Historic Saint Mary’s building faces an uncertain future

The new Teaching English as a Second Language building stands in a stark contrast to the old building next door. (Photo: Kenzie Colbourne)

Countless women and children have called this building home. The red-brick structure at 980 Tower Rd. on the Saint Mary’s University campus, once seen as a beacon of hope, sits empty.

It managed to thrive for over a century, but it might not survive the winter.

In August, Saint Mary’s announced that the former Teaching English as a Second Language building would be demolished. A new one opened next door.

After talk of demolition began, so did hope of keeping the building standing. Groups such as Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, the Federation of University Women and the Local Council of Women Halifax are trying to work with the school to save the building. They have delivered petitions to the university and opened discussions on what to do about the building.

The building, on the corner of Inglis Street and Tower Road, has played an important role in Halifax history and has been witness to much in the last 100 years.

It was originally the Halifax Infants’ Home, built from funds raised by women’s groups at the turn of the 20th century. Later, it became known as Bethany Home for unwed mothers and their children. Most recently, the building was used for teaching English at Saint Mary’s.

Linda Forbes, president of the Heritage Trust, says the building has historical significance for women’s groups and she would like to see it reused to reflect that history. She has been told the building is a good candidate for a National Historic Site due to its history and architecture. It is an important building because “it is one of only two representing the period when institutionalization was the means of meeting social needs,” says Forbes.

After meetings with Saint Mary’s, she was told that the school has stopped demolition.

The school released a statement in September saying that it would “continue to review potential uses” for the building, but “remedial work” would move forward to deal with “safety and security issues” within the building. Steve Proctor, manager of communications at Saint Mary’s, said more will be known about the future of the building this month.

The old library is now full of debris, including old toilets. The window frames have been removed along with the door belonging to the room. (Photo: Kenzie Colbourne)

Although demolition has been halted, Forbes has been told work is continuing and fixtures are still being taken from the building. She is unclear of the status of the building or its condition. She says it is only going to make any potential restoration more expensive – the more that comes out, the more money will have to go in.

Although it isn’t clear what is happening inside the building, work being done at 980 Tower Rd. suggests demolition is moving ahead.

The former library is full of debris, with bags and old light fixtures scattering the room. The floors are stripped to bare wood and a graveyard of doors has taken over the corner of one room. The only decorations are construction equipment, one lone picture and numbers that point to now-empty offices.

Damon Arsenault, who works on site for Affinity Contracting, says they are working on demolishing the building. He said that copper pipes, door and window frames, ceilings, floors and walls have all been taken out.

The school says all this work is in preparation for an assessment this month.



One thought on “Historic Saint Mary’s building faces an uncertain future

  1. Readers interested in helping to save this building can write to the members of the Board of Governors of Saint Mary’s University, c/o Dr. David Gauthier, Secretary of the Board, [email protected].

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