Halifax Historical Buildings (Self Guided), Halifax

Between the impressive waterfront and colorful, bustling streets, Halifax is a picturesque city. Much of its fascinating history is duly reflected in the local architecture. There are a number of historical landmarks in Halifax, including the time-honored buildings, palaces, and churches, where you can learn much about its glorious past.

The presence of these historical locations is bound to make you want to go on a walk to soak up the scenery and dive into the rich history of the city. Here are some of the most important buildings not to miss:

Town Clock – arguably the most recognizable symbol of Halifax; completed in 1803 and commissioned by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.

City Hall – notable for being one of the oldest public buildings in Nova Scotia, constructed in 1890.

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia – housed in the historic Dominion Building of 1865; home to over 14,000 works of art, ranging from Nova Scotian folk art to Inuit stone carvings.

Nova Scotia House of Assembly – the longest serving legislative building in Canada, as well as Canada's oldest house of government, operational since 1819.

Church of Saint David – much valued for its historical and spiritual association with Methodism and the creation of the United Church in Canada, as well as with the talented and renowned architect, David Stirling.

Government House of Nova Scotia – the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, as well as that of the Canadian monarch.

If you set out to explore these and other interesting buildings in Halifax, with an in-depth historical information, we recommend that you take this self-guided walking tour for a truly wonderful trip!
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Halifax Historical Buildings Map

Guide Name: Halifax Historical Buildings
Guide Location: Canada » Halifax (See other walking tours in Halifax)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 Km or 1 Miles
Author: Cathy
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Town Clock
  • City Hall
  • St. Paul's Church
  • Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
  • Nova Scotia House of Assembly
  • Khyber Building
  • Church of Saint David
  • Saint Mary's Basilica
  • Saint Matthew's United Church
  • Government House of Nova Scotia
1
Town Clock

1) Town Clock

The Town Clock is arguably the most recognizable symbol of Halifax. It was commissioned by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. Construction of the clock was completed in 1803 following a design by architect Captain Fenwick of the Royal Engineers.

The clock tower is a four-story, octagonal structure atop a rectangular building. The clock itself is four-sided so that time can be seen from all angles. It has a 13-foot pendulum that strikes both hourly and quarterly. The tower housing the Town Clock has been used in the past as a guard room and as a residence for the clock caretaker.

The Town Clock has been in service since October 20, 1803.

The Town Clock was named a Classified Federal Heritage Building due to its historical and cultural importance to the region. It is also sometimes referred to as the Citadel Clock Tower or the Old Town Clock.

As a Halifax icon, the Town Clock has featured in many artworks, fictional and non-fictional accounts of Halifax. One among many is a depiction of the town clock as a character named Chimey in the popular children's television show Theodore Tugboat in late 1990s.
2
City Hall

2) City Hall

Halifax City Hall was built in 1890. It was originally built to replace the old courthouse and for other public use. Halifax City Hall is notable for being one of the oldest public buildings in Nova Scotia. With four floors and a seven-story clock tower, it is also one of the largest.

The city hall was designed by architect Edward Elliot in the Late-Victorian Eclectic architecture style. The city hall building was built from the timbers of the demolished Dalhousie University, granite and sandstone laid in the freestone masonry technique.

The building underwent a major refurbishment in 2011. Most of the exterior stone was replaced along with the heating and cooling system and the elevator shaft. It was also wired for modern technology.

Visitors to Halifax will find the city hall conveniently located near many of the city's main attractions. It is a close walk to many historic sites, dining establishments, shopping boutiques and the harbor.
3
St. Paul's Church

3) St. Paul's Church

St. Paul's Church is an evangelical Anglican church, that takes its name from Saul of Tarsus, commonly known as Saint Paul the Apostle, famous for his conversion while travelling to Damascus. Founded in 1749 (the same year as the Halifax colony), it is the oldest still-standing Anglican church in Canada. The building was begun in 1750 (making it the oldest surviving structure in the city of Halifax) and is based on the ground plan of the Gibbs' Marybone Chapel of St. Peter's, Vere Street in London, with later additions such as a larger tower.

