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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Losing a Landmark: Hollis & Morris

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HALIFAX – On the southeast corner of Hollis Street and Morris Street, in the South End of Halifax, a historically-significant set of buildings characterize the area. During the 200+ years that it has stood on this storied site, it has housed a hotel, an all-boys private boarding school, a rooming house, a rumoured brothel, and in recent years, an affordable place to live downtown on a month-to-month lease.

Although some people have referred to the dilapidated grey building as an eyesore, even an ‘urban blight’ – there are many who regard this landmark with fondness. Differences of opinion aside, the building itself is as unique as they come. Every apartment is different from the last, equipped with century-old sinks, clawfoot tubs, brick and marble fireplaces, loft spaces, weathered wooden floors, grandiose arched doorways and quirky crawl spaces. Not to mention its most recognizable feature; the wrap-around verandah which serves as the focal point of interaction between the street and the building.

photographs by Scott Munn

Despite the fact that the town houses that line the opposite side of Morris Street are all registered Heritage properties (save one), the Victoria Apartments are not. In 1988, the buildings underwent an evaluation to see if they warranted heritage registration. Any building that received a score of 45 (based on a point system that considers age, architectural merit and historical value) is meant to be ‘recommended for Provincial registration’. All buildings except for 5142 Morris Street received scores over 45, but the properties were never registered.  This means that the building could legally be demolished at the property owner’s discretion.

photographs by Katie McKay

“They’ll be down by the end of the month”, Peter from Paramount Management told a group of photographers as he led them through the Victoria Apartment properties in mid-October. Time is running out for these buildings, but they are still standing. Rich in history and laden with cultural significance, the inevitable demolition of these near-heritage buildings is nigh. Or is it?

The Coast reported that there is an opportunity for one of the structures to be relocated if a space for it to be moved to can be found.  The building has historical ties to Charles Morris, the first General Surveyor of Lands for the province, responsible for laying out the streets of Halifax, Lunenburg and Charlottetown.  In a sense, Charles Morris was Atlantic Canada’s first urban planner; if you are ever wondering who to curse while pushing your bike up the dangerously steep hills in downtown Halifax, you found your man!

The new 10 story mixed-use development, the work of Dexel Development (developer), Breakhouse (design firm) and Michael Napier Architects, has been approved since mid-September. The proposed new development has faced some criticism by neighbours, concerned that the the new building does not properly complement nearby buildings. (I was particularly taken aback by the mention of the words “stone veneer” and “synthetic stucco” in the design plans! – see June report).

This area of town will change drastically over the years due to the construction of Nova Scotia Power’s Corporate offices and the Seaport Farmer’s Market, NSCAD’s new Port Campus, and the rejuvenation of Marginal road. There will surely be more people living and working in the area (the Hollis/Morris development contains 84 units and NSP’s new offices will accommodate 500 employees) once these developments become functional.

But what type of change will this influx of people bring about? Will trucks continue to barrel along Hollis Street? What will happen to the organic activity of the graffiti pit? How will bus routes accommodate the foreseen growth? With one less affordable place to live in the downtown area, will people like me still be around Halifax to find out?



  1. Thanks for posting the link to the video, Michael. Really cool. I was able to go back to the building the other day to take more photos… after all the sinks, bathtubs, banisters and fireplaces had been removed. Amazing.

    I really hope that I’ll be alerted of the demolition and able to document it as well.