What did your home look like 75 years ago? How did it blend into the landscape around it? Are there any photos of Main Street in your town before the great fire of a century ago? Your local archives or museum, the long-time commercial photographer still operating in your community, and the vaults at the Nova Scotia Archives all provide outstanding visual and graphic resources for exploring Nova Scotia's built heritage.
The Documentary Art Collection at the Nova Scotia Archives includes oil paintings, watercolours, sketches, drawings, engravings and lithographs — i.e. any type of fine art that records ('documents') people, places and/or a way of life. The Photograph Collection includes ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, tintypes, black-and-white photographs, postcards and some colour photography (the latter technology is impermanent and therefore not 'archival'; we collect limited, representative samples only).
Probably the oldest photograph at the Nova Scotia Archives is an ambrotype taken in Liverpool sometime around 1860, showing Trinity Anglican Church, the old Sunday School House and the Public School. Photography caught on quickly in late 19th and early 20th century Nova Scotia; outstanding collections from commercial studios such as Joseph Rogers (Halifax), the Notman Studio (mainly Halifax), W.L. Bishop (mainly Dartmouth), W.H. Buckley (Guysborough), Paul Yates (Annapolis and Digby Co.) — plus amateur shutterbugs from all around the province — are available for you to explore at the Nova Scotia Archives or on our Website.
If you are visiting in person, the Photograph Card Catalogue and the Photograph Subject Binders provide the quickest access to the estimated 500,000 images in our holdings. These include any aspect of built heritage that you can imagine — community views, streetscapes, homes, churches, schools, public buildings, factories and industrial complexes, shops, stores and offices, railway stations, lighthouses and wharves... the list is endless.
One can sometimes locate photographs of buildings in collections not relating to built heritage at all. For example, records for the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation include photographs, organized by county, showing road and bridge construction and repair throughout the province in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. If a building or home stood next to the bridge or road... the structures may appear in one of the photographs.
Both documentary art and historical photographs can show additions or changes to buildings over time. The present Five Fisherman Restaurant on Argyle Street in Halifax is a good example. Joseph Partridge's painting of the 'National School at Halifax, NS' done about 1819, shows a building (far right) without dormers. By the time the Grand Parade wall was under construction in the 1880s, the building had acquired two five-sided Scottish dormers — a popular architectural feature in Victorian Halifax. The Victoria School of Art and Design occupied the same structure thirty years later, when pine coffins were stacked outside following the Halifax Explosion — one of the five-sided dormers is still clearly visible above the rooftop. The present building retains the dormers, but sometime over the last century they have become three-sided instead.
"The Citadel Hill, Showing Clock-Tower on the Glacis, Halifax"
Date: ca. 1887
Reference: W.D. O'DonnellNova Scotia Archives accession no. 1984-565
Argyle Street at the Corner of George Street, Halifax,
Date: [December 1917]
Photographer: W.G. MacLaughlan
Reference: Halifax Relief CommissionNova Scotia Archives accession no. 1976-166 no. 64
Launch of the Forest from the Churchill Shipyard, Hantsport, NS
Reference: Nova Scotia Archives Documentary Art Collection: 1979-147.66
"Trinity Anglican Church, Lpool. [sic], Old S.S. House, and Public School"
Reference: E.E.B. NicholsNova Scotia Archives accession no. 1995-20 no. 19
"Top of Burton's Hill", Five Corners, Dartmouth, NS
Reference: W.L. BishopNova Scotia Archives accession no. 1983-240 no. 20
Howe Hill, South Middleton Road, Annapolis Municipality
Date: ca. 1916
Reference: Department of TransportationNova Scotia Archives accession no. 1985-110 file 0078 no. 4
Nova Scotia Archives — https://archives.novascotia.ca/builtheritage/results/
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