HALIFAX – A 249-year-old Halifax home climbed the steep slope of the city’s downtown at a walking pace early Saturday, successfully completing the first phase of a delicate journey to its fresh location and role.
Slated for demolition in 2009, the Morris House was saved by the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia — which bought the structure for one dollar and partnered with housing groups and the Ecology Action Centre to find it a new lot in the city’s north end.
By Sunday, it’s expected to be atop a fresh foundation. The grey-shingled, historic building is slated for renovation and will eventually become a home for nine young people who have experienced difficulties finding housing.
“We’ve imagined this for so long and to have it finally happen is just hard to believe,” said Phil Pacey, chair of the Halifax committee of the Heritage Trust.
A study by Mount Allison University has estimated that Morris House was built in 1764, just 15 years after the city was founded.
The researchers credit a cooper named Dennis Heffernan as the first owner, and say it was used as an office by four generations of the Morris family, a dynasty of chief surveyors of Nova Scotia.
Pacey said the house’s journey to preservation has been a lengthy one that has given the city’s heritage and environmental movements a common cause.
A committee that included the Ecology Action Centre, Metro Non-Profit Housing Association and the ARK youth centre partnered to raise $27,000 for the move, and to provide the new purpose as affordable housing, said Pacey.
“We know there’s a need for housing for young adults because we’ve often found that young people have taken shelter underneath the Morris building through the years,” he said, referring to the period when it was on raised steel girders awaiting a fresh location.
According to the Mount Allison University study, Morris House was constructed just after the Seven Years War in North America.
Pacey said that’s perhaps why it has such sturdy, brick walls, as the building was outside the wooden palisades and vulnerable to attack.
The thick brick within was noticed on Saturday, as the building crept up the steep slopes of Sackville Street. The moving company had two front-end loaders hook their buckets at the back of the trailer to give an added push.
The driver of a tractor-trailer towing the house tooted his horn after cresting the slope and turning onto Brunswick Street — where the house passed the historic clock tower of Citadel Hill.
“It’s the oldest house we ever moved. It was delicate,” said Sheldon Rushton, president of the moving firm.
Inside, bricks and mortar fill in the space between the wooden beams — a technique called brick nogging — making the structure far heavier than modern housing of similar dimensions.
“Not a brick out of place, nor anything else,” said Rushton, smiling, as the house rested on beams at 6 a.m.
Onlookers emerged from the Halifax Alehouse to roll video cameras, gawk and snap photos.
“Getting a building like that along the streets is an educational experience for me to watch,” said David Harrison, who skipped a night’s sleep.
“I wondered how they’d get that much weight up the hill. It’s amazing they were able to do it as easily as they did.”
Charlie Wilson emerged off the late shift at the Halifax Alehouse to view the last kilometre of the night.
“It was a privilege to see it,” he said. “It’s good to see them preserve history like that.”
At the back of the building, bright interior lights illuminated a dormer window and allowed him a view of the plastered walls as the building passed by.
Kim Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Ecology Action Centre, said the transit of the building is a good example of how heritage groups and environmentalists can work together.
She said one possibility for a planned renovation is to find ways to use the brick within as a heat-storage system.
“The house is a symbol of affordable housing and sustainability,” she said.
The last stage of the journey will occur early on Sunday, and will progress slowly as power crews temporarily remove overhead utility lines.
Pacey planned to get a few hours of rest, and then return to watch the completion of the journey.
“This is a distance for all of us to have walked … and it’s not much further to go,” he said.