a flat roof.
The building remained in the Smith family until the late 1970s. In 1973, the building was threatened with demolition to make way for a proposed superhighway but Halifax City Council saved the building along with several other heritage structures in the vicinity. In 1989, Morse’s Teas became part of the campus for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). In 2004, a Toronto-based developer purchased the property.
Architecturally, Morse’s Teas has retained elements of the Georgian style, which include its symmetrical façade, six-over-six windows with quoins and stone and brick construction. It has maintained its original masonry, a feature also mirrored in other historic properties along Halifax’s waterfront. Built out of native ironstone with granite trim similar to other warehouse buildings in the area, the large rectangular building boasts similar unadorned construction techniques. It initially stood just four storeys tall, but two storeys were added following a fire in 1927. On the south side of the building, the outline of the former pitched roof is visible. The building is distinguished by its unusual trapezoidal footprint.
Source: HRM Planning and Development Services, Morse’s Teas file.
Character-defining elements of Morse’s Teas include:
- proximity to Halifax’s waterfront;
- original size and massing;
- trapezoidal footprint;
- six-bay symmetrical façade;
- flat roof;
- quoined corners on each wall;
- ironstone building with granite trim for the first four storeys;
- brick for the top two storeys;
- large Morse’s Teas signs of exposed brick lettering in parged sign bands, located between the fifth and sixth levels on the north and west sides;
- recessed, six-over-six windows;
- string course runs between the fourth and fifth storeys;
- windows on the bottom four storeys have granite lintels, lug sills and quoins;
- windows on levels five and six also include lintels and lug sills but lack quoins.