Nova Scotia's nomadic house on the move again
The Morris House -- known as Nova Scotia's nomadic house -- sits on the back of a truck as in this undated image. (Courtesy: The Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia)
Published Monday, July 2, 2012 7:35AM EDT
HALIFAX -- When one of Halifax's founders first built Morris House it was used as a surveyor's office.
From there it was passed down through generations before being relocated in the late 1800s to free up office space.
In the 20th century, it served first as a communal hub for emerging artists and later as a home for families in need of affordable housing.
It's exact age wasn't known until recently, but its historical significance was and in 2009, Morris House was saved from demolition by local heritage and environmental groups.
More than two centuries old and in need of extensive renovations, Morris House is being given a new purpose as affordable housing for young adults.
Kim Thompson of the Ecology Action Centre credits "the little house that could" with starting a new, and very necessary, conversation about the environment and affordable housing.
"A lot of people with different interests have come together and have had to have conversations, difficult conversations," Thompson said.
The focus is on how a centuries-old house in disrepair and slated for demolition could be turned into something tangible and how to reconcile the home's heritage value with the need to address social issues.
Thanks to the Ecology Action Centre, Metro Non-Profit Housing, the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, all levels of government and others, the idea of adaptive reuse is being put to the test with Halifax's own nomadic home.
Morris House has housed a wide range of Haligonians, but it has also seen plenty of the east coast city.
Built in one corner of Halifax, the house was moved 30 metres in 1898 to make way for a hotel expansion and another few blocks in 2009 to save it from demolition.
The building, currently sitting in a parking lot, is preparing for its third, and likely final, move to the corner of Charles and Creighton streets this fall.
But with narrow streets, more development and more power lines, the move will require a certain finesse.
Although it will bring Morris House's nomadic days to an end, it's putting a focus on a new type of housing for young people that Carol Charlobois, executive director of Metro Non-Profit Housing, said hasn't had much attention.
One of Morris House's unique features will be that it's not entirely staff run.
"One of the issues will be the value of this kind of housing that isn't custodial 1/8with 3/8 a lot of staff, a lot of control over young people," Charlobois said. "There should be a discussion about that model of housing."
She said the current plan for Morris House is to divide it into two units, with five people living in one and four in the other.
The logistics, the design, the rules and requirements for the young people who will live there, likely limited to between the ages of 19 and 24, are still being discussed.
The idea is to engage as many young people in the community as possible.
Students at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design will be involved with renovations and the building's future tenants will be partially responsible for narrowing down housing rules.
The earliest move in date is September 2013.
The one thing that won't change is the building's character.
"The bones are great," Thompson said. "It's a wonderful little testimony to how things were built at one time."
It's the bones that tell the story.
Historians knew the building was old, but exactly how old was only recently discovered.
Colin Laroque, director of the Mount Allison University's dendrochronology laboratory, was part of a team that used tree ring dating to figure out just how old Morris House really is.
The process takes several months of carefully measuring and comparing the small and wide rings on trees.
The process allowed Laroque and his colleagues to trace the home's history back to 1764, only 15 years after Halifax itself was created.
"The Morris House is a great example where a long time ago, before any sawmills, it wasn't dimensional wood, it wasn't like your classic two-by-four, it was axe-hewn," Laroque said. "You can see the construction techniques, see how these houses are put together."
For Thompson, the confirmation of Morris House's age is just another positive thing about the project.
"It's just exciting to know that all that's been corroborated and that it looks like it is the oldest wooden house in Halifax at least and one of the oldest in Atlantic Canada," she said.