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Halifax’s old memorial library gets heritage status from regional council 

Since colonization the site has played a significant role in what’s now Halifax—and will stay that way for a while longer.

Architect Leslie Fairn’s proposal for the Halifax Memorial Library, circa 1948. HRM
  • Architect Leslie Fairn’s proposal for the Halifax Memorial Library, circa 1948. HRM

Grafton Park and the old Memorial Library beefed up their protections against being flattened in the future, as regional council approved heritage site status for the building and the entire property it sits on at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Grafton Street.

The designation as a heritage site—versus just a heritage property—means that all elements of the property, from the criss-cross pathways, the old wall surrounding it, the oft bird shit-covered statue of Churchill and the buried bodies beneath the ground will qualify under heritage protection, meant to protect and conserve buildings and sites that "reflect the rich heritage found throughout HRM." (Heritage status, it's worth noting, says nothing about building accessibility.)

Any concrete plans for the late-blooming neoclassical building designed by Leslie Fairn—who also designed Dalhousie's Killam library—are still quite in the air.

Technically the property is HRM's if it's used as a park and a library, which, since the construction of the new Central Library five years ago, has not been the case. The municipality and the province have been negotiating a new use for the land since the Central Library was built—a project with Dalhousie and the province to come up with a creative solution for the 69-year-old building and lot that meets the province's requirements is underway.

Regional council doesn't know what could come of the building, but councillor Waye Mason says any renovations would be difficult, so whatever goes in the space will have to keep within its bones, calling the building and park "an exceptionally important piece of public land and part of our city."

The next step for the property is an archeological examination of the grounds. There are an estimated 4,500 buried bodies on site, which from 1760-1869 was a poor asylum and burial ground. Then it's back to discussions with the province and Dalhousie about future use of the building, but ideas have been floated to use the space as an arts hub.

Correction: The original version of this story stated the Killam Library is sinking every year due to unacccounted-for book weight in the original design. This notion is hearsay, and unverified. The Coast regrets the error.

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