Nova Scotia

Work on historic Halifax house paused after neighbours raise concern

According to notices sent by the city, demolition work on the Edward Street house was being done without a permit. But Dalhousie University, which owns the house, says it does not consider the work to be demolition that requires a permit.

Dalhousie University owns the property, says it was only preparing to remove hazardous materials

An adult man wearing a neon yellow vest stands outside a two-storey green house.
Nova Scotia's occupational health and safety division visited the house on Edward Street on Tuesday. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Work on a historic Halifax house owned by Dalhousie University is on pause after the municipality issued two notices and Nova Scotia's occupational health and safety division visited the site Tuesday.

According to the notices sent by the city, demolition work on the Edward Street house was being done without a permit. Halifax's heritage advisory committee is scheduled to hold a special meeting Friday to discuss if the property should get a heritage designation, which protects properties from demolition.

"There's been no communication from the owners, Dalhousie, at all ... the guys showed up and it was obvious to us the permit hadn't been issued, so everybody on the street was pretty surprised they came and started," said Don Sinclair, who lives near the green, three-storey house.

Sinclair said work had been happening for days at the house, which dates back to the late 19th century. He said the city came by and gave a first notice of violation that stated work couldn't continue until a permit was in place, but the work continued.

Peggy Walt, an activist and volunteer with the citizens' group Development Options Halifax, said she was told crews were removing asbestos. But she said it was obvious more was happening than just that.

"When they started last week, I observed guys throwing stuff out the windows from the top floor. They were smashing wood, furniture, glass out of the windows, and there's a huge pile of rubble, mouldings, rubber, sinks, bathtubs, toilets just piled up in the backyard," Walt said.

A pile of wood next to the door of a house.
Piles of debris, including wood and furniture, could be seen outside the house. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

"This is after Dalhousie told us they would try to salvage some of the historic elements. Well, the mouldings are going in a landfill, I know that. So it's much more than getting ready for asbestos removal, I would say."

Prior to the work stopping at the house on Tuesday, a statement from Dalhousie University to CBC News indicated the university was carrying out work to prepare the site for the removal of hazardous materials. There was a sign on the door indicating it was asbestos. 

"Dalhousie is currently undertaking work in the interior of the building at 1245 Edward St. The work that is being completed is hazardous materials abatement, which includes the removal of wallboards," the statement read.

"Dalhousie is confident this work is being completed in a way that is compliant with health and safety regulations and ensures the safety of both on-site workers and neighbours. Dalhousie does not consider this work to be demolition requiring a permit."

Sinclair said learning about the asbestos removal has "caused concern" on the street.

"There's families here with young children and no notice had been given. And it didn't appear, to me at least, that any kind of containment had been provided in the initial work they were doing," he said.

A woman with shoulder-length hair and glasses wearing a blue shirt with a necklace.
Peggy Walt is hoping the house will get a heritage designation so it can be better protected in the future. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The university said someone from the province visited the house to address an electrical issue involving temporary power being supplied from an adjacent building.

"Power is needed during an abatement process to run fans that are used when active work is underway, to prevent asbestos from escaping," the statement from Dalhousie read. 

"The power was immediately unplugged and the house was sealed to ensure ongoing safety as the fans were no longer running. The abatement process has been halted until we can resupply a power source for the abatement process."

A spokesperson for the provincial Labour Department said most work on the house was being done in accordance with regulatory requirements, "however, the employer was not able to supply an engineer-certified demolition plan as required by the regulations." 

In an email, the department also noted occupational health and safety officers "identified concerns related to temporary electrical arrangements powering the ventilation at the site. As a result, the temporary electrical had to be removed, without ventilation all work is currently suspended."

The province's occupational health and safety division issued three orders as a result of the site visit.

Two men are standing next to each other wearing white hard hats.
Officers with the province at the site of the house. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The home is believed to have been built sometime between 1897 and 1898, according to a report the heritage advisory committee will review on Friday. The home has association with prominent Halifax families from the 19th and 20th centuries, including businessmen William McCulloch Boak and Rudolph Alexander Hobrecker.

According to HRM's website, the Heritage Property Program aims to conserve "buildings, streetscapes, sites, areas, and districts that reflect the rich heritage throughout the municipality." Significant changes to the exterior of a registered heritage property requires a review by the advisory committee.

"This was a beautiful, grand house when it was built in its day. Why not just wait and let the community do the review? See if the house does have historic merit and if it's going to be preserved," Walt said.

"What's the big rush? They want it out of sight, out of mind as soon as possible."

With files from Paul Palmeter

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