Kenny/Dennis Story

Sir Edward Kenny, was born 1800, Kilmoyly, County Kerry, wholesale dry goods merchant in Halifax, manufacturer, owner of the “magnificent granite warehouse” we now call the Dennis Building, president of the Merchants’ Bank of Halifax, “perhaps the second richest man in Nova Scotia”, president of the Charitable Irish Society, father of twelve, founder of the Halifax Club, mayor, president of the Legislative Council, Senator, member of the first federal cabinet, Lieutenant Governor, knighted for leading Nova Scotian Catholics into Confederation.

An Historic Building:

The Dennis Building was designed by David Stirling in 1863 and constructed by George Blaiklock for Thomas and Edward Kenny, of T & E Kenny Drygoods, at the corner of George and Granville Streets in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is the oldest of the buildings surrounding Province House Square, and was designed to complement Province House.

Dennis-45angle_sm Dennis Building:

A Report on the Historical and Architectural Significance

by Elizabeth Pacey, C.M., D.C.L.

Architectural Significance of the Dennis Building

The presence of the Dennis Building in the context of Province House Square is of utmost importance. The classical dignity of Province House (Canada’s oldest legislature) prompted later nineteenth- and twentieth-century architects to pay homage to the Georgian centrepiece of the square by echoing its classical style. Indeed, for more than a hundred years, buildings that bordered Province House Square echoed the classicism in their own individual ways.

The Dennis Building, constructed in 1863/4, is the earliest extant example of a building that respects the immediate context of Province House Square. Architect David Stirling chose stone as a matching material, along with horizontal string courses and a prominent bracketed cornice as complementary classical details.

Other buildings around the perimeter followed the trend. In 1867 and 1868, respectively, the Sarah Howard Building and the Post Office (now the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia) were designed in the more ornate Italianate classical style. At the turn of the century, the Acadian Recorder Building continued the theme with a strong cornice and rooftop balustrade and classical window ornaments.

In 1912, when fire ravaged the Dennis Building, the talented architect George Henry Jost was called upon to renew the interior and add top storeys. Above Stirling’s strong cornice he continued Stirling’s details, such as the horizontal string courses and bracketed rooftop cornice, but he chose triplet windows as a distinction. In 1928, when the Johnson Building was constructed a block south, triplet windows again appeared as a design detail.

In 1931, noted Canadian architect John Lyle designed the Bank of Nova Scotia. He completely understood the principle of reinforcing the material and details of Province House. He felt that “certain characteristics of this very fine building should be echoed in the new building.” Thus, he, too, in a more modern interpretation, respectfully used classical features, such as the detailed rooftop cornice, the reeded pilasters and the rusticated stonework for the lower level.

In 1935, when the Provincial Building was constructed, reeding appeared around the windows, rusticated stonework was again used on the lower level and a strong decorative rooftop cornice met the cornice on the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Historical and Architectural Evolution of the Kenny-Herald-Dennis Building

The historical and architectural evolution of the Kenny-Herald-Dennis Building is highly significant. At each stage of its existence, the building has been associated with provincially and nationally important owners, architects, builders, and uses.

For example, renowned architect David Stirling designed the four-storey granite Kenny Warehouse, which was constructed by noted contractor George Blaiklock in 1864. Brothers Edward and Thomas Kenny, owners of the prosperous T. & E. Kenny firm, were very prominent in provincial and national affairs and politics, dealing with the great issues of the time, such as Confederation. The Kenny firm marketed wholesale goods throughout Atlantic Canada, in an era when such marketing was considered innovative and far-reaching.

In 1900, the Kenny Warehouse was purchased by the Hon. William Dennis and became the headquarters of the Halifax Herald. For the newspaper, the building was a particularly fitting location, across from Province House, where freedom of the press had been won. Both Hon. William Dennis and his nephew, Hon. William Henry Dennis, were prominent Nova Scotians and Canadians, and both were closely associated with prime ministers (Borden, Meighen and Bennett) and premiers.

After a disastrous fire in 1912, the skilled architect-teacher, George Henry Jost, was hired to supervise repairs and design additional top storeys for the Herald Building. The contractor for this renewal project was Samuel Brookfield, whose prolific firm was gaining an excellent reputation throughout the province. After completion, the Dennis Building was called “the finest office building in eastern Canada.”

Brief biographies of the important individuals associated with the building follow.

Sir Edward Kenny

Sir Edward Kenny was co-founder of the prosperous T. & E. Kenny dry goods firm in 1828, and by the 1860s he was reputed to be the second richest man in Nova Scotia. As well, he rose to great political prominence. In 1842, he was elected mayor of Halifax and the following year he was appointed to the Legislative Council, Nova Scotia’s powerful upper house. He became president of the Legislative Council as a Liberal and, after his defection from the Liberal party in 1857, he was immediately restored to that office by the new Conservative government. He was a strong supporter of Confederation and was appointed to the first federal cabinet in 1867. Then he was elevated to the Senate, where he became the first receiver general of Canada and later president of the Privy Council. Perhaps his most important unofficial federal role was as the spokesperson in Ottawa for English-speaking Roman Catholics. Prime Minister John A. MacDonald also depended on Edward Kenny to break down any lingering opposition to Confederation in Nova Scotia. In 1870, Kenny was knighted for his pro-Confederation efforts and in the same year he served briefly as lieutenant-governor. He retired as senior partner of the still-prominent wholesale dry goods firm in 1880.

Thomas Edward Kenny

Thomas Edward Kenny succeeded his father as head of the T. & E. Kenny firm. Not only was he a prosperous “merchant prince” in provincial circles but he also attained high status as a banker and politician on the federal level. He became president of the Merchants Bank of Halifax, which later became known as the Royal Bank of Canada. Kenny guided the growth of the great banking institution for 38 years and was hailed as “the dean of Canadian Bank Presidents.” Thomas Kenny was also elected as a member of parliament and became one of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald’s trusted advisors on finances and railways. Though Thomas Kenny declined a post in the cabinet, he did become a leading member of the Royal Commission on Railways.

