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.
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.
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.
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.