The oldest official residence in Canada, Government House Halifax has served as the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia and hosted numerous members of the Royal Family, Heads of State and Heads of Government over its 220 year history.
Plans for Government House were commissioned by Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth and undertaken by Isaac Hildrith, who modeled the building on an English country estate. Hildrith borrowed from George Richardon’s “A Series of Designs for Country Seats.” Richardson had trained as a draftsman under Robert Adam – one of the most notable British architects of the Georgian period. Construction commenced on 11 September 1800 with the laying of the cornerstone by Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth. By the fall of 1805 Sir John and his consort Lady Wentworth took up residence in the building and since that time every Lieutenant Governor of the province has lived in Government House for all or part of their term as the Sovereign’s representative in the province.
The overall architectural style of Government House is Georgian – popular in England and the throughout the British Empire between 1720 and 1830. The building features classic Georgian design elements such as symmetrical windows, hipped rooflines and chimneys on either side of the home.
In the course of building Government House, most of the construction materials were assembled from across Nova Scotia. It was – and remains – a true, ceremonial home for Nova Scotia, built by Nova Scotians, for Nova Scotians.
The stone used to construct Government House was from Pictou, Antigonish, Cape Breton, Lunenburg, Lockeport, Bedford Basin, and the North West Arm. Wood came from the Annapolis Valley, Tatamagouche and Cornwallis. Sand was brought from Shelburne, Eastern Passage and McNamara’s Island. Bricks came from Dartmouth. Very few materials came from abroad, but among those, mahogany for the doors was sourced from Cuba and Belize, while Scottish slate was used for the roof.
Over its 220-year history, Government House has undergone several minor refurbishments. In the mid-19th century, chandeliers, cornices, mirrors and principal pieces of furniture were added. More recent updates have been dictated by pragmatic needs – lighting, communication, and fire protection and alarm systems. Nothing, however, was as extensive, nor as impressive as the three-year, $6.25-million renovation of Government House completed in November 2009.
Government House is truly a treasure for Nova Scotia and Canada. It remains one of the single-most important parts of our provincial and national history as the oldest consecutively occupied government residence, and one of the oldest such official residences in North America. Government House rivals the White House, in Washington D.C. for that title.
Government House has hosted more than a dozen Royal Visitors in 220 years, some several times. It was a command post during the 1917 Halifax explosion. Thousands of national and international dignitaries have walked across the threshold of the house.