Grafton Park is on the verge of being registered and protected as a Heritage site. The heritage public hearing on the registration is Tuesday, February 11 at 1:00 P.M at City Hall. (report here)
While keeping an open mind, I think this heritage registration is important. I also don’t want to mislead anyone… without substantial renovation and alteration the current library is hard for anyone else to use, and the mass graves under the site make it very hard to make major changes to the building.
At this point, I expect some folks reading are saying “mass graves? What?”
Grafton Park is the space between Grafton, Brunswick and Spring Garden and St David’s, and includes the site of the old library.
Grafton Park is a mass grave. Under the library, and under the lawn, are between 4,000 and 20,000 human remains, placed in what was once the Poor House burial ground.
Halifax started burying remains there in 1783, though there is some evidence it was the first Jewish burial ground before it became the Poor House ground.
It was transferred to the Province in 1853, and around that time burials stopped. In 1882 it was transferred back to the City of Halifax to be “held for the use and enjoyment of the citizens of Halifax as a public square or garden forever and for no other purposes what so ever.”
This whole area is full of burial grounds. Professor Jonathan Fowler at SMU calls the area the “Halifax Necropolis” because the old Methodist burial ground was to the north on Brunswick, the Catholic to the east under the parking lot by the Basilica, and the Anglican burial ground to the south of that, the historic and largely preserved “Old Burying Ground.” The reason that there are so many burial grounds here is this area was just south of the old town walls when Halifax was founded.
So how did the old library get to be built in Grafton Park? I guess in 1949 these things mattered less than they do today, so the city and the Province amended the deed to allow a public library or a park, and nothing else on that site.
Fast forward to 2014 – after much public consultation, more than 13 years of planning and two years of planning Halifax Central Library opened and the old library closed.
Over the last six years, a number of groups have explored reusing the library for different purposes. What is the hold-up? I think there are three big things:
- The mass grave issue was not fully understood or appreciated in 2013. Any plan to renovate, expand or replace the library building is hugely complicated by this, simply because digging down to put new footings or foundations risks disturbing the remains. Do we want to do that? Even if we do, that requires the remains found to be removed and reinterred at great expense.
- The building was designed as a library, so a lot of the space in the building is not really good for much else by today’s standards. For example, the 1960s expansion where the stacks used to have very little natural light, low ceilings, and poor ventilation.
- The deed says the building needs to be a park or a library, so any other change, even if a public use, requires provincial support.
Anything is possible, and certainly, the building is in moderate condition for its age and could be renovated, but so far no one has come to the table with a plan and funding.
It is important to note that the Council has never voted to sell this land, or direct staff to sell this land. All the various staff reports reference the 1882 grant and the 1949 amendment.
In fact, when HRM briefly looked to return the land to the Province for possible use as a business incubator (this was at the Province’s request) and when that did not pan out I moved a motion in 2017 to withdraw the offer to transfer to the Province and keep the land.
Halifax continues to work to identify a future use or tenant for the property, and failing that, to consider tearing down the building and keep the whole old Grafton Park as a park and memorial.
Once we agree as a community on the way forward, the park will be invested in (it is getting shabby) and at that point a memorial to the Poor House burial ground should be installed.
Below are all the motions and directions regarding Grafton Park going back to 2013, and links to all the staff reports if you want to go even deeper than this far too long blog.
February 11, 2020 – Heritage Hearing – same report as December 10 item, but motion will be to hold the heritage hearing and approve registration for Council’s consideration.
Report – https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/191210rc1531.pdf
December 10, 2019 Item 15.3.1 – Case H00469: Request to Include 5381 Spring Garden Road, Halifax in the Registry of Heritage Property for the Halifax Regional Municipality
Report – https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/191210rc1531.pdf
Minutes – https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/191210rc-mins.pdf
Motion: THAT Halifax Regional Council set a date for a heritage hearing to consider the inclusion of 5381 Spring Garden Road in the Registry of Heritage Property for the Halifax Regional Municipality, as shown on Map 1 of the staff report dated September 9, 2019, as a municipal heritage area under the Heritage Property Act.