Kenny was in demand to advise numerous companies and held directorships on the North Sydney Marine Railway Company, the Western Counties Railway Company, the Nova Scotia Cotton Factory and the Woodside Sugar Refinery.

David Stirling

In the mid-nineteenth century, David Stirling established himself as one of the principal architects of Nova Scotia. He was born in Galashiels, Scotland, as the son of a stonemason. He emigrated first to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and then came to Halifax in 1850 to design the Bank of British North America. In 1852, he designed the Pictou County Court House and, a few years later, he worked on the central part of Osgoode Hall in Toronto. During the 1860s and 1870s, Stirling, in partnerships with William Hay and later Andrew Dewar, designed numerous prestigious buildings in Halifax including the Halifax Club, Keith Hall, Fort Massey Church and the Grafton Street Methodist Church (now St. David’s Presbyterian). Around the province, he received several important commissions, including King’s College Library at Windsor, as well as the Pictou Bank, the Customs House, and the Probate Office in Pictou.

It was David Stirling who designed the rare, four-storey, granite Kenny Warehouse with its horizontal string courses and strong bracketed cornice. The understated, yet strong, classical building was constructed between 1863 and 1864. Because of the quality and range of David Stirling’s work, he was appointed architect for the Dominion government in Nova Scotia with responsibility for federal buildings in the province.

George Blaiklock

George Blaiklock, son of an English civil engineer, came to Halifax about 1852 as a government contractor for the Wellington Barracks. He continued as government contractor and also maintained his own prolific contracting business. He was involved in the construction of many buildings in the provincial capital including St. Matthew’s Church, the Grafton Street Methodist Church, the Jost Mission, the Mary Queen of Scots House, houses on South Park Street, five stores on Hollis Street, and four warehouses on Granville Street, one of which was the granite Kenny Warehouse.

Hon. William Dennis

William Dennis was known as “the man who made the Herald.” He gained journalistic experience first as a reporter for the Morning Herald when it began in 1875, then as the editor of the Winnipeg Sun and as a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery. He returned to Halifax, in 1884, as news editor of the Morning Herald. A year later, he became editor-in-chief and president of the Morning Herald, now renamed the Halifax Herald. After the turn of the century, he was the sole owner of the Halifax Herald Limited and was appointed to the Senate. In the years before and after World War I, he was an associate to Prime Minister Robert Borden.

Hon. William Henry Dennis

William Henry Dennis spent his formative journalistic years with his uncle’s Halifax Herald and, by 1911, had risen to the positions of vice-president and general manager. In 1920, upon the death of his uncle, he was sole proprietor of the newspaper. He maintained close associations with Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, Premier Edgar N. Rhodes and Prime Minister R. B. Bennett. Though

Dennis was offered a job as a Toronto publisher, he stayed with the Halifax Herald and began to fight to eliminate the competing Chronicle and Daily Star newspapers. He was a supporter of the tourist industry and campaigned for the establishment of the Cape Breton National Park and the retention of the Halifax Citadel. He also promoted construction of the first bridge across Halifax harbour and construction of the municipal airport. Like his uncle before him, he was appointed to the federal Senate, where he served on the tourism committee.

George Henry Jost

George Henry Jost grew up in his home town of Lunenburg and trained as an architect in David Stirling’s Halifax office in the 1870s. During the 1880s, Jost designed houses on South Street and collaborated with builder Henry Peters on the design of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church. In 1890, Jost became the sole teacher of architectural drawing at the Victoria School of Art and Design (now Nova Scotia College of Art & Design). From his office on Granville Street, Jost produced his most prominent architectural works, including the Garden Crest Apartments, the Orpheus Music Hall, and the Chronicle Building. George Henry Jost not only shaped the thinking and production of architectural design, as he taught students at the provincial institution for higher learning, but he also gained a reputation as a skilled practical architect. He was talented at incorporating modern requirements into a traditional building envelope and was able to cope with difficult situations. In the case of the Dennis Building, which had suffered a terrible fire in 1912, Jost was able to successfully retain the surviving four-storey granite exterior of the building while introducing a modern steel and concrete structure within the walls. Then he was able to add additional brick storeys, which maintained the harmonious classical appearance of the bottom four storeys. Jost continued the use of string courses between the upper brick storeys and topped the structure off by a strong bracketed cornice, which echoed the bracketed cornice still in place above the fourth granite storey. For the window arrangement in the top three brick storeys, Jost continued to use groups of three vertical windows, which had been first used when a fifth storey, constructed in brick, had been added to the then four-storey granite Herald Building in 1901.

Samuel Brookfield

Upon the sudden death of his father, a noted builder, Samuel Brookfield, still in his twenties, was forced to take over his father’s half-executed contracts. Samuel Brookfield not only finished his father’s work but became a prominent Maritime builder. He constructed numerous buildings, including a court house in Saint John, King’s College Chapel in Windsor, All Saint’s Cathedral in Halifax, as well as the Chronicle Building, the Merchants’ Bank, the Bank of Commerce, Barrington Street buildings, and the Dennis Building in downtown Halifax. Along with running Brookfield Construction Company, he was involved in funding the Halifax Power Company and in ventures like refitting of ships for the Canada and Newfoundland Steamship Company and providing life-saving equipment for merchant ships during World War II.

References: Archival research done for Heritage Trust by Irene Fennell; Maud Rosinski’s book, Architects of Nova Scotia; and my own files and books, Georgian Halifax and Historic Halifax.

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