MERRICK, JOHN, artisan, merchant, and architect; b. c. 1756 in Halifax, third son of William Merrick and Ann Green; m. there 25 Aug. 1779 Sarah Boyer (Bayer); they had one son who died as an infant; d. 4 June 1829 in Horton, N.S.
John Merrick probably apprenticed in his father’s firm, Merrick and Son, in the 1770s. By the mid 1790s he was one of three master painters in Halifax and had obtained provincial government contracts for painting and glazing. He would continue to obtain contracts for major building projects through the next three decades. From at least 1802 to 1812 Merrick also provided painting and glazing services to the Royal Navy’s Halifax dockyard and supplies for the army’s wartime building in the town. To private citizens he offered painting and glazing materials as well as “House, Sign, Carriage and Ornamental Painting, Gilding, Glazing, Varnishing, etc.” Perhaps because his imperial contracts gave him the bills of exchange necessary for payment of his British suppliers, Merrick was not pressed, like other Halifax merchants, to include the wide variety of goods that characterized local mercantile business in the Napoleonic era. In 1815 he took his nephews, William Parsons Merrick, an orphan whom he had raised, and Henry Boyer, into partnership as John Merrick and Company; in 1821, at age 65, he himself retired from the firm to a rural retreat in Horton.
Although Merrick achieved local prominence exceptional for an artisan, it is unlikely that his business as a painter and glazier accounted for his rising status. In the 1780s he had taken an initial interest in civic affairs and become active in St Matthew’s Church (Presbyterian), perhaps through the influence of John Fillis*. In 1806 he was named one of three commissioners accountable to the legislature for erection of the county court-house, and five years later he was given a similar role for Province House, a building which, upon its completion in 1820, became the new home of the legislature and the courts. Merrick’s importance was also reflected in his roles as a signatory of citizens’ petitions, a subscriber to charitable funds, and an officer in the Philanthropic Society for Relief of Debtors (1812), the Halifax Fire Insurance Company (1819–20), and the Royal Acadian Society (1821). Although never a magistrate or militia officer, he, like other members of the Halifax gentry, had his portrait painted in oil by Robert Field*.
Merrick’s renown lies in his association with the design of Province House, described by a modern writer as “the best example of Palladian architecture to be found in Canada.” As early as 1809 his name was one of those suggested as “fit and proper persons . . . to prepare plans and estimates of a proper building,” and in 1811, when the legislature approved a plan and elevation for the building, it clearly accepted the designs that Merrick presented and received them as his plans. Still, the attribution of the design is a difficult matter. If Merrick did in fact design Province House, it is curious that he is not known to have designed any other buildings. Tradition has associated his name with the Palladian-style St George’s Round Church in Halifax [see George Wright*], but not generally as its designer. Nor have the several Palladian-style mansions built during the Napoleonic era for Nova Scotia’s officials and gentry been credited to him. Furthermore, commentators as diverse as Thomas Beamish Akins*, Archibald McKellar MacMechan*, and Arthur W. Wallace have queried whether Merrick procured rather than drew the plans for Province House, a suggestion fuelled by a legislative committee’s purchase in London in 1798–99 of “Plans Sections &c for the State House and Government House.” In the end, the rough plans that Merrick presented in 1811 were selected by the legislators, apparently on the basis of size, over those prepared by Richard Scott, a well-established Scottish-born builder who became responsible for the day-to-day construction of Province House. It was Scott who was named in the cornerstone as architect, a claim which was repeated in print during Merrick’s lifetime and which he did not apparently refute.
Merrick may have been a “natural” architect, skilled in adapting the widely published Palladian designs to Nova Scotia’s legislative building and perhaps other of the anonymously designed Palladian edifices in the province. Alternatively, he may have procured a design for Province House through his connections with the British army and navy or Prince Edward* Augustus. Either hypothesis implies skills on Merrick’s part which contribute to explaining his rise in status after 1800 and his known association with Halifax buildings.
Kings County Court of Probate (Kentville, N.S.), Book 2: 315–17 (John Merrick) (mfm. at PANS). NMM, HAL, vols.1–5 (mfm. at PAC). PANS, Map Coll., 126.96.36.199., Halifax, 1811–19, Province House; MG 2, 611, no.22529; MG 4, 55, 68; MG 20, 214, no.132; RG 1, 140: 275; 228, nos.129–30; 287, docs.81, 122, 159, 170; 288, docs.26, 34, 36; 289, docs.28, 46, 51; 444, nos.47, 69; RG 5, A, 9, 13–22. PRO, WO 44/81: 81–120; WO 55/858: 321–32, 336–64 (mfm. at PAC). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, copy of old marriage licences, 25 Aug. 1779 (mfm. at PANS). Acadian Magazine (Halifax), 1 (1826–27): 81. N.S., Acts, 1811, c.14; 1819, c.17. Perkins, Diary, 1797–1803 (Fergusson), 270. Free Press (Halifax), 1 March 1821, 9 June 1829. Nova-Scotia Royal Gazette, 20 May 1783, 28 Oct. 1800, 6 March 1806, 21 Feb. 1809, 8 May 1810. Weekly Chronicle, 19 Nov. 1813; 19 May, 25 Aug. 1815; 12 Feb. 1819. Halifax almanac, 1806–9. Akins, Hist. of Halifax City, 127, 129, 148–49, 165, 271. Nathalie Clerk, Palladian style in Canadian architecture (Ottawa, 1984). A. [McK.] MacMechan, The book of Ultima Thule (Toronto, 1927), 145–56. E. A. Merrick Christian, “John Merrick, Esquire, 1756–1829, architect of Province House, Halifax, Nova Scotia” (mimeograph, n.p., 1983; copy at PANS). D. A. Sutherland, “The merchants of Halifax, 1815–1850: a commercial class in pursuit of metropolitan status” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1975). A. W. Wallace, An album of drawings of early buildings in Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1976). A. [G.] Archibald, “The Province Building,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 4 (1885): 247–58. J. D. Logan, “The architecture of Province House: the ‘Adam’ myth and the historic ‘facts’ which establish the right of John Merrick to be regarded as the designer of the home of Nova Scotia’s General Assembly,” Novascotian, Nova Scotia’s Farm and Home Journal (Halifax), 4 May 1923: 22. “What the people say: the late John Merrick,” Morning Herald (Halifax), 7 July 1881: 1.