A Blupete Biography Page

A Georgian Structure in the Wilderness , Part 10 to the Life & Works of
Sir John Wentworth

The competition between those at Halifax and those in the remote rural areas (Colchester and Pictou districts) necessitated, as far as those at Halifax were concerned to "fix" the capital at Halifax, and what better way then the building of a big government building at Halifax. Except for the governor's residence, which had been built in 1758 on the spot where today the legislative building stands, there were no government buildings in Halifax. The legislators assembled in rented premises as did the justices in the courts.34 The suggestion was made that the governor could stand better accommodations. Sir Adams Archibald, one of Wentworth's biographers, explains:
"... the Government House in which Sir John resided, and which stood in the square now occupied by the Province Building, had got into great disrepair. It had been built of green wood. The frame stood on the original rock, no cellar had been dug, and the site had never been drained. The house was damp and wet and was very unwholesome. Sir John's health was suffering. He had at that time it is true a house of his own some six miles from Halifax, situated on the western shore of Bedford Basin, but the distance made it inconvenient, and besides the house was then in possession of Prince Edward, who had built an extensive establishment on the spot. Under any circumstances the house was private property and what was required was an official residence for the use of the Governor of the day."35
On July 10th, 1797, commissioners were appointed to determine upon a proper site for a government building, in fact two buildings -- one as the residence of the governor, Government House, and the other in which the legislature would meet, Province House. The commissioners were to make their report to the House. There then followed rancorous debate. Tonge in his persistent attempts "to thwart the policy and plans of the governor" was against the plans as recommended. It seems that Tonge was of the view that no special accommodations need be built for the governor. As for the legislative assembly, well -- suitable accommodations, yes, but only in time when it might be better afforded. In the end, the vote was in favour with the governor's wishes but only by the narrowest of margins. There was a general preference to build the legislative building first, and then the governor's house. However, in turned out to go in just the opposite order. It was determined that the best location for Province House would be where the old governor's residence was situated. They would build Government House, then, after tearing down the old governor's residence, build Province House at its location. And in time, that is how it happened.36 All of this, it was recognized would take some considerable period of time and at considerable expense. As it turned out, much more money was spent on these two buildings then was ever imagined when the plans were first set.37

Construction on Government House began in 1798. On the 11th of September, 1800, the cornerstone of Government House was laid by Sir John Wentworth. Wentworth is to be given the credit for the building of Government House, though as Cuthbertson observed38 the credit must be shared "with Isaac Hildreth, the architect, Michael Wallace, the commissioner who supervised its construction, and a reluctant assembly, which kept voting funds year after year, even though the cost rose to three times the original estimate."39 The country members were not keen to see money being spent on the palace at Halifax. It was necessary to pay them off, so to speak, by spending money on rural roads.40 A master painter, John Merrick, employed at the dockyard, was given the job as the interior decorator. Later it is seen41 that Merrick was to become the "architect for the building of Province House." A lot of time was to pass before the building was ready for the Wentworths to move in. They did so in 1805.42

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Peter Landry
2011

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