HILL, HENRY GEORGE, carpenter, architect, and entrepreneur; baptized 8 Dec. 1805 at Halifax, N.S., son of Henry and Sarah Hill; m. Hester Maria before 1833; no children are known; d. 7 Jan. 1882 at Somerville, Mass.
Henry George Hill’s father was a carpenter and Hill probably learned from him the basic trade skills on which he built his ambitious career. By 1833 Hill was well established in Halifax as a house-carpenter and joiner. After a brief period of cabinet-making, upholstering, and interior decoration, he devoted himself in 1836 exclusively to architectural designing and “Plain and Ornamental Building.” By then Hill, an active Methodist, had already designed and built Brunswick Street Wesleyan Methodist Chapel (1833–34) and during the late 1830s he apparently erected at least two other Methodist chapels in Halifax. These churches and his neo-classical designs for the Bank of Nova Scotia (1836), a private school façade (1842), a suburban cottage (1842), and a villa (1843, occupied in 1859 by the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb) gave Hill a solid reputation in architecture. He concentrated on domestic work but also designed commercial and public buildings, which included Temperance Hall (1849), the Halifax County Court House (1854 but not to Hill’s design), and the city’s Rockhead Prison (1855). Although Hill’s plans were undoubtedly based upon British and American pattern-books, he was regarded locally as “an architect of judgment and taste.”
Hill’s principal working material was wood and, backed by a construction section under master carpenter John Mumford, he appears to have been Halifax’s most active designer before such formally trained architects as William Thomas* and David Stirling began executing commissions there in the 1850s. This competition, the increasing use of stone, brick, and cast iron in Halifax buildings, and financial strain occasioned Hill’s gradual withdrawal from active participation in the design field. His only known design after 1857 was the elegant store built in 1859 for the Halifax dry goods firm of John Doull and William Miller, but he performed architectural tasks of a supervisory and evaluative nature for the Nova Scotia government in the 1860s and the federal government in the early 1870s.
The critical event in Hill’s career was the wharf contract undertaken for the Ordnance department at Halifax in 1849. After his coffer-dam failed, Hill sued the department on the grounds that its inaccurate specifications had prevented his fulfilment of the contract. In the case heard by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in 1856, Hill had overwhelming public sympathy. This legal confrontation gave focus to Haligonian grievances against the military’s stinted contracts and bureaucratic manner. The court awarded Hill a substantial sum (about half of his £20,000 claim) but the government obtained a rule nisi against the decision. Heavy financial loss led to Hill’s decision to rechannel his building interests. As a builder he had developed a wood-product supply business, which he now pursued as his principal concern. In 1860 he established the Prince Albert Steam Saw Mill where, five years later, he installed advanced planing machinery imported from the United States. By the early 1870s the mill was the largest sash, door, and blind factory in Nova Scotia.
Hill’s other major business activity was speculative development, which supplemented his contract work. Between 1833 and 1873 he bought numerous Halifax properties, many in the city’s expanding suburbs. On some lots he built houses which he either sold or rented; others he held, anticipating advantageous sales for building purposes, and a few he resold for immediate profit. Among Hill’s creditors for his various business transactions were fellow Methodists Edward Jost of Halifax and several members of the prominent family of the Reverend William Black*.
Hill’s financial situation was always precarious. The depression of the 1870s led to the assignment of his property to creditors in 1873 and the resulting litigation failed to relieve his pecuniary distress. Hill continued to describe himself as an architect, however, and he probably prepared plans from time to time until he left Halifax in 1880.
Closely related to his professional and religious interests were Hill’s public activities. He was a member of the Halifax Temperance Society and a director of the Nova Scotia Benefit Building Society, founded in 1850. Elected to Halifax City Council in October 1862, Hill subsequently chaired the property, streets, and city prison committees, where his building experience was particularly applicable. He resigned from council in March 1865.
Henry G. Hill was remarkable for his success, however uncertain, in sustaining himself as a native-born designer and entrepreneur in mid-19th-century Halifax. His ambition and industry, coupled with a capacity to sustain risk and to adapt, account for his achievements as an architect, manufacturer, and developer.
Bank of Nova Scotia Arch. (Toronto), Directors’ minute book, 1832–75. Can., Parks Canada (Ottawa), Canadian Inventory of Historic Building, Group D, H. G. Hill. Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), Deeds, 1833–89 (mfm. at PANS). PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 1814–15, 1839; RG 11, D2, 3840; 3841–42; 3848; RG 31, A1, 1871, Halifax, Ward 1; Yarmouth. PANS, H. G. Hill, Plan of Rockhead Prison, Halifax, May 1855; MG 4, Brunswick Street United Church (Halifax), Minnie Bell, “History of the Brunswick Street Wesleyan Chapel, 1834–1934” (mfm.); Registers, 23 Sept. 1804, 8 Dec. 1805 (mfm.). PRO, WO 1/551: ff.l–15, 775–85; 49/2, pt.1: ff.760–61. Duncan Campbell, Nova Scotia, in its historical, mercantile and industrial relations (Montreal, 1873), 511–12. Halifax, Annual report of the several departments of the city government . . . (Halifax), 1862–64. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1851, app.52; 1854–55, app.15; 1857: 371; 1865: 88, 90; 1866, app.9; 1867, app.4. Acadian Recorder, 6 April, 7 Dec. 1833; 16 Dec. 1854; 1, 15 Dec. 1855; 17 Jan., 3 Oct., 7 Dec. 1857; 5 Aug. 1859; 13 April 1861; 4, 11 Oct. 1862; 1, 27 March, 6 May 1865; 17 Nov., 1 Dec. 1866; 2 Jan. 1867. British Colonist (Halifax), 4 Sept. 1849; 9 Feb., 4 June 1850; 27 June 1862. Evening Express (Halifax), 17 Sept., 20 Oct. 1862; 13, 27 May 1863; 23 Dec. 1864; 27 March, 19 May 1865. Halifax Evening Reporter, 18 Dec. 1860; 31 Jan., 4 May 1861; 3 Dec. 1862; 25 March 1865; 13 Sept. 1871; 1 July 1879. Halifax Morning Sun, 30 Nov. 1859. Morning Herald (Halifax), 13 Jan. 1882. Novascotian, 5 Feb. 1836; 2 June, 1 Sept. 1842; 5 June 1843; 13 May 1844; 23 June 1845; 15 June 1846: 28 Aug. 1848; 19 March, 6 Sept., 10 Dec. 1849; 11 March 1850; 1 Nov. 1852; 1 Sept., 22, 29 Dec. 1856; 6, 12, 19, 26 Jan., 2 Feb., 7 Dec. 1857; 15 Feb., 17 May 1858; 5 Sept. 1859; 24 Sept., 26 Nov. 1860. The Halifax, N.S. business directory . . . , comp. Luke Hutchinson (Halifax), 1863. McAlpine’s Halifax city directory . . . (Halifax), 1869–78. Nugent’s business directory for the city of Halifax . . . (Halifax), 1858–59. T. W. Smith, History of the Methodist Church within the territories embraced in the late conference of Eastern British America . . . (2v., Halifax, 1877–90), II: 208–12. Susan Buggey, “Building Halifax, 1841–1871,” Acadiensis, 10 (1980–81), no. 1: 90–112.