An old green house is seen on a sunny day, with a pedestrian walking by on the sidewalk.
1322 Robie St. in July 2019. — Photo: Google Streetview

Halifax regional council’s Heritage Advisory Committee is recommending heritage registration for a Dalhousie University building on Robie Street.

During a virtual meeting on Wednesday, the committee scored the property 78 out of 100 points.

“Which is quite a high score, it’s the highest I recall for quite a while,” committee chair Patrick Connor said after tallying the numbers.

Based on the municipality’s evaluation criteria, municipal planner Jenny Lugar recommended a score of between 61 and 81 points in her report to the committee, which also detailed the history of the property.

Located near the corner of Robie Street and University Avenue, in what was known as the Robie Field subdivision, the building was constructed by Samuel Manners Brookfield in 1878. Brookfield also built the Dingle Tower, the Maritime Telephone and Telegraph Building on North Street, and Mount St. Vincent University.

The first owner of 1322 Robie St. was George Maclean, “the founding cashier of the first Merchant’s Bank (now known at the Royal Bank of Canada or RBC).” Maclean was later fired after “other founders of the Merchant Bank discovered that Maclean had been embezzling money upwards of $10,000.”

Reverend Thomas Watson Smith was the next owner, a minister of the Methodist Church, editor of the bi-weekly religious newspaper The Wesleyan, and a “notable abolitionist.” Smith wrote The Slave in Canada in 1899, “when contemporary historians were denying that a history of slavery in Canada existed,” Lugar noted.

The McAlpine family were the next owners, known for publishing the McAlpine’s Nova Scotia Directory.

“The value of the McAlpine’s Directories for historical research in Nova Scotia (and elsewhere in the Maritimes) cannot be overstated, as these directories indicate home addresses, names, and occupations, as well as advertising from local businesses, informing on both residential and commercial history,” Lugar wrote.

Those connections and the significance of the builder resulted in the property’s high score.

“The property has historical associations with several notable figures, including the McAlpine family who were instrumental in publishing business directories in Halifax during the late 19th Century. The building was constructed in 1878 in the Second Empire architectural style. Since being purchased by Dalhousie University in 1974 the building has been used as a residence and academic office space,” Lugar wrote.

Friends of the Halifax Common applied in April to have the building registered. Dalhousie University is opposed to the registration (as it is to all registrations of its buildings). At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Connor noted the committee received a letter of opposition from the university’s vice president of finance and administration, Gitta Kulczycki.

“She has sent a letter expressing Dalhousie’s the opposition to register the Robie Street property, and they’re looking to use that house, they hope, for much needed student housing,” Connor said.

If council follows the committee’s recommendation, it will schedule a heritage hearing to make a final decision, at which time Dalhousie will have a chance to make its case against registration.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. And why would Dalhousie believe that students can’t live in a registered heritage property? Or is that what the university really wants to do is tear down their heritage homes and build a large new residence? Let’s be honest, Dal, and start looking like you are part of the community, not separate from it. Do the right thing, and respect the heritage properties you’re lucky enough to own on campus. They can be repurposed, moved, restored and form part of the jewels of your campus.