Nova Scotia

Dalhousie loses heritage fight, Victorian home in limbo

Dalhousie had an open demolition permit for1245 Edward Street in May when neighbours applied for heritage protection for the structure. Halifax Regional Council approved heritage status this week, leaving the future of the Victorian home unclear.

University failed to stop 1245 Edward Street from receiving a heritage designation

Dalhousie University opposed the designation of 1245 Edward Street as a heritage property, but lost the battle Tuesday during a meeting of Halifax regional council. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Dalhousie University has lost its bid to block the heritage designation of a home it owns near its Halifax campus this week and now has to decide what to do with it. 

The home, located at 1245 Edward Street, was the focus of neighbourhood controversy when the university obtained a demolition permit for it in early May. Shortly afterwards, neighbours applied for heritage designation.

In July, further controversy erupted when the city issued two stop-work notices and officials from the provincial Labour Department also visited the site. The city said the university performed exterior work on the house that was not permitted while a heritage application was pending. Dalhousie says it was merely removing mouldy materials from the interior, and remediating asbestos contamination. It vows to defeat the tickets in court if the city chooses to pursue them. 

The municipal heritage advisory committee held a special meeting later in July to consider the application for heritage designation on the property, which would extend its protection from demolition.

On Tuesday, regional council approved by a vote of 13-4 a motion from the advisory committee to include the home to Halifax's heritage registry. 

Home described as a 'failed structure'

Dalhousie bought the empty 124-year-old home in 2021. It was previously owned by a woman in her 90s who had lived in the building for "many, many years," said Dalhousie's external counsel Peter Rogers of McInnes Cooper during  a heritage hearing of Halifax regional council on Tuesday.

The university paid $1 million for the building which Dalhousie's engineering reports called a failed structure needing to be torn down. 

In an statement issued after the meeting, Dalhousie spokesperson Kristen Lipscombe said the university is trying to prepare for its future while still protecting valuable heritage sites.

Dalhousie University says neglect and water damage make 1245 Edward Street uneconomical to repair. (Dalhousie University)

"Dalhousie University remains committed to continuing to work with government staff on finding the right balance between preservation of our most iconic buildings and development that supports continued university and city growth," she wrote in an email.

Lipscombe added that the university is considering options for the structure in the wake of the council decision.

"In its current form, the building serves no practical purpose to the university."

Demolition permit issued earlier

Dalhousie was granted a demolition permit for the home on May 2, 2022, but a heritage property registration application landed eight days later, initiated by "Peggy and Shimon Walt, on behalf of a group of local residents," according to municipal records.

The advisory committee gave the property a total of 64 heritage points out of a possible 100, 50 points being the threshold to recommend heritage protection.

Dalhousie hired a heritage architect to reevaluate the ratings and produced a report with a score of 32, below the threshold for heritage preservation. 

Dalhousie University submitted images to show the empty home is derelict beyond repair. (Dalhousie University)

"Registering a property as a municipal heritage property can be done, we know that, without the owner's consent," Rogers told the hearing. "But just because it can be doesn't mean it should be. It doesn't mean it's wise to do it.

"Council should be especially wary of allowing third-party applications, as that can provide simply another forum for neighbours to oppose densification."

Eclectic Victorian-style house

The advisory committee noted the social standing of the original merchant owners, and the "Eclectic Victorian" style of architecture, which in this case merged two distinct 19th-century styles, making it a signature of historic design in both Canada and the United States.

Municipal staff pointed out Halifax's own city hall is a mix of no fewer than six Victorian styles, including Regency, Italianate, Gothic and Second Empire elements. 

Dalhousie wasn't buying it.

"This is considered a mongrel structure. It's not considered an exemplary structure of an architectural form," said Rogers.

Rogers said years of shoddy repairs and a roof that leaked "like a sieve" had left the building beyond saving.

The university spends tens of millions of dollars maintaining buildings that are worth the expense, he said, including its stone-clad Henry Hicks Academic Administration Building and other historic structures surrounding the campus quad. 

"Dalhousie's real historic buildings ... have been preserved with great commitment and pride at Dalhousie's expense," Rogers said. "With no heritage registration or subsidy, they help create the warm and scholarly atmosphere of Dalhousie Halifax campuses."

Councillors weigh in

Coun. Waye Mason, representing District 7, Halifax South Downtown, moved that council support the heritage application.

He thinks Dalhousie's structural concerns are overblown, offering to demonstrate how he repaired similar problems at his own home. 

"I'll bring my cold chisel, and my mallet, and my trowels, and I'll show you how I did my foundation. It took three days," he said. 

Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace of Disctrict 13, Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets, agreed that home's maintenance history was spotty.

"I wouldn't use the term mongrel, but I would certainly suggest that it's more of a 'Red Green' duct tape kind of approach to keeping things together," she said. (The Red Green Show is a Canadian TV comedy about haphazard home repair that ran in the 1990s and early 2000s.)

District 5 Coun. Sam Austin, from Dartmouth Centre, says the same list of issues would doom his house, too. 

"As I was looking at some of the photos, I was thinking, 'Jeez I better go get the bulldozer for my own property,'" he said, "I've got rotten windowsills on the front, and my foundation has got some flaws in it as well. This is the nature of old properties.

"This property could be brought back if there was a will and a want to do that," Austin said. 

Future unclear

While the building has been saved from demolition — for now — it hasn't been saved from falling into further disrepair.

HRM senior heritage planner Seamus McGreal says a "weaknesses" in the Heritage Property Act means the municipality can't force owners to take care of their heritage buildings. 

"While the building is registered, there is no obligation to retain the building's condition or to maintain it in any way," he said.

McGreal says Dalhousie could apply for a new demolition permit of the heritage property which would trigger public hearings. 

He says the university could also proceed with demolition under its initial permit after waiting three years as stipulated under the Heritage Property Act. 


Jack Julian


Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian


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