A 125-year-old Edward Street house is officially a heritage property, and Dalhousie isn’t happy about it | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
HRM council demolished Dalhousie's team during the debate over the heritage status of this 125-year-old Dal-owned house on Edward Street.

A 125-year-old Edward Street house is officially a heritage property, and Dalhousie isn’t happy about it

Inside the 19th century home’s heated heritage hearing

Halifax Regional Council has saved a 125-year-old Edward Street house from Dalhousie University’s wrecking ball—for now. At Tuesday’s heated heritage hearing, councillors voted 13-4 to designate 1245 Edward Street as a heritage property. That being said, Dalhousie has no obligation to maintain the building and can still apply to demolish it—but the process to tear down a heritage property is much more difficult and includes public consultation. Alternatively, the university can just wait three years before calling in the bulldozer.

Dalhousie bought the Edward Street house back in 2021 after the death of its last owner, Susan Sapp, who ran a nursery school in the building and also rented rooms to Dal students for decades. Dal made its plans known to demolish the house in May, and a group of neighbours led by Peggy Walt fought to keep it standing. They held a rally in front of the building, started a petition that was signed by over 6,000 people and sent the city an application for heritage designation.

In July, the university began working on the house, which it said at the time was to prepare it for asbestos removal. The city sent Dal a violation notice and a stop-work order as it hadn’t received a demolition permit yet. Dalhousie finally got its permit on July 14, and the heritage advisory committee recommended the house for registration on July 15. The committee gave 1245 Edward Street a score of 64/100 based based on factors like age, architectural merit and historical significance—its main assets being that it was home to prominent Halifax families the Boaks and the Hobreckers, and is a rare architectural example of a mix between two Victorian styles: Second Empire and Queen Anne Revival. The committee’s recommendation protected the house until council could hold a heritage hearing.

That hearing took place on Tuesday, Oct. 18, and it was a doozy. Dalhousie arrived armed with a McInness Cooper lawyer, Peter Rogers; Gitta Kulczycki, the school’s vice-president of finance and administration; Laura Hynes Jenkins, Dal’s director of government relations; and a heritage evaluation report of its own from a hired heritage architect, Terry White.

Rogers pushed back hard against a heritage designation, calling the house a “mongrel” and a “failed structure,” and asking council to pay attention to the “poor stage of the building” as a slideshow played showing photos of the house’s varying states of disrepair. He says Dalhousie doesn’t have a “magic wand” to make the property useful.

White, Dal’s hired architect, gave the home a score of 34/100, nearly half of the heritage advisory committee’s score. That’s mostly because White took the interior of the building into account, whereas the city is only concerned with the exterior. White sees eclecticism, or the mix of architectural styles, as a negative—hence the mongrel comment. The city considers eclecticism of the Victorian variety to be an important part of Canadian heritage.

But much of Dalhousie’s argument centered around its dislike of the city’s registration process. Rogers says imposing heritage status on the house is an “extreme interference” of the property owner’s rights, that the city only wants to “pay lip service” to heritage by registering 1245 Edward Street, and that it was unfair of the committee to rush the meeting. “Dalhousie’s sense of unfairness has been magnified by what seems like an effort on the part of staff and committee members to fall all over themselves to award spurious, unwarranted heritage points,” Rogers says.

“There was nothing sneaky or wrongful about Dal’s demolition permit application or about what Dalhousie was doing on site,” he says, adding the city’s violation notice and stop-work order have “no merit” and the school plans to contest them. “It was openly removing mouldy and asbestos-contaminated building materials from inside the building while waiting issuance of a demolition permit, which it intended to apply for from the very moment it bought the property—this uninhabitable former boarding house.”

Multiple councillors took offense to Rogers’ comment that city staff and the committee were acting unfairly, or “scurrying around,” in councillor Waye Mason’s words. Mason pointed out that everything they did, including moving the date for the advisory committee’s meeting up and the property’s third-party application were all completely fine under the Heritage Property Act.

While Rogers argued the heritage designation was just another way for residents to oppose density, councillor David Hednsbee pointed out that, under current zoning, there’d be more opportunity to densify with a heritage property than a vacant lot.

A few councillors grilled the Dal team about what it plans to do with the property. Kulczycki, the finance and admin vice-president, was adamant the school had no plan at all for 1245 Edward, but thought owning the house could be valuable in the future. Councillor Shawn Cleary reminded her that half of Dalhousie’s money comes from taxes, and asked very pointedly: “Is that a wise thing to do with taxpayers’ money, is just to buy property and sit on it?” Kulczycki didn’t really have an answer.

Councillor Iona Stoddard reminded Dal’s representatives that there are grants available to restore heritage properties, and that it wouldn’t be too hard to fix up the building.

In the end, the building won its heritage designation 13- 4, with councillors Trish Purdy, Tony Mancini, Paul Russell and Tim Outhit voting against the designation. In a statement, a spokesperson for Dalhousie says the school is committed to “continuing to work with government staff on finding the right balance between preservation of our most iconic buildings and development that supports continued university and city growth,” and that it has no immediate plans for the property and needs to consider its options based on the heritage designation. “In its current form, the building serves no practical purpose to the university.”

About The Author

Kaija Jussinoja

Kaija Jussinoja is a news reporter at The Coast, where she covers the stories that make Halifax the weird and wonderful place we call home. She is originally from North Vancouver, BC and graduated from the University of King’s College in 2022. Jussinoja joined The Coast in May 2022 after interning at The Chronicle...

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