It took longer than expected, but interior renovations have begun in earnest at historic Morris House in Halifax, and the 253-year-old structure is now on track to house youth-at-risk by the end of the summer.
The oldest commercial building in Halifax, Morris House was built in 1764 as a home base for Nova Scotia's chief surveyors.
The building was slated for demolition until 2009, when the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia bought the structure and joined forces with a number of other organizations to move it to the corner of Creighton and Charles streets in north-end Halifax.
Couldn't agree on a plan
The plan was to renovate the building and turn it into affordable long-term housing for young adults, under the management of the Metro Non-Profit Housing Association.
Initially, it was hoped the building would be ready by the fall of 2014, but there were delays because members of the trust couldn't agree on how how to preserve the building.
"West of Quebec, this is the oldest thing in Canada. We didn't want to just get the chainsaw out and start messing around," said Andrew Murphy, vice-president of finance for the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.
The compromise was to completely cover the interior of the house — the walls, floors and ceilings — "for some future generation to uncover," Murphy said.
The hope is that somebody down the line will decide to turn the building into a museum.
In the meantime, the design consultant and builder for Morris House, Josh Collins, said the goal is to turn the building into a modern living space, while retaining some of the "grandeur" of the original.
The beauty of the historic design will make it easy, he said.
Large windows that let in lots of light and the high ceilings "are all things that make it an incredibly liveable space at any point in time," Collins said. For the youth who will live there, the "light and openness will really enable them to live a healthy life," he added.
At this point, the exterior of the building is almost complete.
Collins has installed a curving staircase leading up to the front door, and has poured the foundation for a large mud room at the back of the house. The rough plumbing has been installed and the electricians are booked to do the wiring.
The next step is to finish the kitchen and bathrooms, and put the plasterboard on the walls.
The plan is to add Plexiglass windows here and there to allow residents and visitors a glimpse of what will be hidden behind the walls.
Collins said they are called "truth windows," because "they show you the truth of what's there, instead of trying to just hide it."
Murphy said he is pleased the building has been saved. "This house is bullet-proof," he said, pointing to the stacked bricks — or brick "nogging" — that fill the spaces between the wooden beams in the original walls.
"It pre-dates Canada by 100 and something years, it pre-dates the United States, it survived the Halifax explosion and lived through the wars," he said. That makes it "well worth keeping."
Take an audio tour of the house here: