Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia / Projects / HRM Committee Projects /Moving the Former Offices of Charles Morris, Chief Surveyor

Projects - HRM Committee

• Protecting the Barrington Street Heritage Conservation District
• Moving the Former Offices of Charles Morris, Chief Surveyor
• Saving the Morris Building - Fundraising

Posted iconJanuary 21, 2013 icon

Jan 21/13 Press Release- The 4.5-Km, two-day journey of Morris House

Posted iconJanuary 17, 2013 icon

Moving the Morris House to Creighton Street planned for Jan 25, 2013

The Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia will soon be moving the 249-year old Morris House to a lot on Creighton Street in north-end Halifax. Once there, the heritage building will finally come to rest on a solid foundation and, along with an extension, will create an attractive, permanent and affordable home for nine contributing young adults.

Jan 17/13 Press Release - Morris House moving to Creighton Street on Jan 25


Route Map for the move of Morris House to Creighton Street on Jan 25.


Posted iconDecember 1, 2012 icon

Along with St. Paul's Church, the building housing the former offices of the Hon. Charles Morris is one of the four oldest buildings in the city.

The Morris Project -- A Community Collaboration

The importance of the Morris Project, both as a unique collaboration of four community organizations and as a socially, culturally and environmentally relevant project has generated excitement and interest and garnered wide spread support in the community.

Saving the Morris:

In December 2009 when demolishing the adjoining buildings, Dexel Developments transferred ownership of the Morris building to the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia and contributed the foregone demolition costs to moving the building. Pascal  Holdings and Imperial Parking permitted passage over their lands so that S. Rushton Construction could move the Morris to nearby lands owned by Nova Scotia Power which has hosted the building for the past three years and agreed to donate the labor to move the wires when the Morris moves to its new site. 

Support from Colleges and Universities:

The Nova Scotia Community College faculty and students have been involved from the earliest stages and provided a wide range of services: faculty members made the back of the building weather tight, a heritage carpentry student prepared an inventory of character defining elements and advice on the proposed move to the new site has been provided by a building management student and a member of the engineering faculty.

Saint Mary’s University faculty and students conducted a deed search and undertook a chemical analysis of the paint and finishes in the house.

Universite de Moncton and Mount Allison University faculty members completed a dendrochronology (tree–ring dating)  report on the building which definitively established the Morris as the oldest wooden house in Halifax.

Support from Professional individuals and Firms:


Click on poster for information on fundraising efforts for the Morris House Project.

Norman Schneiderman, City Street Realty provided professional advice on site selection and acquisition and the preparation of development documents. Patty Busby at Burst consulted on strategies and grant applications. Jost Architects, Ltd.  prepared preliminary floor plans of the Morris and the planned extension. Jerry MacNeil Architects created and donated a three-dimensional photo-rectified model of both the interior and exterior of the building. Servant, Dunbrack, McKenzie & MacDonald Ltd. donated surveys of the Charles Street lot and of the sills of the building.

National and International Exposure:

The photo-rectified models created by Jerry McNeil Architects were presented at a conference is Sweden. On a national level the dendrochronology report prepared at Mt. Allison and Universite de Moncton was reported in newpapers across Canada. The Morris project was presented to the National Heritage Conference in St. John’s, Newfoundalnd in 2010 by Aaron Murnaghan and Kim Thompson.

The Morris on the Move

The property at the corner of Creighton and Charles St. which will be the new home of the Morris was purchased by a local charitable foundation. A SEED grant from Canada Mortgage and Housing provided the funds for project development.

And Before the Morris Moves On…. Thanks to Trident Café and Booksellers for hosting ‘the book’ in which those checking the Morris for insurance purposes every 48 hours recorded observations. It’s been three years of in and out. Thanks for your patience.


In addition, the Morris project has tapped the resources of dozens of enthusiastic groups and individuals who have helped get us to this point and have shown a great willingness to take this project forward.  They have organized events, raised funds, contributed their talents and time in many areas, and provided untold support to the members of the Joint Action Group and their respective organizations in so many ways.  Thank You.






Posted iconDecember 1, 2012 icon

Architectural History of the Morris House

The Morris building is not only the oldest commercial building in Halifax, but undoubtedly one of the earliest office buildings in the country. Built about 1764 by Dennis Heffernan, the original configuration and style of the structure are very much intact. For example, there are slender corner pilasters and a truncated pitched roof, with molded cornice and returns. Not only are visible architectural details important, but the building contains construction methods, such as hand hewn joists and rare brick nogging, found only in our oldest buildings, like St. Paul’s Church.

These very early structures, with bricks between the framing timbers, were not only sturdy, but heavy. Unlike the usual wooden structures, the Morris House weighs 80 tons - a challenge for the movers! In the pioneer days of 18th-century Halifax, office buildings were not architecturally distinguishable from houses. For eighty years, four generations of the Morris family, a dynasty of Chief Surveyors of Nova Scotia, used the building as their office. The Morris family kept their bags of money in their office, because there were no bank buildings until 1825. The fact that this office building is house-like in style made it versatile enough to be used later in the 19th and 20th centuries as a residence.

In December 2009, the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia acquired the building to rescue it from demolition. Now in 2013, the Morris House is about to be moved again, along Water Street, up Sackville Street, past the Old Town Clock (built in 1802) to the north end, where it will be located next to Georgian-style houses on Creighton Street. This architectural heirloom, of great historical and architectural importance, deserves to be conserved and given a new use for the 21st century.


Posted iconDecember 20, 2009 icon

Relocating the former offices of Chief Surveyor Charles Morris to Nova Scotia Power Lands


Charles Morris' Office was moved half a block south.

