Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia in the News

gif Posted gif 27-01-10

Teamwork key to innovation in HRM

By AARON MURNAGHAN, The Chronicle Herald


A watercolour by J.S. Clow,
circa 1840, shows the Morris office
and mansion as seen from Morris

Halifax’s future as a dynamic, unique and creative city looked a little brighter a few weeks ago, thanks to a small but proud house that was saved from seemingly inevitable destruction. The Morris Building, which housed the offices of one of Halifax’s founding fathers in the mid-1700s, is counted as one of the oldest buildings in the province, and remained unregistered under our embarrassingly impotent heritage legislation.

It took an unprecedented collaboration between developers, government, heritage and environmental organizations to save this building, and it very well could mark a drastic shift in the way developers and conservation groups do things in the city. This would mean huge benefits for our economy, our community and our environment.

A new condo project by Dexel Developments slated for the corner of Hollis and Morris streets meant the end for several historic buildings, including a mansion from the 1760s and an apartment building which some say helped to create the vibrant Halifax music scene of the early 1990s by housing several of that decade’s most notable musicians. Thanks to the complementary goals of two disparate organizations, however, one building was saved and that fact is unprecedented in Halifax history.

The Morris Building is currently sitting
on blocks in a downtown Halifax
parking lot near Lower Water Street.
(Christian Laforce / Staff)

Those two organizations were the Ecology Action Centre and the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, and their aim was to show that we can save our heritage and our environment by investing in and preserving our older buildings instead of gaining the scorn and ridicule of our descendants by wantonly destroying both.

By saving the Morris Building, a clear message has been sent that a different approach is possible. That new approach will bring with it economic, social and environmental benefits for the whole community. Through adaptive re-use and rehabilitation of our old buildings, we are creating new skilled labour opportunities and hundreds more jobs. Dollar for dollar, rehabilitation creates more jobs than new construction because it is more labour intensive. At the same time, it can also require far fewer materials and no demolition expenses.

By destroying our older buildings in favour of new development, we are not only cheating ourselves and future generations of Nova Scotians of their built heritage and the historic charm of their communities, but we are also contributing to the degradation of our land, air and water, as well as consuming large quantities of non-renewable resources.
The dialogue concerning development in Halifax needs to change if we are to truly grow and thrive as a community. The consistent conflict between supporters of heritage conservation and the pro-development crowd has continued unchanged for 40 years and has resulted in losses for both sides in the argument. By working together towards sustainability, a new common ground can be found.

A green economy is the way of the future, and adaptive re-use needs to enter the vocabulary of Halifax’s development community. All that is needed is some creativity and imagination on the part of developers, and a demand from citizens for conservation and re-use of our older buildings. Haligonians must come together to identify and protect those elements of our community and built environment that make us unique. Even HRM by Design, in all its imported wisdom, has failed to do this simple task correctly.

We as a city don’t know who we are or what we want and until we find the answers to both of those questions, our streetscapes and neighbourhoods will continue to suffer. That’s why that little house on Hollis Street represents so much hope for the future: It represents co-operation and unity across so many lines. Those of us who hold out hope for a new and more innovative direction for Halifax watch elatedly as the ideas for the future of this building and many more like it come pouring in.

Aaron Murnaghan is an urban planner who worked with Heritage Trust and Ecology Action Centre on the Morris Building project.

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