The British Army garrisoned Halifax with artillery, engineer and infantry troops, various support elements and staff from 1749, when the city was founded until 1906, when Britain withdrew the last of its forces from Canada. During that period the soldiers were accommodated in the different fortifications scattered throughout the Halifax Defence Complex, as well as in a number of purpose-built barracks. Some of these facilities also housed Royal Engineer and Royal Artillery workshops and storage areas for their equipment.
Royal Artillery Park is one such site. While still a substantial military site today, covering 5.7 acres (2.3 hectares), it previously occupied a larger footprint of 9.6 acres (3.9 hectares), bookending the even larger North/ Glacis Barracks site that stood on the north slope of the Citadel. Bounded today by Queen, Sackville and Brunswick Streets and the buildings on the north side of Doyle Street, the site’s eastern boundary originally extended to Market Street and encompassed the South Barracks and Royal Engineers’ Square, along with the remaining Royal Artillery (RA) Park.
The site itself traces its military heritage back to the founding of Halifax by the Honourable Edward Cornwallis in 1749. One of the five stockade forts that were built that year to protect the settlement from Indigenous attack, named Cornwallis’ Fort, stood here (see the separate HMHPS site “Early Town Defences”}. It contained a wooden accommodation building, the Cornwallis Barracks, accommodating 520 soldiers, which remained for many years after the forts were no longer needed.
In 1786 a 1½ story wooden block was built close by to accommodate an additional 112 men. The original Cornwallis Barracks was demolished in 1795 and a 2½ story barracks erected in its place. Completed in 1802, these two buildings formed the new South Barracks, used primarily to house the Royal Engineers. The two blocks were 310 feet long and faced each other across a 125-foot wide parade square; they accommodated an officer and 548 men. The 2½ story east block featured five covered porches along its west front facing the parade square.
The original Artillery Barracks (for 96 men) for the latter half of the 18th century were located in a small building at the southwest part of the Grand Parade. In 1802-03 a new Artillery Barracks was constructed west of the South Barracks, the first building of the newly created Royal Artillery Park. Running parallel to Sackville Street, it stood where the small sunken car park is located today, a 110-foot long, 2½ storey wooden building with two verandahs. It consisted of 12 rooms for 16 men in each, with 6 cellar rooms for married soldiers. Behind the Barrack was a Cooking House, and in the west angle of the square was a small hospital with 4 wards for 24 patients, with a kitchen, surgery and nurse’s room.
In 1804/05 an 80 x 25 foot verandahed barracks for Royal Military Artificers (afterwards Royal Sappers and Miners) was built, just west of the South Barracks; offices and workshops were added to form Royal Engineers’ Square. That same year the 100-foot long 1½ storey Quarters of the Commanding Officer and Adjutant of the Royal Artillery was built just east of the Artillery Barracks, although it appears that an Adjutant never lived there. Since then, the house has been occupied by the Commander of the Army in Atlantic Canada, as well as various other general and flag officers. This remains today the residence of the Commander of the 5th Canadian Division.
Next, in 1812 another 1½ storey building was added to the west of the Artillery Barracks to accommodate two captains and two subalterns of the Artillery. The same year, the route of Queen Street was altered to enlarge the RA Park site, which made room for the erection between 1814 and 1816 of the 110-foot long, 1½ storey RA Officers’ Quarters and Mess Room. Previously, single officers were housed in local accommodation and the quarters were built as a money-saving measure. This completed an east-west row of four buildings at the site: the RA Commanding Officers’ Quarters (1804-08), Enlisted Men’s Barracks (1803-04), Officers’ Quarters (1812) and Officers’ Quarters and Mess Room (1814-16). The RA Park Officers’ Mess is still in use today, the oldest officers’ mess in Canada. Inside its front entrance is a series of panels, which list all the military commanders of Acadia and Nova Scotia from 1605 to the present day.
Also around this time (1812-1815) a Drill Shed was added at the corner of Queen and Sackville Streets, which completed a row of buildings running along Sackville Street comprising gun sheds for artillery pieces, stables, guard houses and the buildings on the northern side of Royal Engineers’ Square, which occupied the site between the South Barracks and RA Park. South of RE Square stood the large residence of the Commanding Royal Engineer. The site also included extensive gardens and at one point three tennis courts.
In 1901-03 a new, large brick Artillery and Engineer Officers’ Quarters was erected near the Officers’ Mess. To do so required demolishing two-thirds of the old wooden Officers’ Quarters (1812), which now no longer exists. The new building later served as the District Headquarters from 1917 to 1929, when it returned to its original purpose for several years before being converted into apartments for three senior officers. Today it accommodates the 36 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters. The same year a two-storey brick duplex Warrant Officers’ Quarters was constructed in the south-eastern corner of the site. Much later, it was converted into a single house for a senior married officer, before its present use by 36 Canadian Brigade Group. Next, in 1904-05 the old wooden Royal Military Artificers’ (Sappers’ and Miners’) Barracks (1805) was replaced with a large brick accommodation block, oriented north-south, forming Block C of the South Barracks. By this time the Commanding Royal Engineer’s residence too had been demolished.
Royal Artillery Park is additionally the location for the Cambridge Military Library, built in 1885-86, for which there is a separate HMHPS site entry.
Royal Artillery Park today forms part of Canadian Forces Base Halifax. In addition to the aforementioned buildings can be found a selection of historic artillery pieces on display; the 9th Siege Battery Memorial, honouring 16 members of the battery who lost their lives in the First World War; and an extensive collection of military memorabilia. The Warrant Officers’ Quarters was recognized as a Federal Heritage Building in 1991, followed by the Officers’ Mess, Commanding Officers’ Quarters and Artillery and Engineer Officers’ Quarters in 2004.