2507 Brunswick St., Halifax
Asking Price: $785,000
Taxes: $3,727 (2018)
Lot Size: 5,011 sq. ft.
Listing Agent: Carolyn Davis Stewart, sales representative, Royal LePage Atlantic - NS
The back story
“Valuable and Elegant Residence in Brunswick Street.” That was the headline on an article on page 3 of The Halifax Morning Sun on Nov. 21, 1860.
The short feature – complete with a tiny image of the building – describes a state-of-the-art new home being occupied by a Mr. E. Billing. It boasts it was built in “the most substantial manner” and features hot and cold water pipes in the kitchen, pantry and bathroom as well as an all-marble mantle.
“The above property offers an excellent opportunity of obtaining a handsome and comfortable residence, having been built without regard to expence [sic], and being now sold only in consequence of Mr. Billing removing to England,” it reads.
That property – 2507 Brunswick St. in Halifax – would be sold at auction a few years later to Jonathan McCully, who would go on to become one of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation, for £2,520, or the equivalent of $4,200 at today’s exchange rate.
Over 150 years later, that same property, now known as the McCully House, is back on the market.
The house today
The “Mr. E Billing” in the article was Edward Billing, a local merchant who also built the home on Brunswick Street. And for current owner, Jason Ross, he is the man whom the home should be named after.
“My admiration goes to the guy who built the home, we should commemorate him because he left something on the landscape,” Mr. Ross said. “I imagine that he must have been so passionate when he was building it … that resonates more with me than some politician who buys it at auction, moves in and brands it as his.”
The complete history of the home is currently missing a number of chapters but what is known is that the north-end home managed to survive the Halifax explosion in 1917 and between that point and the 1990s, it fell on some hard times.
“It was really a derelict property by then,” said agent Carolyn Davis Stewart, explaining that plaster was falling off the walls and ceiling and the floors were severely neglected. “I remember being so overwhelmed, thinking: ‘What a shame.’”
Mr. Ross has been told by neighbours that vagrants were using it to squat in. “It was really a ruin by any other contemporary standards,” he said.
But luckily for the historic home, Paul Donovan bought the property – rumour has it for $2 from the city – to house his production company, Salter Street Films, and oversaw a major renovation that restored the Georgian home to its original elegance.
“They really pulled off a miracle in terms of bringing this structure back,” Mr. Ross said.
He had a chance to visit the building when it was Mr. Donovan’s office and recalled being blown away by the quality of the work. So when he saw it was up for sale in 2006, he was immediately interested.
“And as soon as I walked in, I knew I was going to buy it,” he said. “Some houses just reach out to you.”
Once Mr. Ross took possession of the home, he commissioned a six-month renovation to turn the space from an office to a home and tried to employ neighbourhood people as much as possible for the smaller jobs. The major elements of his renovation were installing a kitchen in Mr. McCully’s old study on the first floor (the kitchen was originally in the basement) and adding a large deck that overlooks the harbour to the back of the home.
To do that part, Mr. Ross had to work with an architect and get special permits because, since 1975, 2507 Brunswick St. has had a national historic designation.
When it comes to selling a home with this pedigree, Ms. Davis Stewart acknowledges that the market is limited, despite the fact that the Halifax region is having a good year with residential sales up 8.7 per cent year-over-year and average prices up 2 per cent.
“A lot of these homes, the few that we have … don’t cater to how we want to live today,” Ms. Davis Stewart said, adding that by moving the kitchen to the main floor Mr. Ross has helped the resale value.
She also thinks that the listing price of $785,000 should attract buyers who are looking to be a part of history.
“The old properties are not commanding big prices so this house is a steal; it’s a bargain,” she said. “You couldn’t begin to replicate this property for anywhere near that kind of money.”
Both Mr. Ross and Ms. Davis Stewart think that the real beauty of the home is in the intricate details that have survived over the years. For Ms. Davis Stewart, the plaster work in the front parlour – especially the ceiling medallion with its floral motif – really adds to the character of the home. “It is exquisite,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what it would cost today to replicate that.”
Other original details, such as the staircase bannister and the 16-inch baseboards, have carried the era of pre-Confederation Canada into the present and Mr. Ross feels fortunate to have had a chance to be a part of the distinguished home’s history.
“This was never a job or an investment or anything like that to me,” he said. “It was a self-indulgence … I will probably never own a house of this scale again.”