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St. Mary's (1820-1830), Halifax: An Early Example of the Use of Gothic Revival Forms in Canada

J. Philip McAleer
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Vol. 45, No. 2 (Jun., 1986), pp. 134-147
DOI: 10.2307/990092
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/990092
Page Count: 14
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St. Mary's (1820-1830), Halifax: An Early Example of the Use of Gothic Revival Forms in Canada
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Abstract

Early Gothic Revival architecture in Canada, particularly from the period prior to the 1840s, when the influence of A. W. N. Pugin and the Ecclesiologists began to be felt, has been little studied. This paper reconstructs a lost monument-St. Mary's, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as erected 1820-1830-which may have been the first ambitious essay in the Gothic Revival style, especially as it apparently precedes by a few years the single and most famous monument of this time, the parish church of Notre-Dame in Montréal, itself often considered the starting point of the style in Canada. Although the exterior of St. Mary's was modest-essentially it was an exemplar of the rectangular box with "west" tower, definitively formulated by James Gibbs, and ubiquitous since the 1720s-with Gothic detailing replacing Baroque, the interior, known only from one watercolor and partly surviving today, is of greater interest. Divided into nave and aisles by piers of clustered shafts, the piers' form, plus plaster vaults and pointed arches, helped create an aura reminiscent of the Gothic period. The interior was dominated by the design of the sanctuary (now destroyed), where an unusual congregation of architectural forms suggests both the appearance of illusionistic architecture, with a possible connection to New York, and a further transformation of Baroque forms into their Gothic equivalents, with a possible connection to Québec City. Tenuous, circumstantial evidence will be provided to substantiate the plausibility of such sources. This paper also attempts to place St. Mary's in the context of the Gothic Revival in North America c. 1820-1830. As a result, it will be seen that its exterior, although without precedents in Canada, is typical of Gothic Revival churches of the period in the United States. By contrast, the interior design, especially of the sanctuary, suggests it was one of the more imaginative creations in either context. It therefore emerges as a more significant monument in the history of Canadian and North American architecture than heretofore suspected.

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