Nova Scotia Archives

Built Heritage Resource Guide

Documentary Art and Photographs

What did your home look like 75 years ago? How did it blend into the landscape around it? Are there any photos of Main Street in your town before the great fire of a century ago? Your local archives or museum, the long-time commercial photographer still operating in your community, and the vaults at NSARM all provide outstanding visual and graphic resources for exploring Nova Scotia's built heritage.

The Documentary Art Collection at NSARM includes oil paintings, watercolours, sketches, drawings, engravings and lithographs — i.e. any type of fine art that records ('documents') people, places and/or a way of life. The Photograph Collection includes ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, tintypes, black-and-white photographs, postcards and some colour photography (the latter technology is impermanent and therefore not 'archival'; we collect limited, representative samples only).

Probably the oldest photograph at NSARM is an ambrotype taken in Liverpool sometime around 1860, showing Trinity Anglican Church, the old Sunday School House and the Public School. Photography caught on quickly in late 19th and early 20th century Nova Scotia; outstanding collections from commercial studios such as Joseph Rogers (Halifax), the Notman Studio (mainly Halifax), W.L. Bishop (mainly Dartmouth), W.H. Buckley (Guysborough), Paul Yates (Annapolis and Digby Co.) — plus amateur shutterbugs from all around the province — are available for you to explore at NSARM or on our Website.

If you are visiting in person, the Photograph Card Catalogue and the Photograph Subject Binders provide the quickest access to the estimated 500,000 images in our holdings. These include any aspect of built heritage that you can imagine — community views, streetscapes, homes, churches, schools, public buildings, factories and industrial complexes, shops, stores and offices, railway stations, lighthouses and wharves... the list is endless.

One can sometimes locate photographs of buildings in collections not relating to built heritage at all. For example, records for the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation include photographs, organized by county, showing road and bridge construction and repair throughout the province in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. If a building or home stood next to the bridge or road... the structures may appear in one of the photographs.

Both documentary art and historical photographs can show additions or changes to buildings over time. The present Five Fisherman Restaurant on Argyle Street in Halifax is a good example. Joseph Partridge's painting of the 'National School at Halifax, NS' done about 1819, shows a building (far right) without dormers. By the time the Grand Parade wall was under construction in the 1880s, the building had acquired two five-sided Scottish dormers — a popular architectural feature in Victorian Halifax. The Victoria School of Art and Design occupied the same structure thirty years later, when pine coffins were stacked outside following the Halifax Explosion — one of the five-sided dormers is still clearly visible above the rooftop. The present building retains the dormers, but sometime over the last century they have become three-sided instead.

This Built Heritage Resource Guide is unusually rich in the information given in the Note Areas accompanying most images. So... when you scan down the pages, be sure to click on the thumbnails so that you can enlarge and explore the images, plus read the extra details provided beneath each.

 scan 7
"National School at Halifax, N.S." 
Date: ca. 1819
Artist: Joseph Partridge
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives Documentary Art: 1979-147.178

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
W.D. O'Donnell scan 200804544
"The Citadel Hill, Showing Clock-Tower on the Glacis, Halifax" 
Date: ca. 1887
Reference no.: W.D. O'Donnell Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1984-565

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
Halifax Relief Commission scan 17
Argyle Street at the Corner of George Street, Halifax,  
Date: [December 1917]
Photographer: W.G. MacLaughlan
Reference no.: Halifax Relief Commission Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1976-166 no. 64

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
 scan 4
"Block House at Parrsboro" 
Date: ca. 1838
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives Documentary Art Collection: 1979-147.262

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
 scan 1
Sydney, Cape Breton 
Date: 1856
Artist: Albert J. Hill
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives Documentary Art Collection: 1979-147.119

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
 scan 200400566
Launch of the Forest from the Churchill Shipyard, Hantsport, NS 
Date: 1873
Artist: unsigned
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives Documentary Art Collection: 1979-147.66

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
 scan 200803191
"Town of Amherst" 
Date: 1876
Artist: A.J. Hill
Reference no.: Nova Scotia Archives Photo Collection: Places: Amherst: General View

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
E.E.B. Nichols scan 200803192
"Trinity Anglican Church, Lpool. [sic], Old S.S. House, and Public School" 
Reference no.: E.E.B. Nichols Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1995-20 no. 19

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
W.L. Bishop scan 200803075
"Top of Burton's Hill", Five Corners, Dartmouth, NS 
Date: 1897
Reference no.: W.L. Bishop Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1983-240 no. 20

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
Frederick McQuahae scan 200803073
Devine House, Shelburne, NS 
Photographer: Frederick McQuahae
Reference no.: Frederick McQuahae Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1982-462 no. 6

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
Buckely family scan 622
William H. Cunningham House, Guysborough 
Date: [ca.1900]
Photographer: William H. Buckley
Reference no.: Buckely family Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1985-386 no. 59

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
Paul Yates scan 200803193
Lour Lodge Cottage and Hotel, Digby, NS 
Date: ca. 1911-1913
Reference no.: Paul Yates Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1988-269.1 no. 59

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
Annabel Ells scan 200401107
"A Bit of River Front, River John, NS" 
Date: ca. 1906
Reference no.: Annabel Ells Nova Scotia Archives album no. 109

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
Department of Transportation scan 200803194
Howe Hill, South Middleton Road, Annapolis Municipality 
Date: ca. 1916
Reference no.: Department of Transportation Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1985-110 file 0078 no. 4

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
Department of Transportation scan 200803195
"Paving Town of Port Hawkesbury" 
Date: 1933
Reference no.: Department of Transportation Nova Scotia Archives N.S. Department of Transportation: Inverness County: Roads: Port Hawkesbury; 1985-110

Topic: Documentary Art and Photographs
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