Halifax artists transform heritage home

NSCAD graduates create artistic replica of Morris house with hopes of saving it


Artists' replica of the Morris house during Nocturne festival. (Photo: Erin Brohman)

The first time Halifax artist Charley Young saw the Morris house she saw hope.

The two-storey, 220-year-old house was supposed to be demolished last year but a handful of individuals were able to move it to safety.

The relocation reinforced Young's fascination with what she calls "our fleeting heritage," a theme that has compelled her to depict centuries-old buildings through installation artwork.

Young partnered with fellow Nova Scotia College of Art and Design graduate Sarah Haydon Roy to feature a black-and-white replica of the Morris house in this year's annual art festival Nocturne: Art at Night. During the production phase that lasted seven months, the artists became embedded in a campaign to save the building.

"Working with all these people who care so deeply about preserving these heritage sites made the art part worth it," says Young.

The NSCAD graduates called their piece Carbon Copy: The Charles Morris Project.

A piece of Halifax history

Morris was an army officer, city councillor and judge. He was appointed the first surveyor general of Nova Scotia in 1749, the year the city of Halifax was founded. He held the title for 32 years and plotted out the original plans for the city and province from his office, now known as the Morris house.

In their depiction of the building, Roy and Young hung fabric imprinted with textures of the house onto a 30-foot frame. When they lit lamps from inside the display, passersby on the evening of Oct. 16 witnessed a boarded-up house juxtaposed against its glowing incarnation.

Young says she wanted to convey her own nostalgia and feelings of loss for what was once inside the house.

"The city around this house changes, but it always stays the same," she says. "Our work just provides an interesting documentation of time."

The attention the artists brought to the project delighted Phil Pacey of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.

"A lot of what we now know of Nova Scotia was decided in this very building," he says.

Finding a home for heritage

The house sits on Hollis Street. It used to be located half a block north of its current location. Its fate was nearly sealed when Dexel Developments bought the land it was on for redevelopment.

At the request of the trust, the Ecology Action Centre and other organizations involved in saving the building, the developer agreed to transfer the cost of demolition to moving it instead. On Dec. 21, 2009, a day before it was supposed to be torn down, the house was lifted and transported via semi-truck to its current, but temporary spot.

Now the Morris house needs a permanent location and a permanent use, says Pacey.

Kim Thompson, project co-ordinator for the built environment at the Ecology Action Centre, says the building could serve many purposes, such as affordable housing, a museum or as a model to the community on ways to "live green."

The artists' depiction of the building is a perfect example of how it can be reused, says Thompson.

Young says it would be a shame if this important part of Halifax disappears.

"Heritage homes themselves are a work of art," she says. "Being able to shed light on a project like the Morris house through art is pretty powerful."


Comments on this story are now closed

Great article Erin. Many layers presented around what are complex issues. Will hopefully inspire readers to investigate.... Thank you. kim

Posted by Kim Thompson | Nov 17, 2021

Well done Erin. This meets the standard of anything I would expect to read written by a professional journalist in national magazine or newspaper. Technically, I particularly like your sentence and paragraph structuring - by varying the opening word in each sentence, it keeps the reader engaged. I can get the sense of the importance of this project, but also the larger issue of the destruction of our heritage in the name of "progress" - is it really progress? What differentiates the Old World from the New World? In my view, one of the feature elements is that preservation of history in the Old World that somehow often seems irrelevant in this New World. And that saddens me.

Posted by Brad Odsen | Nov 22, 2021