Dalhousie University's Henry Hicks building with its clock tower.
Dalhousie University’s Henry Hicks academic building in July, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont
Dalhousie University’s Henry Hicks academic building in July, 2021. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Council’s heritage committee is recommending the municipality start the process to register dozens of buildings on Halifax university campuses, but staff say Dalhousie doesn’t want its buildings on the list.

The Heritage Advisory Committee discussed the list of 42 potential heritage properties during a virtual meeting on Wednesday. Of those 42, 35 are on Dalhousie University campuses. The remaining buildings are split between the University of King’s College, Saint Mary’s University (SMU) and the Atlantic School of Theology (AST).

The list ranks 11 of the buildings as highest priority or most at-risk, all on Dalhousie campuses:

  1. Dalhousie College a.k.a. the Forrest Building (constructed 1887)
  2. Nova Scotia Technical College a.k.a. Ralph M. Medjuck Building Architecture (H) Building (constructed 1909-10)
  3. Science Building a.k.a. Chemistry Building (constructed 1913-15)
  4. Sexton House a.k.a. Sexton Administration Building (constructed 1914)
  5. MacDonald Memorial Library (constructed 1914-15)
  6. Provincial Archives Building a.k.a. Chase Building (constructed 1929-30)
  7. Public House Clinic a.k.a. Clinical Research Centre (constructed 1921-24)
  8. Shirreff Hall (constructed 1921)
  9. Medical Science Building a.k.a. Burbidge Building (constructed 1922-23)
  10. Arts Building a.k.a. University Club (constructed 1921-22)
  11. Dalhousie College Annex a.k.a. Dentistry Building (constructed 1921)

Of those 11, nine were designed by the same architect, Andrew Cobb. In total, Cobb designed 15 of the list of 42.

Other high-priority Dalhousie buildings just outside the top ranking include the Studley Gymnasium, the Mechanical Engineering Department Building, and the Henry Hicks Administration Building.

At the University of King’s College, the Cobb-designed Arts Administration Building, President’s Lodge, Chapel, and Dormitory make the list. As do the Theological College and its library at AST. At SMU, the McNally Building is listed.

Heritage planner Seamus McGreal told the committee staff worked to create the list following a council motion in 2019 seeking “an educational institutional heritage policy.”

“The mere ownership of a potential heritage building by an educational institution does not necessarily protect it from demolition,” McGreal told the committee.

And the committee should know.

Just last month it voted to recommend in favour of heritage registration for a Dalhousie-owned building on Edward Street. As the Halifax Examiner reported, the university sought and received a demolition permit for the home, built in 1897, even after local residents rallied to save it and applied to have it registered as a heritage property. Council voted to hold a heritage hearing for the building, and it’s scheduled for a September meeting, triggering a pause on demolition. The university is expected to oppose the registration, having argued the building doesn’t have “genuine heritage value.”

Dalhousie hasn’t been happy about the idea of registering its other buildings either, McGreal said, based on two meetings with Dal staff.

“They do maintain that Dalhousie is actively maintaining the public value of their campus buildings without heritage registration, and they requested that no Dalhousie building proceed to municipal heritage evaluation,” McGreal said.

King’s and the School of Theology were more receptive to the idea, although McGreal said King’s staff raised concerns about commemorating colonialist history, along with accessibility and energy efficiency standards. Municipal staff have yet to meet with SMU, McGreal said.

Committee member Lois Yorke worried about the optics of Dalhousie’s resistance to the idea, and sought to amend the motion before the committee to make it clear the heritage registrations would be a collaborative process.

“I do think that the need for collaboration between the city and the university concerned is an important aspect, both for public perception and for the partners here, the city, and the university. It’s not adversarial, it’s collaborative,” Yorke said.

The committee voted to add the words “collaborating as appropriate with a specific university” to the motion. It also voted in favour of an amendment from committee member David Atchison to ensure the lesser priority buildings were on equal footing in terms of consideration, arguing they’re more at risk than the high-profile ones.

The committee’s recommendation heads to council next, and if approved, each heritage registration would follow the usual process through the committee and up to council for approval.

Zane Woodford

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. Peggy’s made good points: What is the point of listing buildings when it seems Dal pays little or no attention. Also St Mary’s paid no attention to the building at the corner of Inglis and Tower Rd – which was once a hostel for unwed mothers. What’s going on — all the values the universities preach at their Graduation ceremonies are out the window when it comes to built heritage — or being a good neighbour.

  2. Why is Dalhousie not more interested in being good steward of the heritage buildings that it currently owns? They seem to have forgotten they are a public institution, not a private sector developer that thinks it owns city streets like Edward as part of their campus. Time for people to let the Board of Governors, provincial funders, and President Deep Saini know that Halifax values its built heritage and they need to get on board with doing their part. Enough is enough, Dal, stop demolition of important buildings with plenty of good use left in them. Start thinking about the history, sustainability and architecture that you teach your students and set a good example of preserving, restoring, readapting and reusing your current inventory. You are not above the law (which you also teach) and all these buildings should be registered and protected, particularly because you don’t seem to care.