Remembering the Citadel (hotel)

Last week, SilverBirch Hotels, the Vancouver-based company that owns the Citadel Halifax hotel, announced plans to flatten it.


The company intends to replace the venerable downtown landmark with a $60-million, triple-tower, hotel-apartment complex it says will generate “a lot more” street-level activity in the northern downtown while conforming to HRM by Design—and legislation protecting views of the harbour from Citadel Hill.

Ironically, a plan to redevelop the original two-storey Citadel hotel 40 years ago triggered the debate that led to creating those still-controversial views.

By the late 1960s, preservationists were winning the battle to protect the city’s historic waterfront from the wrecker’s ball, but they seemed to be losing the war to preserve Citadel Hill’s iconic harbour views one bigger-than-theirs bank tower at a time.

When the first of three view-blocking Scotia Square towers began to rise from the earth in 1969, Haligonians finally began to question the build-it-bigger-higher-better dreams of downtown developers.

The debate galvanized around the next proposed development. Ralph Medjuck, a bright young lawyer-developer, wanted to plunk an 11-storey addition above an existing low-rise hotel he owned on Brunswick Street.

Over the objections of staff and protests from residents, a divided city council ultimately voted 7-3—yes, Virginia, there really was a time when there were just 10 councilors—in favour of the project.

But the motion carried a crucial rider: staff had to come up with a proposal to protect harbour views in future projects.

Three years later, a talk-tired—“I am so sick of this damn view from Citadel Hill I could scream,” screamed alderwoman Margaret Stanbury at one point—but-no-longer-divided council voted unanimously to preserve 10 specific views protecting 300 acres of prme downtown.

Preservation activist Elizabeth Pacey later called it “a sweeping achievement in the pioneer field of environmental protection legislation.”

Thanks to the Citadel Hotel.

When SilverBirch’s new hotel opens in 2013, it will have a different name. Company president Steve Giblin says they considered maintaining it, “but we feel Citadel Hill—that’s where the name belongs, and it really doesn’t belong on a hotel.”

Perhaps. But we must at least preserve the memory of the vital role the old Citadel played in shaping today’s downtown.

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