Province House, home to the Nova Scotia Legislature, has marked its bicentennial. The sandstone Palladian style structure is Canada’s oldest legislative building, originally serving as the seat of Nova Scotia’s colonial government prior to Confederation.
“So much of Nova Scotia as we know it today was shaped through the debates and legislation within these walls over the last 200 years. Province House is a central piece of our heritage, where history will continue to be made for many years to come,” Premier Stephen McNeil said during a commemorative ceremony earlier this week.
Architectural historian Harold Kalman suggests Nova Scotia Province House could be the closest example to “classic Palladian-Georgian design, particularly the version of the Palladianism seen in England in the second half of the eighteenth century” that can be found in Canada — making it a notable legacy for the relatively novice designers: the painting contractor, John Merrick; and masonry contractor, Richard Scott. “Neither had prior experience on a building of this scale,” Kalman reports in his mammoth compendium, A History of Canadian Architecture.
Charles Dickens was reportedly among the admirers of Province House, said to have called it “a gem of Georgian architecture” when he visited Halifax in 1842. Georgian influence is also reflected in the coat of arms of George III carved above the main entrance. The sandstone masonry was quarried in Nova Scotia, while other notable design features such as the interior iron staircase, doors, window surrounds and plaster mantels are believed to have been imported from Scotland.
Not atypical for large infrastructure projects, construction was delayed and went over-budget. About seven and half years elapsed between laying of the cornerstone in August 1811 and the official opening February 11, 1819. According to the Nova Scotia Legislature’s historical account, capital costs soared from the initial £20,000 estimate to £52,000.
Reasons cited for the overruns remain common in the 21st century, with one notable exception. Construction delays were attributed to a shortage of skilled trades, labour disputes and the war with the United States.
To mark the milestone anniversary, a free public concert series will be held in the Province House Red Chamber on four evenings this winter and spring. Space is limited to 60 attendees, with tickets distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
“As Speaker and elected member of the House of Assembly, the 200th anniversary of Province House is especially impactful,” asserted Speaker of the House of Assembly Kevin Murphy. “This occasion is the perfect opportunity for residents and visitors to Nova Scotia alike to feel more connected to this province, much of it which was built in this historic building.”