November 13, 2018 –Memorial Library site – Item 16.2
Presentation – https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/181113rc162pres.pdf
DECLASSIFIED In Camera (In Private) Report – https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/181113rc162.pdf
Minutes – https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/181113rc-mins.pdf
Motion: THAT Halifax Regional Council:
1. Direct the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to develop a proposal for the reuse and redevelopment of the former Memorial Library building in partnership with the Province of Nova Scotia and Dalhousie University that would include a major redevelopment and repurposing of the building to include a public atrium, educational space, HRM premises, commercial and retail space. The proposal should include an analysis of both a P3 arrangement and an HRM design build own option; and
2. Return to Council with recommendations for further consideration.
August 15, 2017 – Notice of Motion – Councillor Mason – Item 18.2
Agenda – https://www.halifax.ca/city-hall/regional-council/august-15-2017-halifax-regional-council
Minutes – https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/170815rc-mins.pdf
September 5, 2017 – Motion Councillor Mason – Item 15.1
Agenda – https://www.halifax.ca/city-hall/regional-council/september-5-2017-halifax-regional-council
Minutes – https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-hall/regional-council/170905rc-mins.pdf
Motion: THAT Halifax Regional Council request a staff report regarding the former Memorial Library that will make recommendations regarding:
1. A formal withdrawal of the approval to return the land and building of the Memorial Library property to the Province of Nova Scotia.
2. Requesting the covenant with the Province of Nova Scotia restricting the property to park and library use be amended t\\o include “other public use”.
3. Implementing a process to explore HRM or other public use of the space.
4. In the event no appropriate use can be found proceed with the demolition of the library as approved by Council in March 2013.
March 31, 2015 – Item 11.2.1 – First Reading – Case 19516 – – Rezoning and Land Use By-law (LUB) Amendments – St. David’s Church Hall (1537 Brunswick Street) and portion of the former Halifax Memorial Library site, Halifax
DRC Report – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/150331ca1121i.pdf
HAC Report – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/150331ca1121ii.pdf
Minutes – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/c150331.pdf
Motion: That Halifax Regional Council give First Reading to the proposed amendments to the Downtown Halifax Land Use By-law to rezone the western portion of 1537 Brunswick Street and the northern portion of 5381 Spring Garden Road, Halifax from the ICO (Institutional, Cultural and Open Space) Zone to DH-1 (Downtown Halifax) Zone and amend the streetwall setback for 1537 Brunswick Street from 4 metres to between 0-1.5 metres, as contained in Attachment A of the staff report dated February 2, 2015, and schedule a public hearing.
April 28, 2015 – Item 9.1 – Public Hearing – Case 19516 – – Rezoning and Land Use By-law (LUB) Amendments – St. David’s Church Hall (1537 Brunswick Street) and portion of the former Halifax Memorial Library site, Halifax
DRC Report – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/150428ca91i.pdf
HAC Report – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/150428ca91ii.pdf
Staff Presentation – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/150428ca91pres.pdf
Minutes – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/c150428.pdf
Motion: That Halifax Regional Council adopt the proposed amendments to the Downtown Halifax Land Use By-law to rezone the western portion of 1537 Brunswick Street and the northern portion of 5381 Spring Garden Road, Halifax from the ICO (Institutional, Cultural and Open Space) Zone to DH-1 (Downtown Halifax) Zone and amend the streetwall setback for 1537 Brunswick Street from 4 metres to between 0-1.5 metres, as contained in Attachment A of the staff report dated February 2, 2015.
March 5, 2013 – Item 10.3.1 – Halifax Memorial Library/Grafton Park Property
Report – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/130305ca1031.PDF
Minutes – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/c130305.pdf
Motion: That Regional Council:
1. Declare the Memorial Library building, excluding the lands, surplus to municipal needs;
2. Direct staff to grant an Option Period ending December 16, 2013, to the Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs, to allow for the Assembly to develop potential
conditions of occupancy for the Memorial Library building;
3. Direct staff to advance alternative plans including the demolition of the Halifax Memorial Library and the restoration of the full site as a public park,
should the Assembly Agreement fail to produce agreeable terms; and defer sending a recommendation on demolition to Regional Council until after December 16, 2013.
December 10, 2013 – Item 11.1.7 – Halifax Memorial Library – Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs
Report – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/131210ca1117.pdf
Minutes – http://legacycontent.halifax.ca/council/agendasc/documents/c131210.pdf
Motion: That Halifax Regional Council authorizes an extension of the December 13, 2013 Option Period deadline to June 30, 2014. If the June 30 commitment is not met, staff will return to Council for direction.