Reverend William Tutty (1715-1754) opened St Paul's Church on September 2, 1750. With the creation of the Diocese of Nova Scotia in 1787, St. Paul's was given the Bishop's seat, making it the first Anglican cathedral outside of Great Britain. It served as the cathedral from 1787-1864. Saint Paul's has a royal pew, and many royal guests have visited, including the father of Queen Victoria, the Duke of Kent, and Princesses Michael, Margaret, Alexandra, and Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince William Henry in 1786 (later King William IV), Edward in 1860 (later King Edward VII), and Prince Edward in 1987.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

4) Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia was founded in 1908 as the Nova Scotia Museum of Fine Arts. In 1988 the gallery moved to the historic Dominion Building, built in 1865, designed by architects David Stirling and William Hay. The gallery expanded in 1998 to include several floors of the Provincial Building located just to the south of Dominion Building.

The two structures are separated by Ondaatje Court, a public space that besides being used for temporary exhibitions, contains several large permanent sculptures. Underneath the courtyard is a large underground exhibition room which connects the two buildings. The gallery has over 14000 works of art in its varied collection, ranging from Nova Scotian folk art to Inuit stone carvings.

One of the most popular attractions in the gallery is the restored former home of rural folk artist Maud Lewis. The home was moved from its original location near Digby, Nova Scotia, dismantled, restored, and reassembled in the South Gallery of the AGNS. Most of the home, including the doors, part of the windows, and the wallpaper, was painted for decoration by the artist herself. Many of Maud's paintings reside in the same room as her home. A gift shop, art store, and cafe are located off the main lobby.

Operation hours: Saturday to Wednesday : 10 am - 5 pm; Thursday, Friday: 10 am - 9 pm.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Nova Scotia House of Assembly

5) Nova Scotia House of Assembly

Province House in Halifax is the home of the Nova Scotia's elected legislative assembly, known officially as the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. The province legislature has met here every year since 1819, making it the longest serving legislative building in Canada, as well as Canada's oldest house of government.

Standing three storeys tall, the structure is considered to be one of the finest examples of classic British Palladian architecture in North America.

Province House was built on the same location as the previous Governor's House, erected by Edward Cornwallis (whose table still remains in the Province House bedroom) in 1749. Province House was opened for the first time on February 11, 1819. One of the smallest functioning legislatures in North America, it originally housed the executive, legislative and judicial functions of the colony, all under one roof.

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia held its sessions in the House (in what is today the legislative library). On January 20, 1842, English author Charles Dickens attended the opening of the Nova Scotia Legislature, saying that it was like looking at Westminster through the wrong end of a telescope. During 1848, Province House was the site for the first form of responsible government in the British Empire outside the United Kingdom.

Undergoing many renovations, from 1985 to 1994, the building's reopening was attended by Queen Elizabeth II. Province House was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996, in recognition of its status as the longest serving legislative building in Canada, and the role it played in the development of responsible government and freedom of the press in the country.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Khyber Building

6) Khyber Building

The Khyber Building is a three-story multipurpose edifice owned by the Halifax Regional Municipality, and is a registered Historical Property. Until 2014, it was operated as an artist-run centre, public art gallery and social space by Khyber Arts Society (charitable organization), which has since moved to another location.

The property was originally erected as The Church of England Institute in 1888. It was designed by architect Henry Busch in the Victorian style, with Gothic Revival features.

The Arts Centre Project Society occupied the building, established then as an art centre by City Council, from 1994 on a month-to-month lease. In 1997, the Khyber Arts Society signed a five-year renewable lease with the City to occupy the premises.

In 1998, the Khyber Club opened as a gallery space for contemporary art, a meeting place for the visual arts community and as a venue for Halifax's emerging music scene, catering to Canadian recording artists. In April 2014, Halifax Regional Municipality closed the property due to evidence of hazardous materials.
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
Church of Saint David

7) Church of Saint David

The Church of Saint David was born in 1925, when the Presbyterians leased and then purchased the former Grafton Street Methodist Church as their congregational home. The building stands atop a hill on Grafton Street, over and in the midst of the Old Methodist Burying Ground of Halifax, which is one of the most sacred sites of Maritime Methodism. Much valued for its historical and spiritual association with Methodism and the creation of the United Church in Canada, the place is also valued for its association with the talented and renowned architect, David Stirling.

Born in Scotland and immigrated to Canada about 1847, Stirling created many a building in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Ontario prior to designing the Grafton Street Church, in 1865. The latter was built in 1868-1869 (opened on November 7, 1869) on the site of an earlier, wooden church, erected in 1852 and burned down on February 23, 1868, leaving a small cemetery that still exists.

