Photo: Servant's Annunciator
George Wright Mansion
(© 2017 Barry Copp)
Young Avenue is one of the most prestigious addresses in Nova Scotia. It is a boulevard-lined avenue with many turn of the century historic Victorian mansions setback from the street, on large lots comprising beautifully verdant manicured lawns, gardens and stately shade trees.
The Young Avenue district is bounded by Inglis Street to the north, Point Pleasant Drive to the south, McLean Street to the east and Tower Road to the far west.
In its early days, Young Avenue offered one of the first suburban-style refuges in the middle of an urban environment.
Many of these grande dames mansions of the late Victorian and Edwardian-era were designed by famous local and national well-known architects of the day. Their attention to detail is evident in the style of the homes. Designs ranging from the more common Queen Anne and Italianate, to Arts and Crafts, Spanish, Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, Classical Revival, Maritime Vernacular, Shingle and even Richardson Romanesque style architecture are to be found.
The exquisite craftsmanship that went into each of these beautiful homes is evident and now lost in the modern era. Early home elevators, Venetian windows, fanlights, slate roofs, the use of marble, stained glass and silk wallpaper can be found. Exotic woods were used, such as mahogany, American oak, maple, ebony and walnut.
The high-style Victorian house was about detail. Everything from wallpaper, to millwork, to lighting, all contributed to the detailed look. The Victorian home was about layering textures and tones, materials, wood, and fabrics to make the living spaces very sumptuous.
The who's who of the late 19th and early 20th century Nova Scotia lived at these addresses. Besides being pretty well fixed financially, in the Golden Age, many of these individuals were philanthropists and society benefactors for the greater good of their community.
Most of the homes had two to four servants - some living in the house. A number of the estates had stables and coachmen, then later, chauffeurs, to transport them to their businesses or events.
During the First and Second World Wars, many of the homes were expropriated by His Majesty The King for military purposes, i.e. officer's clubs, offices, etc. After the War, they were returned to their owners. The depression, war and the post-war economy led to expensive maintenance bills. Large families were no longer the norm, and a six or ten bedroom home slapped with exorbitant taxes made them almost impossible to afford. A number were made into rooming houses, flats or apartments during the 1950s and 60s. In the 1970s lots were divided, sold off, and smaller modern homes began to appear. Some mansions still retain apartments to this day despite a much better economy. Others have been restored to their former glory and converted back into private homes.
Since its construction, Young Avenue has been treated as a unique streetscape. An Act relating to Young Avenue in the City of Halifax, established in 1896 by the Provincial Legislature, proclaimed it desirable to “beautify said avenue… provided certain class and style of houses are built”. The Act set out provisions to ensure residential development of the street took place in a specific form.
In 1907, the Act was repealed but its provisions were moved into the 1907 Halifax City Charter. In the 1930s the Halifax City Charter included similar provisions to the provincial legislation, but also permitted the conversion of existing residences to a maximum of four residential units.
This legislation regulated the minimum cost, design, appearance and setbacks of the buildings, but did not regulate the size of lots. Given the significant cost of the buildings required by both the Act relating to Young Avenue and the early versions of the Halifax City Charter it is likely that the subdivision of these estates was not contemplated at that time. The provisions were removed from recent versions of the City Charter, thus paving the way for unexpected consequences.
Young Avenue remains a well-preserved example of a Victorian residential boulevard.
Photo: Ardnamara Exterior
(© 2016 Alan North)
An Act Relating to Young Avenue in the City of Halifax (including Amendments)
1896, 1899, & 1900