Nova Scotia

Winning design for $130M Art Gallery of Nova Scotia pays homage to Mi'kmaq

The winning design for the new art gallery on the Halifax waterfront includes a peaked hat shape at the entrance of the building, reminiscent of the headdress worn by Mi'kmaw women.

'This is a symbol of a city and a symbol of people,' says architect Omar Gandhi

The planned $130-million Art Gallery of Nova Scotia will receive $100 million in funding from the federal and provincial governments. (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia/Twitter)

A symbol of Mi'kmaw culture will be front and centre when the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia opens on Halifax's waterfront in the coming years.

The winning design for the new $130-million gallery includes a peaked hat shape at the entrance of the building, reminiscent of the headdress worn by Mi'kmaw women.

Halifax architect Omar Gandhi said the team wanted to design a building that tells a story about where it is from.

"I think we did a really good job of taking that symbol, which really is unique to Mi'kmaw culture," he said.

"We chose to celebrate that. I think what will strike people and I hope they take away, is that something like this could happen here, and it was in part done by people from here, and it was to honour people that have always been here."

The design team, led by KPMB Architects, was one of three groups that submitted competing proposals for the new gallery. The winning proposal was the unanimous choice of an international jury.

The art gallery is expected to be completed in 2025. (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia/Twitter)

Mi'kmaw elder Lorraine Whitman was part of the design team, which also included Jordan Bennett Studio, Public Work and Transsolar.

"It is such a diverse province," said Whitman, who serves as president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.

"To know we are the first people and to be included in this project is so inspirational, and I truly feel humbled to be part of it."

An engineering firm specializing in storm water management was consulted as part of the design of the 142,000-square-foot building, which factored in storm surge and sea level rise due to climate change.

A harbour view of the planned new art gallery. (KPMB Architects)

The gallery will be slightly above ground level on Lower Water Street, with no subterranean spaces for displays.

"It's not going to be a bathtub down the road," said Gandhi.

Public consultations leading to a final design will begin in the new year.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia expects to break ground on the 1.6-hectare site in the fall of 2021, with the building completed in the spring of 2025.

The project is being funded with $70 million from the province, $30 million from the federal government and $30 million from an Art Gallery of Nova Scotia fundraising campaign.

Sobeys donating $10M

That got a big head start thanks to two Sobey family foundations — the Donald R. Sobey Foundation and the Sobey Foundation — which will donate $10 million toward the new gallery.

Speaking on behalf of the foundations, Rob Sobey said the family was happy to continue its contributions to the visual arts. It has long sponsored an annual artists award.

"The very fact that there is a great opportunity to do something as profound and exciting globally here in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada really struck a chord with us," he said.

Sobey acknowledged speculation in recent years that the family may donate its remarkable collection of paintings to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, but then gently dampened hopes.

"We actually took that off the table and we went down this route of monetary funding for the art gallery instead," he said.

"Now, you know, the future is unwritten. I don't want to put a pin in it, you know, maybe down the road."

'A symbol of a city'

For the design team, winning a commission like this presents a rare opportunity to transform a cityscape with a singular piece of architecture.

The most powerful example is architect Frank Gehry's gleaming and curvaceous Guggenheim Museum in the Spanish seaside city of Bilbao.

"I think it absolutely has as much, if not more, prospect of doing that," said Gandhi of the Halifax project. 

"I think it's much more deep and meaningful than just an extremely elaborate, beautiful building like Bilbao. This is a symbol of a city and a symbol of people."



Paul Withers


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.


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