A Coalition of Groups including Heritage Trust has been successful in arranging for the re-location of the building that, from 1777 to 1850, was the office of successive Chief Surveyors of Nova Scotia to Nova Scotia Power lands (on the same block). The moving of the building began on December 19, 2009 and was completed on December 21.

The Morris Office was moved half a block south. During the move it was discovered that there are hand hewn beams under the building. Some shingles and wall sheathing came off when the kitchen addition was removed. This revealed planks more than a foot wide, post and beam construction with brick nogging between the posts. The only other building we knew of in Halifax with this construction is St. Paul's Church, our oldest building, at 260 years. Both St. Paul's and the Morris office have Roman numerals on the beams. The evidence makes this one of the four oldest buildings in Halifax. This unique, simple Georgian building dating back to the mid 1700’s is of considerable historical importance.

In addition to its heritage value, the project has captured the attention of the environmental community as an opportunity to demonstrate how existing buildings can be repurposed through adaptive reuse, moving or deconstructing them.

The Ecology Action Centrehas created a Toolkit of resources to help inform building professionals, home owners and community groups about the advantages of these alternatives, and for ways to minimize the number of buildings going to our landfills. Relocating the Morris building provides us with an inspiring alternative to a demolition approach to property redevelopment.

It is truly remarkable that we still have a building standing that was owned and used by one of the founders of Halifax. Like any architectural heirloom of great historical importance, this building deserves to be repaired and protected for years to come.

Because of its connection with early science, technology and commerce, it is particularly appropriate that Nova Scotia Power has offered house this building on NSP land while a long term plan for its future evolves. The building is a symbol of Nova Scotia’s long tradition of technological excellence and demonstrates environmental leadership from HRM and the business community.

The following notes bring to light some of the reasons why we are excited about this building and the opportunities it represents.


Historical Notes Morris Office, 1273 Hollis Street

Judging by the age of the hand-hewn joists, this building was constructed about 1764, when the land was owned by Dennis Heffernan, a cooper. In 1777, the property was purchased by Charles Morris Junior, a surveyor.


Watercolour by R.D. Wilkie showing the Morris office in its original location at the corner of Morris and Hollis Streets, with the larger Morris family home to the east. (NSARM) The office building was moved south to its current location about 1895.

The Hon. Charles Morris was a Founding Father of Halifax. He laid out the original town of Halifax, and was the first Surveyor General of the colony. His son, Hon. Charles Morris II, became Surveyor General when his father died in 1781. In an inventory of his estate in 1802, he noted the cash “in chest in west room of office below stairs”. (There were no banks in Halifax until two decades later.) The chest contained 14 bags of money containing a total of 2,899 pounds. Morris also noted three more bags, with 250 pounds each, along with loose cash, in a box in the east chamber of the office. Surveying was a lucrative profession! The Morris family continued to practice surveying through at least four generations, Charles Morris, Charles Morris II, Charles Morris III (1759-1831), and John Spry Morris.

Dating back to the mid 1760’s the building has slender corner pilasters, a truncated pitched roof, and molded cornice and returns. On the south side of the roof there is an early Scottish dormer.

Inside there is a wooden Georgian mantelpiece, Georgian trim around doors and windows, a Georgian balustrade at the top of the stairs on the second floor, an early narrow staircase to the third floor, and wooden cornices under the plaster ceilings.

The Project

In September 2009, HRM Council approved a development agreement by Dexel Developments, for lands at the southeast corner of Morris and Hollis Streets, including the Victoria Hotel, the Ruhland House, and the Morris office. The buildings on the site have been replaced by a new ten storey apartment building with commercial space at street level.

At the public hearing, representatives of the Heritage Trust and Dexel Developments discussed the possibility of moving one or more of the buildings. Mr. Louis Lawen, on behalf of Dexel, expressed interest in the idea, and offered to contribute to the project by putting the cost of demolition towards the cost of moving them instead.

The Heritage Trust and the Ecology Action Centre looked for a site or sites to locate the buildings in the short and long term. Nova Scotia Power owns the property immediately to the east of the development site (5128 Morris Street on the attached map), as well as the property across Lower Water Street (1233 and 1223 Lower Water Street), where the company has converted a former power station into new, LEED certified, corporate offices.

The above map shows the historic buildings located at 1267-85 Hollis Street and 5142-4 Morris Street.  The Nova Scotia Power owned land can be identified on the map at 5128 Morris and 1233 and 1223 Lower Water Street.

Nova Scotia Power generously agreed to allow the Charles Morris’ office to be located on its land while a permanent home is sought. The location is the extreme southerly portion of the parcel labeled 5128 Morris Street on the map, adjacent to the office building at 5151 Terminal Road. The building was moved by cribs and shuffle.

City and provincial officials have been very supportive of the project. A city planner was seconded to the project and has been extremely helpful in expediting necessary permissions including Right of Way Services and Building Inspection, etc.


For more information, please contact:

Phil Pacey Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia Phil.Pacey@htns.ca , 494-3334, 237-1375, 422-8814

Kim Thompson Ecology Action Centre 442-0300 Download EAC's "Morris Street Backgrounder" PDF


Elizabeth Pacey, Georgian Halifax, Lancelot Press, Hantsport, 1987.

Maud Rosinski, Architects of Nova Scotia: a Biographical Dictionary 1605-1950, Province of Nova Scotia, Halifax, 1994.

Garry D. Shutlak, “The New Victoria Hotel”, The Griffin, Vol. 21, No. 1, p. 5, Halifax, 2002.

Jonathan Fowler, “New Research on the ‘Morris Building’ – May 2012”, The Griffin, Vol. 37, No. 2, p. 16, 2012


Photos : Liz MacDougall, Arthur Carter, Kim Thompson

Watercolour : Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management

Map : Halifax Regional Municipality