An old house is seen on a sunny day. It's forest green, with white trim and cedar shingles. There's a complicated roof line, with a dormer, and a stepped peak over turret.
The house at 1245 Edward St. on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Photo: Zane Woodford

Neighbours are fighting to save an historic building on Dalhousie campus, but the university has already applied for demolition permit.

Peggy Walt started a petition this week, titled “Save Historic 1245 Edward Street, Halifax, NS from Dal’s wrecking ball.” It had gathered more than 4,000 signatures by noon on Thursday. Walt wrote, in part:

1245 Edward Street is a historically significant house to the people of Nova Scotia.  Its story is the story of Halifax. Originally part of a large property encompassing a farm, beautiful gardens and grounds, the house dates from 1897. With its gorgeous sweeping staircase, original fireplaces, unique architecture and distinctive roofline, it’s a home that’s been loved by generations of Nova Scotians. It’s connected to the family who built the property popularly known as the “Oland mansion” on Young Avenue, built by the German immigrant Hobrecker family (it was eventually sold to the Oland family).

Most recently, it was the Sapp family home, where Nova Scotians Susan and Melan Sapp raised seven children. After Mr. Sapp’s untimely death, Susan carried on looking after family, supporting them through running a nursery school and renting rooms to Dalhousie female students. For hundreds of people, Sapp’s Nursery School was a second home for their children and grandchildren, with home cooked meals and loving care.  Dozens of Dal students shared in the warmth of Mrs. Sapp’s home and food, and many family gatherings took place in the decades that she lived in her home, until almost age 100.  For many Nova Scotians and many who moved away or returned to their country of origin after studying at Dalhousie University and boarding with Mrs. Sapp, 1245 Edward Street represented home away from home.

Tenants lived in the house until Mrs. Sapp passed away in the summer of 2021, when the house was sold to Dalhousie.  Edward Street neighbours, worried about the university’s plans, have tried now for 10 months to receive answers from Dal about what they intend to do with the property. Dal owns a small three-story apartment building next door to 1245 Edward, which is a student residence. We worry that Dal’s plans are to encroach further into our residential neighbourhood, and tear everything down to build a new large residence. They have been evasive and non-responsive to date and their Facilities personnel refuse to meet with neighbours. They haven’t even emptied the contents including the family piano.

About 20 people came to a rally outside the house on Thursday.

“It’s gorgeous inside. It needs some TLC like every house, and every old house,” Walt said. “We think it’s wrong that the university wants to bulldoze a perfectly good building in the middle of a housing crisis.”

A black fireplace with ornate details is shown inside an old house. There's a grate in front of the fireplace, and multi-coloured tile on the floor in front. The tile is smashed. On the mantle there are two old clocks.
A fireplace in 1245 Edward St., seen in July 2021 before the property was sold. — Photo: Peggy Walt

The building was sold on July 30, 2021, according to the Property Valuation Services Corporation, for $1 million.

In a statement, Dalhousie University spokesperson Janet Bryson confirmed the university has applied for a demolition permit:

The university has assessed the internal and external conditions of 1245 Edward Street, together with the overall safety of the building, and has determined it is not suitable for the housing needs of our community. The building is not in liveable condition, with significant water damage, mould, and holes in the ceilings and floors. As such, the university has applied for a demolition permit through HRM. The property is not a designated heritage property. During the demolition, if safe and feasible, efforts will be made to salvage fixtures of characteristic quality.

Bryson wrote that Dalhousie purchased two other properties nearby on Henry Street as well, and they’re being rented out as student housing with an independent property management company.

A woman wearing a mask and sunglasses holds a sign on a residential city sidewalk. The sign includes photos of the home behind the woman, with the words, "Don't let block-busting Dal demolish this historic building."
A protester holds a sign at a rally in front of 1245 Edward St. in Halifax on Thursday. Photo: Zane Woodford

The university is updating its “multi-campus plan” this summer, Bryson said, and that will include public consultation on the “direction, principles, and ideas for the evolution of the campus.”

“As future plans progress for these properties, as part of Dalhousie’s update to our multi-campus plan, we will keep residents of the surrounding neighbourhood informed,” Bryson said.

Walt said the university hasn’t been communicating its plans.

“They’re quite evasive,” Walt said.

She believes the university wants to demolish this building and the brick apartment building next door, which it also owns, and build one larger structure.

A man wearing glasses and a short-sleeve plaid shirt speaks into a microphone on a sunny day. Behind him is a group of men, one holding a sign, and an old house. The house is forest green with white trim.
William Breckenridge speaks at a rally in front of 1245 Edward St. in Halifax on Thursday. Photo: Zane Woodford

William Breckenridge, a former member of Halifax regional council’s Heritage Advisory Committee, said on Thursday he’s applied to have the house designated as a heritage property, and the municipality has accepted the application.

“I got the letter officially just this morning,” Breckenridge said.

Breckenridge compared buying the house for the property to buying a Van Gogh for the frame. He said the smart thing to do would be to build a modern addition on the backside, noting it’s a big lot.

Based on the history of owners, the property’s age, and the building’s unique style, Breckenridge said he thinks the building would score up to 75 out of 100 points at the heritage committee.

So-called third-party registrations, where the owner of a property isn’t the applicant, aren’t the most common way for a home to get heritage status, but they do happen. Last year, council approved a heritage designation for a property on Spring Garden Road despite the owner’s strong objection. It’s less common for council to grant heritage status to a property when the developer has a demolition permit in hand.

Heritage registrations also don’t stop demolitions; they delay them. Under the provincial Heritage Property Act, an owner whose request to alter or demolish a heritage property is denied just has to wait three years.

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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. Tear down and build new. Seems so basic when creative ideas are needed. Halifax is losing it’s cool factor. Starting to look like every other city. I’d rather pass by buildings I know have history and can tell stories about what occurred in them.

  2. Lets see a large modern LEED certified building on the site…the inventory of mouldy hundred year old ‘historic’ heritage properties in Halifax is likely adequate.
    Heritage Committee members…I live in rural Nova scotia…come out here and fill your boots with mouldy old farm house properties. You could probably get 10 for the price of every one you buy in HRM and they’d even be a little older…and maybe a little more mouldy…

  3. It’s a shame that a bunch of NIMBYs are trying to make it more difficult and expensive for Dalhousie students to attend university by forcing them to compete with low wage earners for market accommodations.

    On the other hand, if we want to be a WORLD CLASS city, maybe we should meaningfully preserve our architectural heritage by building new buildings in classic styles rather than keeping a dwindling stock of old houses as museum pieces.

    1. Ever been to Edinburgh? I wonder if that city would have any charm without its extraordinary built heritage.