A big red brick building is seen on a grey day. The photo is taken from a low, wide angle, and tree branches extend ominously from the top of the frame. Above the door to the building, the words "UNITED MEMORIAL CHURCH" are printed on a sign.
The former United Memorial Church on Kaye Street in Halifax is seen on Wednesday. — Photo: Zane Woodford

For the second time, council’s advisory committee recommended in favour of heritage registration for the former United Memorial Church on Wednesday.

But this time, the owner of the property on Kaye Street in North End Halifax is on board.

The former church was built in 1921 following the Halifax Explosion, replacing two nearby churches destroyed in the 1917 disaster. As heritage planner Seamus McGreal explains in a report to council’s Heritage Advisory Committee, the congregations of the Kaye Street Methodist Church and the Grove Presbyterian Church came together following the explosion, temporarily meeting in the same space at the corner of Young and Gottingen streets, known as the “tarpaper church.”

“Originally, the two congregations had separate ministers, but the groups got along well together,” McGreal wrote. “The decision was made that, rather than rebuilding two churches, they would unite into a single congregation, to be known as the United Memorial Church. The name change was officially recognized in June 1920 and preceded the establishment of the United Church of Canada by approximately four years.”

An old-timey black and white photo shows a big brick building, and several people in their Sunday best. There are a few early automobiles parked out front. There's a caption: "United Memorial Church shortly after completion, 1921 (NSARM)."
A photo from the staff report shows United Memorial Church in 1921.

The church is also significant for its architect, Andrew Cobb, who “designed many significant residential and institutional buildings throughout Atlantic Canada” — including the Dingle Tower (with Sydney Dumaresq), the Arts and Administration Building at the University of King’s College, and St. Andrew’s United Church on Coburg Road, a similar building.

Given the historic significance of the building, Gilles Deveau filed a heritage registration application on behalf of a group of local residents in 2018. At the time, the property owner, Tony Metlege, was hoping to demolish the former church and replace it with a planned seven-storey apartment building. Metlege opposed the heritage designation.

The Heritage Advisory Committee scored the proposal 51 out of 100 possible points, triggering a recommend to council to register the property. In June 2018, council voted 13-4 against the recommendation to register the property, siding with the developer’s argument that the building was beyond repair, and had already lost many of its defining architectural features.

The property seemed destined for redevelopment — there was even a demolition permit issued — but it never happened.

Last month, the property was sold to 5375 Kaye Developments Co. — a company owned by Dartmouth developer Bruno Elliot MacNeil, according to the registry of joint stocks. The sale price, according to Property Valuation Services Corporation, was $2.15 million.

Joseph Nickerson, MacNeil’s partner at Sidewalk Real Estate Development, applied for heritage registration.

“The property owner intends to preserve and rehabilitate the church as part of a new mixed-use development,” McGreal wrote in the staff report.

“The heritage registration will allow the owner to apply for a substantial alteration under the Heritage Property Act, and a development agreement under Policy CHR-7 of the Regional Centre Secondary Municipal Planning Strategy, which allows uses other than those allowed by the land use by-law.”

Under the Centre Plan, the property is zoned institutional, and it’s part of the proposed Historic Richmond and Hydrostone District.

“They want to do a creative adaptive reuse project for this church building,” McGreal told the committee.

Because it’s a new registration, the committee went through the full assessment process for the property during its virtual meeting on Wednesday. Using criteria including historical importance, significance of the architect, and architectural merit, the committee landed on a higher score than in 2018, 63 out of 100 points.

“When the two churches melded together, bringing together the United Church movement, I think it gives national prominence just for that, plus the explosion,” Coun David Hendsbee said in arguing for a top score for relationship to the surrounding area.

“In my opinion it’s the phoenix that rose out of the ashes, this building.”

The proposed registration will now go to Halifax regional council, which will schedule a heritage hearing to consider the application.

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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