Description of Historic Place
St. Matthew’s Manse is a two-and-one-half-storey brick building on a stone basement located on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax. Displaying the Halifax House style with Second Empire and Georgian features, the building is located on a busy stretch of the street, just south of where it connects with Bishop Street. It is situated on a streetscape with other heritage properties. The designation extends to the building and the land it occupies.
St. Matthew’s Manse is valued for its association with St. Matthew’s Church, Rev. George Monro Grant and Rev. Robert Laing, the architecture firm of Stirling and Dewar and for its Halifax House style architectural features. It is also valued as a good example of adaptive re-use of a heritage building.
Rev. George Monro Grant was the first person to live in the manse when he became minister of St. Matthew’s Church in 1875, which was then St. Matthew's Presbyterian Church. It was the largest Presbyterian congregation in the Maritimes. Rev. Grant left the Maritimes in 1878 and become principal of Queen's University and College in Kingston, Ontario. He helped shape the university and rescued it from financial ruin in the 1890s. Rev. Grant also served as secretary to Sir Sandford Fleming during an expedition that surveyed potential trans-Canada railway routes. The establishment of this railway was instrumental in the formation of Canada.
Rev. Robert Laing became minister of St. Matthew’s in 1878. He lived in the house until his tenure with the church ended in 1891. A noted Maritime educator and devoted supporter of the arts, he founded the Halifax Ladies College and the Halifax Conservatory of Music in 1887, which promoted the advancement of musical knowledge throughout Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada.
The well-known firm of David Stirling and Andrew Dewar designed the building. Both men came from Scotland and were among several British architects drawn to Halifax by the prospect of significant commissions following devastating fires in 1857, 1860 and 1861. The fires had destroyed several blocks of early wooden buildings in the city centre and it was decided to rebuild the district in stone and brick. They designed many notable residential and commercial buildings in the region including Fort Massey Church, St. Paul’s Hall, the Halifax YMCA and the Masonic Hall in Halifax.
In 1920, the building was sold and converted into medical offices. In the 1970s, the interior of the building was restored by urban planning company E F Chatterton and Associates. They were the first firm to use a heritage building in Halifax’s south end for commercial office space. Today the building is the office of the Professional Engineers of Nova Scotia.
Architecturally, the building retains its original Halifax House style which combines Georgian and Second Empire influences. Unlike the elaborate Victorian houses that dominated this period, the house shows restrained detailing. Features of the Halifax House style include the home’s square elevation and proximity to the street, asymmetrical front entrance, three-bay façade, quoins, stringcourse and dormer windows. The first storey of most structures in this style is raised above the street level, which is the case with this building. Second Empire features include the slight bellcast Mansard roof and dormer windows that also show the Mansard roof style. A wide horizontal stringcourse between the first and second storeys and the corner quoins are typical Georgian decorations for this type of plain, understated building.
- HRM Planning and Development Services, St. Matthew’s Manse file.
Character-defining elements of St. Matthew’s Manse include:
- proximity to street;
- three-bay asymmetrical brick façade with stone foundation;
- slight bellcast Mansard roof with frieze, cornice and double brackets;
- two dormer windows in Mansard roof style with cornice;
- exterior entryway at basement level and first storey;
- string course between first and second storeys;
- granite corner quoins;
- brick arches above windows and entryway;
- tall narrow windows with granite window sills.