The Legislature

Mining built Nova Scotia!

Nova Scotia’s legislature met in several different places in its early days. In October 1758, it met in the courthouse at the corner of Argyle and Buckingham Streets, which is the current site of Scotia Square Mall. In winter 1758-59, it met at Walter Manning’s. It is unclear where it met from 1759-64, but it may have continued to meet at Mr. Manning’s. From 1765-89 it met at the Old Halifax Grammar School Building, on the northwest corner of Barrington and Sackville Streets. From 1789–1819, it met in Cochran’s Building, the present site of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia on the southeast corner of Hollis and George Streets.

Plans to build a permanent legislature, what we now call Province House, were discussed as early as the 1780s. However, building it was delayed when Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth demanded that a new Government House – a residence and office for him – be built. Government House’s construction started in September 1800 but its budget ran way over, from an estimated £10,500 to £30,000, placing a great strain on the colony, which only had 60,000 people at the time. Wentworth even took the land that had originally been purchased for the legislature, at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Barrington St.

Construction of the legislature finally began in 1811 on the site of the first governor’s residence in Halifax. The legislature opened in in 1819.

The building’s foundation is ironstone from the Dalhousie quarry on the Northwest Arm. The stone is 480 million years old and was a common building material in Halifax in the 1800s. It can still be seen in the Morse’s Tea building and others around Historic Properties. It oxidizes/rusts due to its high iron content. This can be seen in the pictures below from the legislature’s basement.

The legislature's exterior walls are tan sandstone from the Batte quarry in Wallace, Nova Scotia. The stone is 300 million years old and about 100,000 blocks of it were used. The legislature's exterior walls are up to 3 metres thick.

In 1985 the legislature was renovated. The Wallace sandstone was cleaned to its original colour so it could be inspected. 1700 stones were replaced with stones from the same quarry so they would match.

The legislature has flooring of marble and limestone, stones that are made of the shells and bones of sea creatures. When these animals die, their shells and skeletal debris accumulate as sediment at the bottom of bodies of water and are eventually turned into rock (limestone, chalk and marble) by heat and pressure. This process often creates fossils which can be seen in the legislature's floors.

The 1811 legislation that approved and funded the building of the legislature specified that Halifax painter and glazer, John Merrick, would design it. However, there is some question about whether Merrick designed the building or just used his business connections with the British to buy a design. Merrick is not known to have designed any other buildings and the legislature would have been quite an undertaking for a novice architect.

Merrick’s design for the legislature was chosen over that of master builder Richard Scott, who was chosen to oversee the construction of the legislature. An 1826 article in the Acadian Magazine said that Scott was the true architect, but no one knows for sure.

The Provincial Building, built in 1935, is immediately across Hollis Street from the legislature. The Provincial Building copied the legislature’s architecture for the sake of continuity – they are both made of sandstone from Wallace and have similar features – but an important difference between them is that the Provincial Building was built with granite courses at ground level because granite does not absorb or wick water, as sandstone can. The legislature has sandstone, which is porous, at ground level, but most buildings built after 1820 used courses of non-porous stone at ground level to prevent moisture problems.