Description of Historic Place
Fort Massey United Church is located on the corner of Queen and Tobin Streets in the south end of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Construction began on this Gothic Revival style church in 1870 and was completed in 1871. The church and property are included in the provincial designation.
Fort Massey United Church is valued for its historical associations with numerous Nova Scotians notable in the fields of education, business, government and the arts. The church is also valued for its association with architect David Stirling.
The cornerstone of Fort Massey was laid on June 25, 1870 and the church was officially opened on December 10, 1871. Fort Massey was erected as a Presbyterian house of worship, remaining so until Church Union in 1925 when it joined the United Church of Canada.
A substantial portion of the construction costs were raised by means of a "subscription list," as were many churches built in the Victorian era. The contributors or "subscribers" believed in the importance and necessity of building Fort Massey and were responsible for achieving its construction. Some of the original subscribers included politicians such as Hiram Blanchard, Premier of Nova Scotia in 1867; William Garvie, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Commissioner of Public Works; and Sir Robert Boak, President of the Legislative Council and Provincial Treasurer. Other noted subscribers included merchant William Robertson, proprietor of Robertson's Hardware (now part of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic) and President of the Union Bank; Andrew Muir, who had fought at the Battle of Trafalgar; and Captain J. Taylor Wood, grandson of American President Zachary Taylor. Other persons of note known to have worshiped here are Anna Leonowens and Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Fort Massey was designed by Scottish-born architect David Stirling. Immigrating to Newfoundland in 1847 and then moving to Halifax in 1850, Stirling was perhaps the most accomplished architect in mid-nineteenth century Nova Scotia.
Fort Massey is a skilfully designed example of Gothic Revival style architecture, executed in yellowish glazed brick, with red sandstone trim and fieldstone foundation. Perhaps the most dramatic architectural features are the tall spire, rising from an octagonal base, to the right of the front elevation; and the entrance treatment itself, incorporating three doors, set in pointed arched openings, the arches supported on Corinthian pilasters. The front entrance is surmounted by two large windows, also with pointed arches, and above these is a small rose window. The Gothic Revival style is reiterated in other window treatments, especially the clerestory windows, and the cruciform plan form. The interior also demonstrates various Gothic Revival style details, such as hammer-beam rafters rising from plaster corbels, the pointed arches separating nave from aisles, and the wonderfully worked gargoyles.
Fort Massey United Church sits atop a steep hill overlooking the south end of Halifax, a significant landmark within this part of the city. The hill originally formed part of the city's defenses, and was the site of a blockhouse called Fort Massey. The blockhouse was named after General Eyre Massey who was Commander-in-Chief at Halifax from 1776-1780.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property file, no. 212
Character-defining elements of Fort Massey United Church relate to its Gothic Revival style and include:
- large scale massing;
- yellowish glazed brick, with red sandstone trim construction;
- fieldstone foundation;
- tall spire rising from an octagonal base, to the right of the front elevation;
- front entrance incorporating three doors, set in pointed arched openings, the arches supported on Corinthian pilasters;
- front entrance surmounted by two large windows, also with pointed arches, and above these a small rose window;
- more than a dozen different window shapes used throughout;
- richly-carved ceiling braces supported by hammer-beams;
- clerestory windows;
- cruciform plan form.
Other character-defining elements of Fort Massey United Church include:
- location on former site of Fort Massey;
- Casavant organ.