Designed in the Victorian Gothic (aka Early English or English College Chapel) style, Sterling's creation is a rare, if not unique, example of such architecture, constructed in brick in the province. It is more typical of Stirling's later Gothic-Revival style churches than his earlier ones; Grafton Street is the older of Stirling's two surviving Halifax churches.

The building is highlighted by its great front gable with tall Gothic buttresses and five detailed finials that project above the roof line. Most notably, the church was built without a steeple. Still, its front façade is quite striking and dominates the block.

Initially named simply the Presbyterian Church, the temple was renamed in 1930 in honor of the saintly King David I of Scotland, who reigned from 1124 to 1153.
8
Saint Mary's Basilica

8) Saint Mary's Basilica

St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica is a Catholic cathedral in downtown Halifax. It is the largest Catholic church of the Archdiocese of Halifax. Though consecrated in 1899, it was made a basilica in 1950.

Construction of the original cathedral began in 1784 when laws forbidding Catholic worship in the region were repealed. The land was purchased and a wooden cathedral, then called Saint Peter's, was built. The current stone structure replaced the wooden building in 1820.

St. Mary's was expanded in 1869. The facade was changed into a Norman-Gothic architectural style designed by Patrick Keely. This was when the spire was added to the building. St. Mary's is noted for having the tallest granite spire in North America.

On 6 December 1917, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo outside of Halifax Harbor caused a massive explosion. The event is known as the Halifax Explosion. The interior of the cathedral suffered great damage during the explosion. Most of the cathedral's stained glass windows were shattered and some of the bells were cracked. Renovations have repaired the windows and restored the bells to their previous grandeur.

St. Mary's is open during mass times to those who wish to take part in worship. Weekday masses take place from Monday through Friday at 12:15 PM. Sunday masses are at 8 AM, 10:30 AM and 5 PM.
9
Saint Matthew's United Church

9) Saint Matthew's United Church

St. Matthew's United Church was founded at the same time as the original colony in 1749 as a home for the various groups of Protestants who did not follow the Church of England. It originally met Sunday afternoons in St. Paul's Church, the Church of England building completed in 1750. The church got its own home in 1754 when a church was constructed at Hollis and Prince Streets. This building was destroyed by fire in 1857, and a new church was built at the current location at 1479 Barrington Street.

The church was originally an amalgam of various dissenting Protestant groups with it mostly being a mix of Scottish Presbyterians and Puritan Congregationalists from the American colonies. Over the course of the 19th century the number of Presbyterians gradually increased and they came to dominate the church.
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
Government House of Nova Scotia

10) Government House of Nova Scotia

Government House of Nova Scotia is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, as well as that in Halifax of the Canadian monarch. Unlike other provincial Government Houses in Canada, this gives Nova Scotia's royal residence a prominent urban setting, though it is still surrounded by gardens.

Government House's overall style is one of Georgian with hints of Adam, elements of the main and rear facades having been taken from a book of house plans published in 1795 by George Richardson, a former employee of Robert and James Adam. Many of the materials, however, were acquired locally; the stone came from Antigonish, Bedford Basin, Cape Breton, Lockeport, Lunenburg, and Pictou, brick from Dartmouth, and pine from the Annapolis Valley, Cornwallis, and Tatamagouche. Imported materials came from New Brunswick, Newfoundland, England, and Scotland; notably, the marble fireplace mantles were made in London. These adorned an interior arranged for both entertaining and state business, including a drawing room, dining room, and ballroom for formal entertaining, as well a suite for the Governor, his family, and servants. At the time, Nova Scotia had no equal in design and decoration.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Halifax, Canada

Create Your Own Walk in Halifax

Create Your Own Walk in Halifax

Creating your own self-guided walk in Halifax is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Halifax Introduction Walking Tour

Halifax Introduction Walking Tour

Halifax is located on the ancestral lands of the Mi'kmaq who lived in the area long before Europeans arrived. Mi'kmaq called the area "Great Harbor". The city itself was established by the British in 1749 in violation of treaties with the Mi'kmaq. The establishment of the city led to Father le Loutre's War, otherwise known as the Anglo-Micmac War.

General Edward...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles