$130M renovation will restore the North Park Armoury, 'the poppy on the lapel of Halifax'

An ambitious $130-million, seven-year rehabilitation of the historic North Park Armoury — dubbed "the poppy on the lapel of Halifax" — is getting underway.

1st phase of the project will rebuild the west wall, damaged in the 1917 Halifax Explosion

The scope of construction includes cosmetic and structural improvements to the Halifax Armoury's west wall. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

An ambitious $130-million, seven-year rehabilitation of the historic Halifax North Park Armoury is getting underway.

The Ottawa-led project will ensure the landmark — dubbed "the poppy on the lapel of Halifax" — survives for another century or more, according to project managers.

"This building is a monument to remembering all those who have gone before and those who will come in the future. So it is like a poppy in our lapel," said Rosanne Howes, the project manager with the Department of National Defence.

Job No. 1: Fix damage from Halifax Explosion

The first phase will rebuild the armoury's west wall, which faces the Halifax Common on North Park Street.

Officials believe it has slowly been tilting outward since the building was damaged — and later quickly repaired — in the Halifax Explosion.

The tilt in armoury's west wall is shown in orange, at top, in this LIDAR image. (Public Service and Procurement Canada)

Cables were bolted to the wall as part of the temporary repair but recently the lean has been increasing as the building ages.

"Remediation was done at the time to hold it back but the mortar is washing out: the stone is loose. So we are renovating that wall first," Howes said in an interview, speaking from Ottawa.

Kijiji ad helped find sandstone

The red sandstone facade, along with the brick behind it, will be taken down to the foundation and rebuilt.

About 120 tonnes of new sandstone will be required. But a challenge arose in searching for sandstone that matched.

The original Cumberland County quarry in northern Nova Scotia that provided the stone in the 1890s is long gone.

But thanks to a Kijiji ad for a canoe, Procurement Canada was able to find a vein for the original sandstone.

Project manager Rosanne Howes is shown with Fred Pellerin, of Atlantic Flagstone, at a quarry that's been set up in Beckwith, just north of Oxford, N.S. (Public Service and Procurement Canada)

In the background of one of the online ad's photographs, taken on River Philip, was a large, characteristically red sandstone block.

"That's how we came to determine the whole area was providing different kinds of stones and industry-type capabilities," Howes said. "They would be put on a barge and sent up River Philip, and possibly to the Pugwash stone yard that was mentioned in the original [1890s] records."

Fredericton-based Atlantic Flagstone has set up a quarry just north of Oxford, N.S., to supply the first two phases of the rehabilitation project.

Heritage good for business

The rebuilding of the west wall facade is expected to be complete by October 2019, with the other three walls, roof and interior work ready by 2025.

Chief Dominion Architect Thomas Fuller designed the Halifax North Park Armoury, which was built in 1899. (Public Service and Procurement Canada)
The project is proof that heritage can be good for the economy, said Peggy Cunningham, with the Nova Scotia Heritage Trust.

"We wouldn't have this 130-million-plus dollars coming into Halifax if we didn't have the military and federal government investing in maintaining this wonderful structure," she said.

Built in 1899, the Halifax North Park Armoury was at the time the largest uninterrupted space — without columns — in Canada.

It is home to the Princess Louise Fusiliers, an infantry regiment which traces its roots back to a Halifax militia in 1749, when the city was founded.

With its towering turrets, the castle-like Armoury was seen as the crowning achievement of Chief Dominion Architect Thomas Fuller.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.